Watermelon Lemonade Cake
Happy Blogiversary Baking With Chickens! It’s been one year since this little blog popped into the universe as part of our dream (me and Mr. Baking With Chickens) to turn this hustle into something that will allow us to work from anywhere in the world and take us one step closer to our goal of living as ex-pats in Portugal. CHEERS TO ONE YEAR!
I decided to make a celebration cake because layer cakes are something that I’m typically TERRIBLE at making and it still intimidates the hell out of me. I’ve only made one that tasted good -- a London Fog cake inspired by Cadeaux Bakery with vanilla bean cake, white chocolate mousse, chocolate earl grey ganache, Earl grey tea soaking syrup and Chantilly cream. My other ugly cake children were too dry, lopsided with smushed filling, ugly as all hell, or looked like it was wearing a Frankenstein wig.
What I've learned is that cake-making is an exercise in patience and being present. I've never been a patient person who pays extreme attention to detail. Making a layer cake is about taking the time to do it step-by-step instead of taking shortcuts (I am the queen of shortcuts). I learn something new from every failure and find a new way to fail in each bake. So it seems only appropriate that I make a layer cake in honor of Baking With Chickens’ Blogiversary.
Why I Suck at Making Layer Cakes
Here are all the ways I’ve failed at making cakes:
Cake is dry and hard
Filling layer squishes out the sides and is thin and non-existent
Frosting looks hideous, can’t get it smooth
Frosting falls off the sides of the cake
Frosting tastes like chalk butter
Entire cake is lopsided and uneven
Tips for How to Make Better Frosted Layer Cakes
And here’s what I learned from those failures to make better cakes that suck significantly less.
Refrigerate or Freeze the Cakes BEFORE Frosting and Stacking. By wrapping and freezing the cake before you seal in the moisture, it makes the cake easier to handle when stacking and frosting.
Don’t Be Afraid of Soaking Syrup. It’s the professional cake baker’s secret to moist, flavorful cake. Using a flavored simple syrup helps keep the cake layers moist and adds extra flavor.
Keep The Buttercream Cool To Stay Spreadable Yet Stiff. Too cold and your buttercream will be too hard to spread, too warm and it will be thin and runny because of the butter temp. Slightly cooler than room temp is a good consistency.
Chill Your Frosted Cake in the Fridge to Set the Frosting. It will help harden the frosting so you can make smooth, clean frosting designs. If it ever feels too soft or melty, pop it back into the fridge to chill and harden the frosting.
Get The Right Tools. Having the right cake decorating tools makes ALL the difference. I didn’t want to buy all the stuff either and made do with what I had for a long time. But not having the right tools like a decorating spatula, cake turntable, piping bags and tips, cake boards, pastry cutter/dough scraper tool was the reason why my cakes looked terrible and it felt so difficult to make.
My Dirty Cake Hack Secret: I don’t have a pastry cutter or dough scraper. Having a big, flat tool like that is how you get those perfectly smooth frosted cake sides. For this cake, I hacked one together one by taping parchment paper around a piece of cardboard. So trashy, but whatever, IT WORKED!
Watermelon Lemonade Cake
This is straight-up inspired by the new Organic Watermelon Fruit Spread from Trader Joe’s. Have you seen it?? This organic fruit spread is crazy good and a new Summer 2020 item. I knew I had to bake something with it. I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s watermelon everything during the summer, especially the Dried Watermelon Jerky and Watermelon Cucumber Cooler. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, you could make a watermelon spread by cooking down pureed watermelon, cherry juice, sugar and pectin to make a soft, spreadable jam.
Googling “Watermelon Cake” was an interesting exercise. I wasn’t able to find anything like what imagined - a tart lemon cake with watermelon fruit filling. I imagined that it would taste like a glass of summer in a cake.
How to Make a Painted Buttercream Cake
I loved this artsy style and was inspired by Coco Cake Land. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do this style of an abstract painted buttercream, the finished result looks so rad! I just took out a scoop of the plain buttercream into 5 separate containers, added a drop of coloring to each bowl, and used my cake decorating spatula to swipe/paint colors on the cake and layer the colors on top of each other. Surprisingly easy for someone who sucks at frosting cakes.
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Get the Recipe
Watermelon Lemonade Cake
A delightful twist on a lemon cake with watermelon jam filling that tastes just like a refreshing cold glass of watermelon lemonade on a hot summer day -- in a cake. Made with yogurt, a fluffy lemon cake with layers of watermelon jam for a sweet and tart dessert. A Baking With Chickens Original Recipe.
Makes one 9-inch cake, serves 8-10
Time to Prepare: TOTAL 4 hours
Lemon Cake, adapted from The View From Great Island
9 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plain greek yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
Yellow gel food coloring (optional)
Watermelon Lemonade Soaking Syrup
1 cup watermelon puree
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease 2 non-stick 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment to ensure good release.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
4. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Add in lemon juice and beat together.
5. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and lemon zest. Add to the butter mixture alternately with the yogurt and mix until well combined. Scrape down the bowl.
7. Fold in the whipped egg whites until no white streaks remain.
8. Spread the batter evenly between the two cake pans and even out the tops with an offset spatula. Bang the pans on the counter a couple of times to knock out any air bubbles and help even the top.
