This is quickly turning into a cake blog and I’m not mad about it. I’ll still publish savory recipes for those of you who aren’t big bakers, but I’ve been having so much fun writing and testing cake recipes over the past few weeks that I just can’t resist posting them all.
It would be a crime not to make good use of the PNW berry season, so this cake is full of fruit! There’s a healthy amount of lemon zest in the cake batter, a strawberry lemonade syrup made from fresh strawberries and lemon juice, and tons of fresh produce on top. I considered adding a strawberry jam filling as well, but that seemed like overkill.
The cake layers are rich and dense like pound cake. Made with buttermilk, they have a moist and buttery crumb. The cream cheese frosting incorporates smooth ricotta cheese for a subtle yet fun twist on a classic, but if you don’t have ricotta, it’s fine to use regular cream cheese frosting. The buttercream flowers are a little tricky to make (you need a decorating nail, a piping bag, specialized piping tips, and a lot of patience), so you can definitely use edible flowers instead or just some extra strawberries.
I added moisture to the cake by drenching the warm cake layers with a strawberry lemonade-flavored simple syrup. Most cakes get their moisture from simple syrup anyways, so a flavored syrup adds both moisture and extra flavor. It’s a great way to get a strawberry-flavored cake without actually putting strawberries in the batter. The only consideration is that you need to drench the cakes while they’re still in the tins so the syrup can’t run all over the place, but this makes the cakes a little harder to remove. You can line the tins with parchment paper rounds as an insurance policy.
Strawberry Lemonade Cake with Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 ⅓ cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp (3 g) fine salt
- 2 tsp (8 g) baking powder
- ½ tsp (3 g) baking soda
- 12 tbsp (1 ½ sticks or 170 g) unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups (248 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon zest
- 1 tsp (5 g) real vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 210 g buttermilk
- 65 g lemon juice fresh or bottled
Cream Cheese Ricotta Frosting
- 4 oz (½ a block) cream cheese room temperature
- 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter room temperature
- ¼ cup smooth ricotta cheese
- 1 tsp real vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 2-3 cups confectioner’s sugar
Lemonade Simple Syrup
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 5 strawberries de-stemmed and chopped
- Fresh strawberries
- Buttercream flowers optional
- Prepare the Ingredients: Preheat the oven to 350º F/180º C. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer and cream for 1-2 minutes, then add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. In a third bowl, mix together the buttermilk and lemon juice.
- Make the Cakes: Add the buttermilk/lemon juice and dry ingredients to the stand mixer by adding 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then repeating until done, making sure you end with the dry ingredients. Grease and flour three 6″ cake tins, then split the batter evenly between each one. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centers comes out clean. I used cake strips for flatter, more even layers (see notes below).
- Make the Syrup: Remove the cakes from the oven but leave them in the tins. Add all the simple syrup ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pass through a strainer into a small saucepan, then bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Once boiling, remove from heat. Use a skewer or a toothpick to poke lots of holes through the warm cakes and pour the syrup evenly over the three layers. Let soak in for about 10 minutes.
- Cool the Cakes: Turn the cakes out (wiggle a knife around the outside if needed) onto a cutting board covered in parchment paper. Freeze for at least 30 minutes or until very cold and not sticky to the touch.
- Make the Frosting: Meanwhile, use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the ricotta, vanilla, and salt. Add the confectioner’s sugar ½ cup at a time, beating to combine after each addition. The frosting is done when it’s a thick, spreadable consistency. If it’s still too thin after adding 3 cups of sugar, put it in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to let it thicken up.
- Assemble and Crumb Coat: Add a dab of frosting to the center of a rotating cake stand and place the first cake layer on top of it. Use an offset spatula to add a thin layer of frosting on top, then add the second cake layer and repeat. Add the third layer and place a large dollop of frosting on top. Smooth it down the sides and use the spatula to even it out. The frosting should be thin – the purpose of this coat is to stick the crumbs to the cake. Make sure the layers are perfectly in line. Once the frosting is smoothed to your liking, refrigerate or freeze the cake until solid.
- Decorate: Once the crumb coat is set, you can decorate the cake however you want. I added another thin layer of frosting so the pink cake could still show through, but you could add a thicker layer to make the outside of the cake completely white. I arranged fresh strawberries and buttercream roses on top; the roses are somewhat advanced and totally optional.