I’ve mentioned before that I’m known by my friends as the official birthday cake baker. I love cakes. I even like the way the word “cake” sounds-fluffy and sweet.
But after making several vintage cake recipes, I realize our perception of the dessert has changed in the last 100 years or so. Blame Betty Crocker. Cakes in the old days were delicious and sweet-but they were flat. They lacked baking powder. This can be disconcerting until you get used to it.
I’m telling you this because this lovely lemon crème cake is flat. So if you make it for guests not used to the look of a vintage cake, they might think there is something wrong with it!
I made this for my friend Michelle. I was so thrilled to get a request for something other than chocolate (yes, a girl CAN get tired of baking chocolate cakes) and it was really good. I sent the leftovers home with Michelle, who tells me it was even better after sitting for a day so try making it a day ahead of when you want to serve it.
The recipe comes from the book Desserts and Salads (I love how they put Desserts first in the title!) by Gesine Lemcke, owner of the Brooklyn and New York Cooking Schools. It was published in 1920. Here’s how you make it.
• ½ cup butter
• 1 cup (don’t skimp) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
• 3 eggs, divided into whites and yolks
• 1 1/4 cup milk, divided
• 1 ½ cup flour
• 3 lemons
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two cake pans.
Cream the butter and one cup of the sugar. Beat the egg whites to a stiff froth and add them to the butter and sugar alternately with the flour and ½ cup of milk. (I went around in thirds-egg white, beat, flour, beat, milk, beat, repeat!) It will look something like this:
Zest and juice two of the lemons. Add the zest and juice to the batter and mix. Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
Bake until just golden brown and done in the middle-about 15 minutes-remember, they’re thin layers so they don’t take long to bake!
While the layers are cooking, dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup cold milk, set aside. Boil 1/2 cup milk with the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the boiling milk and sugar mixture, whisk until smooth and let it boil a few more minutes. Add a pinch of butter (about a teaspoon) and salt and remove the mixture from the heat.
Beat the egg yolks and stir them into the cornstarch-milk-sugar mixture. Juice and zest the last lemon and add that to the mix.
When the cake has cooked, take out one layer and put it on a plate or in a size-appropriate container that has a rim to keep liquid from spilling. Using a ladle, pour some of the crème filling you just made onto the cake. Add the second layer, and pour the rest of the crème filling onto the cake. Allow to sit, up to a day if you can, to let the filling soak in. When you’re ready to serve you can either dust it with powdered sugar or cover just the top with a thin layer of commercial lemon frosting(that’s what I did).
As I said, it was a big hit at our little birthday bash. I hope you enjoy it!