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Lemon Birthday Cake

  • Serves
Author Notes

This is adapted from a basic lemon cake by Dorie Greenspan. It’s intended to be a loaf cake, what you eat with tea, but I iced it as a layer cake for my daughter’s birthday. Partly because I needed to bake it the night before, and these cakes are so durable. And partly because I was bored of the yellow and red velvet cakes I’d been making. I top it with easy 7-minute frosting. If you make this in the spring, as I do, you might slice in-season strawberries and pave the top, decorating on the sliced strawberries in your own way. —Eric Liftin

Test Kitchen Notes

Visually, this cake is a scene-stealer — a birthday cake that makes a statement. It looks like a giant, sophisticated marshmallow. We were concerned it would be too rich (grand total: 8 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks, 1 1/3 cups of cream and 2 sticks of butter), but miraculously it’s not: lemon and rum infuse the batter and give it the character of an English tea cake. The icing is a lightly sweetened meringue scented with vanilla and more lemon. Don’t overwhip it as we did, and don’t skip the berries, a nod to strawberry shortcake. – A&M —The Editors

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

  • Your Best Layer Cake
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  • Lemon Cake

  • 4 1/2 cups

    cake flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 3 1/4 cups


  • 6


  • 8

    large eggs

  • 1 1/3 cups

    heavy cream

  • 4 tablespoons

    dark rum

  • 2

    sticks unsalted butter (8 oz)

  • 1 quart

    strawberries (optional)

  • Frosting

  • 1 cup

    extra-fine sugar

  • 7


  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  1. Center the rack and preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans (using some of the 2 sticks). Melt the rest of the butter and let cool.
  2. Sift together into a bowl flour, baking powder, and salt. In the large, main mixing bowl, combine the sugar and zest of all lemons, reserving a tablespoon. Save yourself some trouble and use a Microplane, not an old-fashioned zester. This is fun: massage the sugar and zest with your fingers, activating the zest.
  3. Separate the eggs for the frosting. Dump 4 of the yolks in the main bowl; repurpose the rest as you like. Put aside the whites (in a stainless bowl). Whisk in the 8 eggs and beat until foamy. Whisk in the cream and rum.
  4. With a rubber spatula stir the flour mixture into the batter, in 3-4 additions, until thick and smooth. Fold in the cooled, melted butter.
  5. Divide the batter between the round pans, place them on an insulated or double baking pan, and put in the oven. Bake about 1 1/2 hours or until a thin knife inserted into the center emerges dry. Remove pans from oven, allow to cool about 10 minutes on a rack, remove from pan, and allow to cool completely right side up.
  6. For the frosting, I think it’s easiest to use a hand mixer, but you can go with standing, if you prefer. Heat some water in a saucepan. Make sure your (stainless) mixing bowl sits nicely in the pan, not touching the water. A stainless, generous double boiler will work. Bring water to a simmer at medium high.
  7. Whisk sugar with the egg whites. Set the bowl over the simmering water and whisk constantly as you warm the mixture until it is just warm to the touch. Don’t cook it.
  8. Remove from heat, and whip until you get thick, glossy meringue. This takes about 7 minutes, maybe a little less. Add the vanilla and reserved lemon zest at the end.
  9. Frost as a traditional layer cake, with the layers placed flat side up and frosting between them and over the entire cake. The hulled, sliced strawberries may go between the two layers, or for a more unusual treatment, pave the top, to show off the berries, which, in season, are nature’s perfect fruit.

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