Triple Layer, Triple Lemon Ombre Birthday Cake Recipe
Firstly, I’m so sorry the picture is so blurry. I hadn’t realised for over a week that the camera setting was on ’3D’ after my dog chewed it, and I was thinking something was just broken.
I made this cake within a week of the Chocolate Raspberry Freckle Layer Cake so it was great to be able to practise my Swiss meringue buttercream skills in quick succession. Practice makes perfect and I think my second batch turned out better as I wasn’t so afraid of stuffing it up.
This cake is a triple layered, triple lemon cake featuring lemon sponge, lemon curd cream filling, lemon buttercream and just for good measure and decoration – white chocolate lemon truffles from Haigh’s on top. I was moderate with my lemon usage, as I wanted a subtle lemon flavour, which I definitely achieved. My friend (the birthday girl, who loves lemon) said she could have stood even more lemon flavour, but I think if you’re serving this cake to people who may not like lemon as much as others, it is perfect the way the recipe is written.
I had never baked a layer cake before and being a bit of a perfectionist I wanted lovely even layers. I am glad I took the time to weigh my mixing bowl (that the final batter would be in) beforehand so I knew when it was finished, how much batter I had, and how much needed to go into each cake tin. I had to scale up the original recipe to 1.5 times to get 3 layers, so I apologise for the weird measurements below! It is much easier when baking to work in grams rather than cups, as it is more accurate and easier when scaling recipes.
To make the cake:
- 437 grams cake or plain flour; plus a tablespoon more for lining the pans
- 19 grams baking powder
- 2 grams table salt
- 590 grams caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
- 255 grams unsalted butter, completely softened at room temperature; plus more for lining the pans
- 1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
- 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 gram or a slightly heaped 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Position a rack in the middle of the oven; heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Generously butter and flour three 8 x 2-inch deep round cake pans and line the base with a disc of baking paper. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Pulse 1/4 cup of the sugar with the zest in a food processor until well combined.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and lemon sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 1 1/2 minutes). Add the remaining sugar and beat until smooth (about 1 1/2 minutes). Beat in a quarter of the milk just until blended. On low speed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk in three batches, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; beat just until blended.
In another large bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed just until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium high, and beat just until the whites form stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted. Add a quarter of the whites to the batter and fold them in with a whisk or a rubber spatula to loosen the mixture; then continue to gently fold in the remaining whites, a quarter at a time, being careful not to deflate the mixture.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Smooth the tops with the spatula. Bake until a pick inserted in the centers comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a table knife around the inside of the pans and carefully invert each cake out onto the rack. Flip them right side up and let cool completely.
To fill and frost:
I used Sweetapolita’s recipe for lemon Swiss meringue buttercream, but instead of tinting the whole batch of frosting, I divided it into 3 bowls and kept one plain, made one a pale yellow, and the last a bit stronger, so I could create and ombre effect on my frosting (another first for me!).
To fill the cake, I whipped 300ml of thickened/single cream to soft peaks, and folded through several blobs of homemade (you could use store bought) lemon curd until it was rippled. This was plenty to fill the two inner layers of cake.
Considering this was actually my first time frosting a cake with Swiss meringue buttercream, I had never done ombre frosting before, I had to use a butter knife, and it was 6am, I think it turned out really well. I frosted the bottom darkest layer first, 1/3 of the way up the cake, then followed with the lighter frosting, then the plain frosting. I think because my colours weren’t too different in shade from one another, it was easy to blend in the normal smoothing process, so I didn’t need to use any kind of special technique to get the ombre effect looking pretty good (if I do say so myself).
My buttercream was a bit stiff as I didn’t add any other liquid flavouring to it, which I think was why it was a little bit harder to frost, get smooth and fill in all the gaps. Still – it is not too hard, so I would encourage all amateur bakers to give it a go. Even if you have limited baking knowledge, this was still pretty easy to make. Time consuming yes, but easy.
It is worth noting I also froze my cakes for a day or two before needed and my buttercream was made the night before and just left out (it’s not hot here) in an airtight container. Doing these two steps in advance means you can really devote time to the decorating without being tired from all the hours spent making the cakes and frosting.