02 Oct Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream

Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblog

Another year gone. Another birthday to celebrate.



Yep, today is my birthday. For much of my life, I had mixed feelings about birthdays — I love the comfort and ritual around birthday traditions, and heck,  I really love to celebrate, except, I don’t so much love the attention that comes with it being my birthday. The what do you wants and the omg why are people singing at mes can be a little, well, awkward. Ya follow? (Other people’s birthdays, are completely different. Five layer cake, anyone?)

Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblogLemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblog Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblog

But, 28.

I’m feeling lots of feels and they’re definitely mixed. Even more so than usual. Sometimes, a lot of the times, I feel old. I know, I know. I’m not old. But given the fact that I’ll perpetually feel stuck in the mindspace of being, oh, somewhere around 22, 28 feels UP THERE.

Kid-version of me thought I’d have all of the required grown-up up skills down pat by now. I’d be a champion at folding laundry (fitted sheets? piece of cake) and I’d always promptly tuck said laundry away into perfectly organized drawers. I’d drive a brand new car, that every day I’d park in the driveway of my 2-bedroom house (which of course, would look like something out of a Pottery Barn catalog), where my trusty golden retriever would be waiting to welcome me home. I’d know exactly how to do my taxes, and be able to speak intelligently about things like foreign policy and the return on my 401K retirement savings.


Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblogLemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblogLemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblog

Instead, there’s an open, half-unpacked suitcase in the corner of my bedroom from a work trip I returned from over a week ago. It’s cozied up right next next to a pile of dirty laundry (or is it clean?) and I have no plans of touching it for at least 4 days because, hey, it’s my birthday weekend! I still drive the car my parents bought me nine years ago as a high school graduation present, my condo is 564 square feet and decorated a la Craiglist, and my palms get sweaty when I think about being responsible for any living thing requiring more attention than a succulent. (I kill those, too.) And can we just take a moment to thank the universe for Turbotax?

It’s funny how life works out. The expectations you have for “adult life” as a kid. The reality of your twenties. It’s a messy, disorganized time of growth and change. Nothing is as you imagined it would be, but somehow everything is still exactly as it should be. I wouldn’t trade this crazy life of mine for any other. So, cheers! Cheers to 28 and the the mysteries and adventure that the future holds. May the joys and challenges of the next 12 months lead me to  find myself at this time next year, at a continuously improving place in life, a better baker, a better human, but hopefully still here, in this place that I love so much, chatting with you fine folks. In all likelihood that post will most likely be full of freak-out words about being just one year away from thirty and I’ll need all kinds of emotional support and buttery treats to get through it, but in meantime, thank you all for being here!  Let’s celebrate with cake!!

Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblogLemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblog

Speaking of this cake, it’s a gem, no? To start, we have two layers of my favorite, fluffy-as-hell lemon cake, sandwiching a layer of creamy coconut haupia. You can read more about haupia here. Short version: it’s a hawaiian coconut pudding made from coconut milk and thickened with cornstarch. It tends to be a little thicker than most puddings, often even sliceable like a gelatin, so it’s perfect for filling layer cakes. And that pretty pink icing? It’s a swiss meringue buttercream that’s been spiked with hibiscus simple syrup which lends both that gorgeous pink hue as well as a touch tartness that every-so-gently enhances the soft lemon cake that lies within.

It’s a showstopper to be sure, but confession —  I’d be lying if I said that this exact cake is my 28th birthday cake. It’s not. I’m sorry. I made this cake over a month ago and have been waiting for the perfect time to share it. In real life, I’m on team humble, classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting for all birthdays for the rest of time. Oh, you too? Pound it. But I’m also crazy busy in real life and, unfortunately, did not have time to make myself a birthday cake this year. Which yes, I do most years and love every second of it. It’s not weird, it’s tradition. (And hey, I’m picky.) BUT, this year, in lieu of cake, I devoured a meant-to-be-shared butterscotch pot de creme all by myself alongside a tall glass of sparkling rose and it was pretty damn perfect. I’m off to celebrate! Peace!

Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream // butterlust.com @butterlustblog

A Note About This Recipe:

To make the hibiscus simple syrup, first make 1/2 cup of hibiscus tea by combing a little more than 1/2 cup water with 2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain, then combine the hibiscus tea with equal parts sugar over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Use any leftover simple syrup to flavor cocktails, or combine with sparkling water for a refreshing treat. 

Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream


    For the lemon cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • lemon zest from two lemons
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • For the haupia:
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 cups full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract or spiced rum (optional)
  • For the hibiscus swiss meringue buttercream:
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup hibiscus simple syrup (see notes)
  • 3 sticks butter (1 1/2 cups), softened and cut into 1 tbsp pieces
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest


