Lemon Chamomile Cake
With its bright orange marigolds, sunny dried lemons, and neat buttercream frosting, this cake is like a breath of fresh, spring air in the midst of winter. It is as delightful to eat as it is to see. The cake has the loveliest texture, and it tastes lemony and lightly floral — the chamomile’s faint perfume.
This is one of those recipes we played with quite a bit in the test kitchen. For example, our bakers tried a reverse creaming method on the cake batter. They were going for density, but the result was too heavy for such a delicately flavored cake. So instead, we’ve used a génoise sponge formula. If you’ve not been (obsessively) watching “The Great British Baking Show,” this method involves mixing eggs yolks with melted butter, oil, sugar, and flour, and then gently folding a meringue into the batter for loft. The sponge allows us to steep chamomile leaves in the melted butter — thus ensuring we make the most of the flower’s gentle flavor and infuse the whole cake with it.
As for the frosting, we chose a Swiss buttercream, and added mascarpone to make it tangy and a bit lighter. The frosting highlights the cake’s lemony notes while not masking the chamomile. It’s marvelous: light, silky, and just sweet enough to be pleasing. And if we do say so ourselves, the cake to frosting ratio is perfect.
This is such an absurdly pretty cake, eating it feels like a gift. Make it for your S.O. on Valentine’s Day, your B.F.F. on the occasion of their baby shower, or your M.I.L. on her big, special birthday.
For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, divided
5 Tbsp vegetable oil
Leaves from 12 bags chamomile tea
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp whole milk, room temperature
Zest from 2 large lemons
6 Tbsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
5 large Gelson’s eggs, separated, room temperature
4 large Gelson’s egg yolks, room temperature
3 ¾ cups cake flour, plus more for for dusting pans
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 ⅔ cups granulated sugar, divided
Gelson’s edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
Dehydrated lemon slices, for garnish (optional)
For the mascarpone buttercream:
6 large Gelson’s eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt
3 sticks plus 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoons
⅓ cup mascarpone
Special equipment: 3 8-inch cake pans
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Using 1 tablespoon of the butter, butter 3 8-inch cake pans, line them with parchment paper rounds, butter the parchment, and dust them with flour.
In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 ⅓ cups of sugar. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 stick plus 7 tablespoons of butter with the oil and chamomile tea leaves. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and beginning to simmer on the edges. Cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and let it set for 10 minutes. Strain the chamomile-butter through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. It’s okay if a few tea particles remain. Allow to cool.
Add the whole milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and 9 egg yolks. Gently whisk until well combined.
Gently pour the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture while whisking. Continue to whisk until the mixtures are fully incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the 5 egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about another minute.
Slowly add the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of the egg white mixture into the batter until no streaks remain. Repeat with the remaining egg white mixture.
Divide the batter evenly among the three cake pans and smooth the tops. Tap the cake pans on the counter 3 to 4 times to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool completely, about 1 to 2 hours. Note: the cakes can be made 1 day ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature.
To make the buttercream: In a medium saucepan, heat 1 inch of water until simmering.
In a heatproof bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Set the bowl over the simmering water, and whisk continuously until the mixture becomes foamy and dark yellow and reaches 160° on an instant-read thermometer. Immediately remove the bowl from the heat.
Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until light, fluffy and cooled, about 5 minutes.
On medium speed, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, letting each piece break down before adding the next. Note: Softened butter should be cool to the touch, but you should be able to create an indentation in it if you apply pressure with your finger. If you can create an indentation with no pressure, the butter is too warm.
Add the mascarpone and beat until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
To assemble the cake: Remove the parchment paper from each cake layer. Place a dollop of frosting on a serving plate and top it with one cake layer. This secures the cake to the plate. Spread a ½-inch, even layer of frosting on the cake layer and chill until the frosting firms up, about 15 minutes.
Add the second layer of cake and frosting and chill until firm.
Add the final layer of cake, coat the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting, filling in any holes, and chill until firm. This layer will suspend the crumbs and allow the outer layer of frosting to appear clean and smooth.
With the remaining buttercream, frost the whole cake. If desired, decorate the cake with edible flowers and dehydrated lemon slices and serve. Store the cake in the refrigerator for up to three days. Bring to room temperature before serving.