This is one of those recipes that ballooned. It was supposed to be a simple lemon sandwich cake. Then it turned into a quadruple lemon layer cake and then I pulled it back to a less exuberant lemon layer cake. I’m happy with it at three tiers high. Four tiers would have been showing off.
Speaking of showing off, did I mention that I went to the Good Housekeeping Awards on Thursday? I was nominated for best food blog, up against Tinned Tomatoes and Deliciously Ella. And, well, I won! I am still in shock. (Scroll to the bottom for the recipe if you don’t want to hear about the awards).
The awards were held at RIBA in London. The run up to the awards was a little stressful. Husband had agreed to come as my plus one, so we had arranged for the boys to stay at my parents. Then my Dad got ill (nothing serious thank goodness) but it meant that they felt looking after Laurie without his brothers would be easiest as no school drop offs for him. So the two older boys were taken in by my lovely school mum friend who happens to have a 5 year old, 3 year old and 3 month old. She insisted she could cope fine with all 5 of them (5!) and of course she did. She is that kind of woman. A HUGE thank you to her.
So we spent the afternoon at the Aldi Taste of Christmas event which was excellent (pics coming soon of all the treat they have in store for Christmas this year, but take it from me, you need their truffle cheese in your life), had a little cocktail, checked into the hotel and got ready for the awards.
I was nervous. The dresses (2) I had taken with me suddenly didn’t make me feel so lovely anymore. I considered wearing my jeans and jacket combo I’d travelled in. I thought about scouring the shops for a new dress. It was too late. I plastered on extra make up as some form of defence mechanism and then we walked to RIBA.
It was a lovely balmy London evening. I felt very nostalgic for the years I lived there. Which is somewhat ironic as it wasn’t all a bed of roses working and living in London. RIBA is just stunning, which of course it should be given it’s the Royal Institute of British Architects. There was a champagne reception and given it was such a warm evening everyone gravitated towards the courtyard. We chatted to the lovely ladies who work in the commercial arm of Good Housekeeping – the bit where they test all the products. Then we met up with the PR girls who look after AEG. I spend a lot of time emailing and chatting with press officers when working with brands so it was nice to put faces to names.
Antonio Carluccio arrived, then James Martin, then Mary Berry and Lucy her assistant. The place was filling up. And then we were called to the auditorium for the awards. On the way in a small bottle of champagne was given to each of us and we took out places. Jane Asher was the compere for the evening and was incredibly funny – great comic timing. First the brand awards for best storecupboard staple, best supermarket, best online delivery and so on. It just so happened Stewart and I were sitting next to the folks from Oxo. We had a good chat about the ‘squashing Oxo cubes in the foil’ trick that’s been sweeping the internet. (Rock and roll!)
Then the people focused awards. The first category up was best food blog. I saw the other names up on the screen and didn’t put my drink down. Then Jane said ‘she’s a mum, she’s written two books’ (or something like this – I admit my memory of this bit is hazy – I know she played a kind of guess who though) and by this point I realised and put my drink down. I climbed up the steps and stood next to Jane to have my photo taken. I kepy saying ‘I can’t believe it’ and she reminded me I needed to hold the award with her. (I was just standing there smiling whilst the photographer took our photo).
I walked back to my seat (during which time Mary and I caught each others eye – she was really clapping and smiling which was lovely) but was asked to pop upstairs for a proper photo. So up I went and on the way back down James Martin crossed me on the stairs. He was off to have his photo taken with one of his two awards. I got back to my seat just in time to see Mary collect her award for best cookery book.
The awards finished and we were ushered upstairs to enjoy flat white Baileys martinis. I don’t need to tell you that these were lethal. They didn’t especially taste of alcohol, more like a milkshake. So I had four. I paid for it the next day.
Mary popped over and congratulated me. I reciprocated. She asked after the boys too. I think I mumbled about them being lovely but tiring. (True!) The best way to describe the evening is ‘surreal’. To top it all off I got chatting to Jo Pratt at the end of the evening and it turns out she went to school with my husband. Small world.
The walk back to the hotel became a hunt for food. Despite there being lovely canapes and cakes at the awards, I’d neglected to eat enough. Most places were closed or closing as it was so late. But the Salt Yard was open and managed to squeeze us in. It’s a place I used to visit with my friends. It was just as good as I remembered. All the pics are up on Instagram if you’re interested.
