Lemon Poppyseed Birthday Cake

We had a birthday in our family last week! I made a giant cake for the adults and a low-key petit four (no poured on frosting finish) replica as a smash cake. I wanted something springy for this March birthday and lemon felt appropriate.



The Quick Version (I promised to never make you scroll too long before finding recipes!)

Cake: Basically this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

Filling: Homemade whipped cream mixed with lemon curd (link). About 2:1 whipped cream to curd

Frosting: The cream cheese frosting from this post by Wood and Spoon

The Long Version (where I tell you all the changes I made and what I’d do differently next time)

Cake: I used a white cake recipe from David’s massive America’s Test Kitchen’s cookbook. I’m not sure what the copyright laws are for that book so I found another source. Cook’s Illustrated has the same ingredients and proportions and almost identical instructions.

It was interesting to me to use the “reverse creaming” method on this cake. Instead of creaming fats and sugar together then adding dry ingredients, which is the traditional way of doing it, reverse-creaming involves cutting the butter in to the dry ingredients (kind of like when you’re making a pie crust) then adding the wet. As I understand it, the idea is that if you can coat the flour with the butterfat before you add the liquids then the fat will provide a barrier and hinder the development of gluten, yielding a more tender cake. Interesting stuff! “Baking Sense” has a whole series on the chemistry behind the ingredients and methods of cake making. So obviously I was all about that. I did not whip my egg whites (time crunch and too lazy) and it was still plenty fluffy.

The recipe yields two 8 or 9-in rounds, but I wanted a 3 tiered cake. So I did two batches of the recipe totally four 9 inch layers: 3 for the cake and 1 to make the petit four smash cake (with plenty left in the freezer). My changes: added some lemon zest into the batter, added 1 Tbsp poppy seeds (next time I’d do 2 Tbsp per batch), and reduced almond extract to 1 tsp. 

Filling: Since the cakes used 12 egg whites, I had a lot of yolks leftover and didn’t feel like using up more eggs for the lemon curd recipe. So instead of 3 eggs plus 2 yolks, like the recipe calls for, I just used 7 yolks. In my head it seemed like a fair exchange and guess what? It worked marvelously.

Frosting: I made no changes to this recipe. But next time, if I want to frost the outside of a cake I think I’ll try another recipe altogether. This is absolutely delicious, but is really firm. It worked fantastically for my naked cake, but was not very easy to work with as a finishing frosting.


I knew that my lemon curd/whipped cream mixture wouldn’t be very firm nor strong, and I was worried about the weight of (even fluffy and light) cake layers squishing the filling out. So I piped a ring of frosting around the outside of each layer and then spooned in the creamy lemon stuff.IMG_0582.JPGIMG_0583.JPG

The hardest and by far the most time-consuming part of the decoration process was putting those danged sprinkles along the bottom. The frosting wasn’t very wet and the little spheres were rolling and bouncing like it was their JOB. If I ever need to apply sprinkles to a vertical surface again, I’ll go with jimmies.



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