This recipe is a rich-tasting and lovely interpretation of the lemon elderflower cake that will be made by Claire Ptak and served at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Feel free to adapt this recipe to suit your time and skill level. You can omit the filling and use frosting in between the cake layers, or just plain lemon curd.
You can decorate the cake with fresh, edible flowers (be sure they have been grown for culinary use). If you want to try your hand at crystallizing flowers, see the related recipe. Candied lemon slices or peel are an option for a non-DIY garnish.
If you abstain from alcohol or don't want to buy the St-Germain called for here, you can leave it out or use more of the elderflower cordial in its place.
Click here to see step-by-step photos and a video for this recipe.
Make Ahead: The baked, cooled cakes that have been brushed with cordial can be wrapped well and refrigerated for several days or frozen for up to several weeks. The buttercream frosting can be refrigerated for several days; return it to a smooth consistency by stirring or using a mixer. The frosted and decorated cake can be stored overnight in the refrigerator in a cake caddy, under a cake dome or loosely tented with plastic wrap.
Where to Buy: Belvoir Fruit Farms elderflower cordial (nonalcoholic) is available at World Market. It can also be ordered from various sites online. Ikea sells an elderflower syrup as well.
- For the cake
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon; reserve the juice for the frosting)
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon St-Germain or other elderflower liqueur (optional)
- 1/2 cup elderflower cordial, plus more as needed (see headnote)
- For the filling
- 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought lemon curd, at room temperature (see related recipe)
- For the frosting
- 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 to 5 cups confectioners' sugar, or more as needed
- 7 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 tablespoon St-Germain or other elderflower liqueur (optional; see headnote)
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- For assembly
- Crystallized Flowers, edible fresh flowers, or a mix (optional; see related recipe)
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Use a little butter or baker’s spray to grease three 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. (If you only have one or two pans, cover the batter that’s waiting to be baked; hold at room temperature. Make sure the cake pans are cool before you reuse them, which is pretty easily done with a wash in cool water in the sink.)
Place the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Use your clean fingers to rub the lemon zest into the sugar until the sugar is aromatic and moist.
Add the butter; beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and almost white. Meanwhile, lightly whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and salt in a liquid measuring cup. Reduce the speed to low; gradually add to the butter-sugar mixture until fully incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add half of it to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined, then add the milk and the elderflower liqueur, if using. Beat on low speed, until combined. Add the remaining flour; beat on low speed until no trace of dry flour remains. Divide equally among the cake pans and smooth the top with an offset or flexible spatula. (If you have a kitchen scale, each portion of batter should weigh about 300 grams, or about 10 1/2 ounces.)
Bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of the cakes spring back to the touch. The edges will be lightly browned and starting to pull away from the sides of the pans. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a round-edged knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to release the layers. Invert onto a wire rack and peel off the parchment paper. Use a pastry brush to apply the elderflower cordial a total of four times, allowing a few minutes in between so the liquid is absorbed.
If you need to reuse the pans to yield a total of three layers, wash and dry the pan(s) and repeat the baking and brushing with cordial.
For the filling: Pour the heavy whipping cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with balloon-whisk attachment or use a handheld electric mixer. Beat on high speed until it can hold a firm peak. (Pull off the whisk attachment or beaters out and see how the cream in the bowl and on the equipment looks. If it flops over, it needs more time; if it holds its shape, you’re set.)
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold in half of the lemon curd, lifting cream from the bottom of the bowl over the top of the cream, rotating the bowl as you work. Be careful not to deflate the cream too much. Fold in the remaining lemon curd. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to fill the cake.
For the frosting: Combine the butter and 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Beat on low speed and then increase to medium-high. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium-low speed, gradually add the milk, beating until combined.
Add 2 more cups of confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed for at least 3 minutes. The mixture should be smooth. Add the lemon zest and juice and St-Germain, if using; beat on low speed until incorporated. Continue adding more confectioners’ sugar until you get the right consistency (this can vary somewhat depending on the temperature of your kitchen and how soft the butter was initially); the frosting needs to be thin enough to spread but thick enough to not run off the cake. It’s perfectly fine to let the frosting chill for a bit in the refrigerator; you may need to briefly beat it again to smooth it back out.
To assemble the cake, place a dab of frosting in the middle of a 9- or 10-inch cardboard cake round (you could also just place the cake directly on a large plate, ideally with little or no rim). Place one cake layer in the center, with the cordial-soaked side face up.
Use a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip or zip-top bag with one corner cut off to squeeze a border of frosting around the top of the cake, just inside the edge. This will serve as a kind of dam to hold in the filling.
Use an offset spatula or spoon to spread half the filling inside the ring of frosting. Place the next cake layer on top, also cordial-brushed side up. Repeat with another ring of frosting and the rest of the filling.
Lay the final cake layer on top. Place a small amount of frosting in a separate bowl for the crumb coat, which is your base layer of frosting that will help seal in the crumbs and give you a smooth surface to which you can apply the rest of the frosting. Use an offset spatula or table knife to apply the thin crumb coat all over the top and sides of the cake. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, to let the crumb coat set.
Apply the remaining frosting to the cake, and decorate the top with crystallized and/or fresh flowers, if using. Return the cake to the refrigerator to let the frosting firm back up, another 20 or 30 minutes.
Because the filling and frosting are soft, the cake is easier to cut when it's still a bit chilled; by the time everyone eats the cake, its temperature will be just right. Let the cake sit at room temperature for just a few minutes before cutting into slices and serving.
From Voraciously lead writer Becky Krystal, based on recipes from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook,” by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press, 2015).
Tested by Becky Krystal.
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