Ok, maybe “ancient” is stretching it a bit. My brother-in-law just turned 40 and we love bugging him about his age (not because 40 is old but because we’re arseholes who love to insult him). It’s a big deal, hitting the 4-0. My sister-in-law has been joking for the past year that she was going to send a singing gorilla to his workplace on the special day. Unfortunately, she’s too loving and considerate of his feelings to actually do something like that but I think it’d be hilarious!
My in-laws have owned a hair salon for the past 30 years. They have no employees, they run the shop all by themselves. It’s located on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, which is considered the Italian part of town given how many Italian shops, restaurants and cafes line the street. It’s a wonderfully vibrant, thriving, cultured area. For as long as the Husband can remember, his mum would buy a lemon cake from a nearby Italian bakery for their birthdays every year. These boys loved that cake. As much as I love all desserts, I wasn’t that huge of a fan (sacrilege! I was almost kicked out of the family over this). The cake was very light with many layers, held together by a buttercream frosting, with cream puffs and slivers of pastry adorning the top. The Husband and the BIL were devastated when the bakery stopped producing this cake about a year ago.
Taking inspiration from that beloved cake, I decided to make a vanilla buttermilk cake with lemon pastry cream and puff pastry layers. While there are things I would do differently next time to improve upon it, I have to say we were all pretty happy with how it turned out.
Vanilla buttermilk cake (source: Sweetapolita)
4 whole eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1-1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
2 tspn pure vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter three 8-inch round cake pans.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, yolks, 1/4 cup buttermilk and the vanilla. Whisk together.
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer (I went with the latter obviously!), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to blend.
Add the butter and remaining cup of buttermilk to the flour mixture and with the mixer on low, blend together. Place a towel over the mixer and bowl to prevent flour from spraying all over the place.
Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the side of the bowl as you go and mix until it’s all thoroughly combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the 3 prepared pan. Sweetapolita recommends using a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers. I usually just eyeball it but because I wanted the cake to be perfect, I happily used my kitchen scale. Bake the cake layers for 25-35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.
Lemon Pastry Cream (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, pages 448-449)
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temp
zest of 2 small lemons, cut from the fruit in wide strips (be careful not to include too much of the white pith)
Place the lemon zest into the milk and bring it to a boil in a small saucepan. After it boils, remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let steep for one hour. After the hour, bring the milk back to a boil. Pour the milk through a sieve into a bowl to get rid of the lemon zest.
In a medium saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until well blended.
Still whisking, pour about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper it (so that your yolks won’t scramble). Continue whisking and slowly pour in the rest of the milk. Place the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously and continuously, bring the mixture to a boil. At this point, it’s going to thicken up very fast. Keep it at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
Whisk in the vanilla. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter. Stir until the butter has melted and is fully incorporated into the pastry cream. It will be gloriously silky and glossy at this point. If your pastry cream has hard bits of cooked egg, press it through a sieve to get rid of the chunks. Dorie’s recipe is pretty foolproof – I’ve made this several times and have never had chunks in it.
Scrape the cream into a bowl, allow it to cool to room temperature, then place a sheet of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal (to prevent a skin from forming) and store in the refrigerator.
I used good ol’ Tenderflake. I’d love to make it from scratch one of these days, especially after seeing the ah-may-zing homemade puff pastry my good friend Paula from Vintage Kitchen Notes made (see here for her gorgeous post).
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
zest of one lemon
In a medium bowl with a handmixer or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the butter at medium high until light and fluffy. Slowly add in the powdered sugar and mix. Add the vanilla and lemon zest and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Keep mixing until your frosting is thick and fluffy.
Now for the fun part – putting it all together!
I layered it in the following order: vanilla cake, pastry cream, puff pastry, vanilla cake, pastry cream, puff pastry, vanilla cake. I then frosted the whole shebang and covered the sides with crushed shortbread cookies. Peak Freans, my favourite!
Note: next time, I’d put a layer of frosting or jam inbetween the cake and the puff pastry. I didn’t think of it until it was too late and I didn’t have enough frosting for two extra layers so I only smeared a bit of it in the middle of the puff pastry. Obviously, when it came time to cut the cake, the layers didn’t really stick together.
Every single element of this cake was amazing. But together? This is a dream dessert.
It wasn’t too sweet; the cake was dense, moist and delicately sweet from the vanilla with the slightest tang from the buttermilk and the pastry cream was smooth, silky and uber-lemony albeit a bit too chunky-looking from too much time spent in the fridge. You can’t go wrong with crunchy, flaky Tenderflake puff pastry. The buttercream was wonderfully fresh and vibrant from the lemon zest and not too sweet and the crunchy bits of delightful shortbread cookie just brought it all together.