9. Bake the cakes on the same oven shelf for about 25 minutes, or until the center springs back when touched and the edges are just starting to turn golden. Don't over bake.
10. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes before turning them out and cooling them completely on a rack.
11. Wrap cooled cake pieces in plastic wrap and put into the freezer. If freezing ahead for a longer time, put the wrapped cakes into an airtight container or freezer bag.
12. As cakes are cooling, prepare the Watermelon Lemonade Soaking Syrup, combine watermelon puree, lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is a syrup consistency. Cool and set aside. Save the watermelon rinds and feed them to your chickens, or make pickled watermelon rinds for yourself.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting, adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Makes 2.5 cups of frosting. (Note: This makes enough for a thin layer of frosting for your cake. I’m not a huge frosting fan. If you love frosting and prefer a thick layer, then double the recipe to make 5 cups of frosting.
3 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool and cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Whisk sugar into the egg whites, then set the bowl over a saucepan filled with just two inches of simmering water over medium heat. Do not let the bottom of the egg whites bowl touch the water.
2. Whisk the whites and sugar constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture has thinned out, about 4 minutes.
3. Transfer warm mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. On medium-high speed, beat the mixture until stiff glossy peaks form, at least 10-15 minutes. If the bowl and meringue still feel warm, wait until both cool to room temperature before adding the butter in the next step. Place it in the refrigerator. A warm bowl and meringue will melt the butter.
4. Switch the stand mixer to the paddle attachment. On medium-high speed, add the butter 1 Tablespoon at a time. Wait for the butter to fully mix in before adding the next Tablespoon. After all the butter has been added, turn the mixer down to medium speed and fully beat in the lemon juice and salt, about 30 seconds.
5. Your Swiss meringue buttercream should be thick, creamy, and silky smooth. (Thank you Sally's Baking Addiction for these troubleshooting tips!)
Too Thick: If your meringue has separated, curdled, or is too thick at any point after you mix in all of the butter, place the mixture in your heat-proof bowl back over a pot of 2 inches of simmering water. Without stirring, let the edges of the meringue warm up and become liquid (the center of the meringue will still be solid), about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and return to the mixer. Beat meringue on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to medium-high speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Too Thin: If your mixture has become too thin and soupy after you add the butter, place the entire bowl in the refrigerator (covered or uncovered, doesn’t matter) for 20 minutes to cool down, then return it to the mixer and beat on medium-high speed until thickened. Any longer than this will solidify the butter, so only refrigerate in 20-minute spurts. If it’s still soupy, place back in the refrigerator for longer before re-whipping again.
ASSEMBLE + DECORATE
1. Take cakes out of the freezer and unwrap.
2. Slice off the “cake bump” tops using a bread knife so you have flat top cakes. If you want a two-layer cake, leave as is. If you’d like a three or four-layer cake, slice your flat cakes in half along the side. Thinner cake layers means more watermelon filling, which is a good thing!
3. Place one layer of cake down on top of a round 9” cake board. Use a small dollop of frosting between the cake board and cake to help hold it in place.
4. Brush the soaking syrup on the top of the first layer. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top of the cake to help keep the jam layer from soaking into the cake.
5. Fill a small piping bag with frosting. Pipe a ring of frosting around the top edge of the cake, so acts like a wall to hold in the jam.
6. Generously spread the watermelon jam in the middle of the cake. Evenly spread it out over the top of the cake to the edge of the frosting wall.
7. Gently place your second layer of cake on top of the jam. Brush the top of that cake with the soaking syrup, and repeat with the frosting and watermelon spread. Repeat with as many cake layers as you’re making. If at any time your frosting is getting too soupy or soft, place the cake and frosting into the fridge to chill and harden. If the frosting gets too soft, the cake layers between the cake will squish out the sides. You may have to do this several times throughout the frosting process depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
8. Before placing the top cake layer, brush the bottom of that cake piece with soaking syrup. Place on top of the cake with the soaking syrup side down.
9. Frost a thin “crumb layer” of frosting around and top the top of your entire cake. This helps seal in all the crumbs and hold the cake together. Place in the fridge to cool and set for at least an hour. If you're leaving it in the fridge overnight, cover it in plastic wrap so the cake doesn't dry out.
10. Take the cooled cake out of the fridge. Slather on the frosting and frost your cake on the sides and top until you get smooth sides. A cake decorating spatula, that flat pastry cutter, and a cake turntable is real helpful here. Put the cake back into the fridge to cool and frosting to set. Harder stiff frosting on the cake will make it easier to “paint” the color buttercream.
11. Scoop out a few small spoonfuls of frosting into small bowls (# depends on how many colors you choose). Mix the frosting with a tiny drop of gel food coloring. Set aside in the fridge to stay cool.
12. When the cake buttercream looks and feels stiff and set, take it out and get ready to paint your buttercream design!
13. Using a cake decorating spatula or back of a spoon, spread a small amount of the colored frosting on the cake. Use the spatula to spread it so it looks like a paint swatch. Repeat with different colors and layer the colors and frosting over each other. Clean/wipe your spatula after each color to prevent color contamination.
14. Place in the fridge to cool and set again before serving.
15. You did it!! Enjoy your artsy cake masterpiece!
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