Baking Recipes,  Layer cakes

Simple birthdays and lemon cakes with chocolate

I’ve never really been the sort for extravagant celebrations, not especially since the void created by my grandma’s death is still a bit fresh. I’m simply not the kind of person who acts extra special when it’s her birthday. It feels just like any other day to me. I don’t even recall wishing hard and blowing out candles for the last couple of years. But the thing I look forward to when there’s a birthday are definitely the lunches or dinners out with the whole family. Oh, and the chance to make another layer cake.

I shared before that my little brother Jason and I shared a birthdate. He was born 5 years after me, and I remember distinctly it was during my birthday dinner when my Mother was rushed to the hospital. Jason and I, we didn’t get along at first. But these days he has somewhat become one of my closest friends. I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve certainly come a long way in terms of our relationship as siblings. We have a lot of traits and hobbies in common, but it took us a while to jive. (He’s even a blogger too!) Oh if you could only see how insane we both used to be.

In recent years, Jason and I always jointly decided the restaurant where we’ll have the family get-together. And ever since I picked up this baking habit, I began consulting him about the cake as well. I guess that must mean I trusted his taste as much as I trust mine. We would pick the flavours of the cake together, and I would make it and watch in anticipation as he took a bite.

I’ve always thought of Jason as more of a red velvet kind of kid. He loves the indulgent, bursting with flavour kind of dessert. As for me, I like classics such as plain old chocolate cake better. And then there’s lemon, which has always been one of my absolute favourite flavours in a baked good. I’d like to think Jason picked this cake on purpose because he knows I like lemon a lot. If so, it’s just right to commend him for picking out one of the best lemon cakes I’ve ever had!

I’m not exaggerating when I say I really think this lemon cake recipe- and by that I mean the cake itself sans the frosting- is a real keeper. I was simply blown away by how much lemon scent and flavour the cake layers packed in them. It smelled great going into the oven, and simply divine coming out.

The problem I’ve often had with “lemon cakes” is that they don’t have enough lemon in them. There’s a scent, sure, but I prefer them to have even a hint of tanginess. This cake is packed with zest and juice to make sure the lemon is represented as much as possible without having to soak the cake in some sort of lemon syrup.

My only issue with this whole recipe is actually the frosting. Despite my love for baking, I am uncomfortable with having to add more than 2 cups of sugar into the frosting. This recipe required 4 AND A HALF CUPS. I cut it down to 2 cups and added another half cup to get a nice spreadable consistency, but the frosting became already too sweet for me at that point. (I can just imagine what 4 1/2 cups taste like!!!)

I find frosting that is too sweet and piled on too much to be a major deal-breaker in any cake or cupcake, at least for me. I did find however that the lovely fluffiness of the frosting made it incredibly easy to handle. Meh. Maybe I’m simply not a frosting girl, but the next time I make this cake I will try it out with my favourite version of chocolate frosting so far.

Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

One of the best lemon cakes I've ever had paired with a very sweet, very fluffy chocolate frosting.

makes one 9-inch 3-layer cake


For the cake

  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk, divided
  • 5 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest, from 4 medium lemons
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, from 4 medium lemons
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1 ½ cups 3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 ½ to 4 ½ cups powdered sugar*
  • ½ to 3/4 cup heavy cream, more or less as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract


Make the cake

  • 1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour the bottoms and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans; or line with parchment paper and butter the parchment.
  • 2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix to combine.
  • 3. Add butter and 3/4 cup of whole milk. Mix on low speed until flour is evenly moistened, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • 4. In a small bowl, beat remaining 1/4 cup milk with eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Add to the batter mixture one-third at a time, mixing well after each addition. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.
  • 5. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, until lightly golden on the edges and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.
  • 6. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edge of the pan, then invert the cake onto a wire rack. It should come out easily and cleanly. Remove parchment from the bottom, if used. At this point the cakes can be wrapped tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use.

Make the frosting

  • 7. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cocoa powder and beat until incorporated.
  • 8. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. As frosting thickens, add a few tablespoons of cream as needed. Depending on the temperature and consistency of your frosting, continue alternating adding cream and powdered sugar, then continue beating until frosting is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

To assemble

  • 9. Level each cake layer by cutting off the domed top with a long serrated knife.** Place one layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread on about 1/2 cup of frosting onto cake using an offset spatula. Position second layer on top and press to adhere. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of frosting, and then position final cake layer, flat side up.
  • 10. Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting to act as a crumb coat. This will keep the stray crumbs in place and make frosting the cake easier. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to allow this crumb coat to set.
  • 11. Remove cake from refrigerator and cover with remaining frosting, reserving some for piping decorative details if desired. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes before serving.


* The original recipe calls for 4 ½ cups of sugar. I used only 2 ½ cups and found it a bit too sweet for my taste. Next time I make this cake I will pair it with my favourite Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting.
** I did not level my cake but it still turned out fine.
Adapted from Love & Olive Oil blog

Birthdays, they don’t have to be loud. As long as the company and the food are great, I don’t think there’s any other thing I could wish for more.

Happy birthday to us indeed! 🙂

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