We stayed at the St Giles Hotel near Tottenham Court Road which given it’s in central London was quiet and comfy and included a full English breakfast. Predictably, given the amount of caffeine I’d consumed, sleep didn’t come easy. (It did for Mr Bell).
So there you have it, the full low down on the GHK awards. I am still in shock. The award is sitting on my bookcase that houses a lot of my cookbooks. Thank you Good Housekeeping!
Back to the recipe – this lemon layer cake is kind of impressive looking but actually easy. It takes a little extra time if you have two sandwich tins rather than 3, but if you’re in the house anyway, it’s no bother. I hope you like it. You can obviously make it using oranges or even limes if you prefer. Grapefruit is a bit hit and miss in drizzle cakes. It can be that little bit too tart. But if you do try it then let me know.
I get asked a lot about the secret to fluffy buttercream and I am afraid it’s a boring answer: good ingredients and time! Don’t try and substitute the butter for anything else. I love to use Stork in my cakes (I have tried own label alternatives and had huge flops so I stick to Stork now) but for buttercream, well the clue is in the name. I use salted butter as I love the salt and sugar combination – a dash of salt really brings out the sweetness. I always beat for a minimum of 7 minutes AFTER all the icing sugar is incorporated. The icing should look like mousse – flecked with bubbles of air. Remember the three main ingredients in buttercream; butter, sugar and air!
Lots of great recipes like this in my books, Recipes from a Normal Mum, (available on Amazon, at The Works, Waterstones, WHSmith, The Book Depository and many smaller outlets) and The Power of Frozen (available through Amazon).
Five years ago: Teacher’s pet chocolate and hazelnut oaty biscuits and Spelt loaf
Six years ago: Restorative chicken and leek risotto
Kit wise my cake stand is just a bog standard one from Ikea. You can get a similar one here. I used 20cm cake tins like these. And I used a Get a Grip piping bag from Lakeland. Then the piping tip was a large one with a plain end like this. And I used a stand mixer to make the buttercream icing. Mine is a Kitchenaid but you can also get a cheaper stand mixer such as this. Cooling rack wise I use similar to this.
Prep Time: 0 hours, 40 minutes
Cook Time: 0 hours, 25 minutes
- FOR THE CAKE:
- 290g soft salted butter or Stork margarine
- 290g castor sugar
- 5 large eggs at room temperature
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tsp lemon extract
- 290g self raising flour
- FOR THE DRIZZLE:
- Juice of 4 lemons
- 150g castor sugar
- TO DECORATE:
- 250g soft salted butter
- 500g icing sugar
- 3 tbsp cold water
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tbsp lemon extract
- 250g lemon curd
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4. Grease and line 3 x 20cm cake tins. Beat together the butter/Stork and sugar for 4 minutes in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, lemon zest, lemon extract and flour and beat for a further 2 minutes until well incorporated and lighter in colour than when you started. Divide evenly between the three tins and level with a spoon so there's a slight dip in the centre of the cakes. This will help achieve a flatter cake once baked. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until well risen, light brown and the cake is pulling away from the edge of the tin slightly. Whilst the cakes are baking, make the drizzle by heating the lemon juice and castor sugar in a small pan over a low heat until dissolved. (Zest the two remaining lemons for the buttercream before you do this as it's tricky to zest a juiced lemon). Once the cakes are baked, place them on a wire rack, in the tin, then poke holes in the cakes with a toothpick and pour over the lemon drizzle. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove carefully from the tins and cool on the racks until completely cool. Make the buttercream by beating the butter in a mixer using the flat beater, for about 3 minutes until fluffy, then gradually add the icing sugar, a heaped tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the water, lemon zest and lemon extract and beat at the highest level for 7 minutes until really light and fluffy. Assemble the cake by smearing the base of the cake stand with a little icing to keep the cake in place, then spread one third of the curd over the cake. Place the icing into an icing bag with a plain nozzle and pipe little dots of buttercream all over the base. Then Place another layer of cake over the top and repeat. Lastly place the final layer on the top, cover in the remaining curd and pipe dots of buttercream over the top in whatever pattern you prefer. This cake keeps for 2 - 3 days at room temperature but should be covered to stop it drying out. Please don't store in the fridge as the cold dries the cake.
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