    For the lemon cake:
  • Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans by lining with parchment rounds and greasing the sides with butter.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl (or in a large measuring cup), whisk together the buttermilk, egg whites, and extracts. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
  • Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment or hand mixer, cream butter and lemon sugar mixture until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • With mixer on medium, alternate adding the dry mixture and the wet mixture in thirds, beginning and ending with the dry mixture, until well combined.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on wire rack.
  • For the haupia:
  • In a small bowl. combine the corn starch and water. Set aside.
  • In a large saucepan over low heat, add the coconut milk, sugar, and salt, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  • When the sugar is dissolved, add the cornstarch/water mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Important: you must stir constantly as the mixture burns very easily.
  • Let boil for approximately1-3 minutes or until the haupia becomes thick.
  • Remove from the stove, and stir every few minutes as it begins to cool. Once slightly cool, stir in the extract(s). Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • For the hibiscus swiss meringue buttercream:
  • Combine the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl and set over a pot of simmering water.
  • Heat, whisking frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
  • Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. The bowl will be cool to the touch.
  • Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. Note: If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again.
  • Blend in the hibiscus simple syrup and lemon zest until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • To assemble:
  • Level your cake layers, if desired. Place one layer of cake onto a cardboard round or directly onto the serving platter. Pipe a ring of buttercream around the edge of the cake to form a buttercream dam.
  • Fill the dam with the coconut haupia then place the second layer of cake on top. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes - 1 hour to let to haupia chill and set.
  • Once chilled, frost the entire cake with a thin layer of icing to seal in any crumbs. Place back inte refrigerator for 15-30 minutes to let the icing firm up.
  • Coat top and sides of cake liberally with buttercream, using an offset spatula to smooth, then garnish with fresh flowers, if desired.


  • Michelle @ Hummingbird High
    Posted at 11:01h, 02 October Reply

    Happy Birthday! 28 seems old, but if it’s any consolation, it’s the best year of our 20s according to Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/every-year-of-your-20s-ranked-from-worst-to-best#.bgxYBr5GlO

    And if Buzzfeed says it, you know it’s true.

    FYI — we are totally baking soul sisters, I have a chocolate cake covered in hibiscus cream cheese frosting scheduled in a few weeks. lol
    Michelle @ Hummingbird High recently posted…lemon celebration cake with vanilla chamomile glazeMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 13:00h, 03 October Reply

      Buzzfeed saves the day! After reading that, I love it SO MUCH more than I did before. 😉

  • Cindy
    Posted at 11:26h, 02 October Reply

    Adult-ing is hard. I turned 31 this year and I keep thinking I’m still 30? I feel old. This cake is so dang pretty.

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 13:01h, 03 October Reply

      Thanks, Cindy! We’re totally young but, like, what happened to college?

  • Rachel | La Pêche Fraîche
    Posted at 12:56h, 02 October Reply

    Even prettier on my full screen than the snapshot I saw on Instagram! Happy birthday! This is seriously the prettiest possible cake to celebrate with! xx
    Rachel | La Pêche Fraîche recently posted…Almond JoyousMy Profile

  • cynthia
    Posted at 16:44h, 02 October Reply

    Everything about this is so spot-on. The other day I saw an actor’s Wiki blurb and I was like “this kid is SO YOUNG, a 1990 birthday?! But wait he’s 25, that can’t be right, I’m…” oh wait not younger than that at ALL. haha. But with a gorgeous, gooorgeous cake like this, something tells me you’re taking on 28 in all the right ways. SO BEAUTIFUL, Katie!!! Happy happy birthday 😀
    cynthia recently posted…06.27.2015My Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 13:03h, 03 October Reply

      Thanks, Cynthia! I totally get you! I have coworkers that were born in the 90s and when we go out for HH I’m like wait, are you allowed? Is this okay? haha GO GO 28!

  • Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen
    Posted at 19:01h, 02 October Reply

    This cake is totally gorgeous Katie! A special cake for a special celebration! Happy 28th!
    Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen recently posted…Peanut Butter, Banana and Oatmeal Smoothie Bowl with Homemade Granola and FruitMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 13:03h, 03 October Reply

      Thank you, Mary Ann!!

  • June @ How to Philosophize with Cake
    Posted at 08:24h, 03 October Reply

    Happy birthday!! Love this post, and this cake too–it looks like the perfect way to celebrate! I just love the way you decorated it, the flowers are flawless 😀

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  • Melanie
    Posted at 21:04h, 03 October Reply

    That is the most beautiful cake I’ve ever lied eyes on! I can’t wait to try it. Happy birthday Katie. I’ll definitely be following your blog from now on for more:)
    Melanie recently posted…She’s All Grown Up NowMy Profile

  • brita britnell
    Posted at 22:55h, 03 October Reply

    Happy Birthday!!! This cake is SO beautiful as are your pictures!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 12:34h, 08 October Reply

      Thanks, Brita!

  • Donna Francis
    Posted at 07:06h, 04 October Reply

    Wow….I cannot wait to make this cake…Love the color!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 12:34h, 08 October Reply

      Thanks, Donna!

  • Sabrina
    Posted at 15:22h, 05 October Reply

    This is absolutely stunning and the flavor combination sounds amazing!

  • Kristin Hong
    Posted at 09:40h, 07 October Reply

    GIRL. I feel you!! Birthdays are a weird time, and my life is so NOT put together, nor how I thought it would be when I was 5. Happy belated pretty lady, I miss you! And BEAUTIFUL cake… not that I would expect any less!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 12:34h, 08 October Reply

      Hiii! I miss you!!!! (and thanks, of course!) XO

  • Laura (Blogging Over Thyme)
    Posted at 15:47h, 07 October Reply

    This cake is SO STUNNING. Seriously, my mouth is agape 🙂 Happy Birthday to you!!! I turned 28 in July and still can’t believe it. Where does the time go?!?!

    Here’s to a very happy year 28!!!!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 12:33h, 08 October Reply

      Thank you so much, Laura! Means so much coming from you! 28 here we goooooo!

  • Claudia | The Brick Kitchen
    Posted at 22:14h, 07 October Reply

    Happy birthday Katie! Just found your blog and so glad I did – this cake with its lemon and haupia coconut looks incredibly good, and that pink hibiscus buttercream?! So YUM! Also, even though I am still at college, your writing is still hugely relatable – I for some reason thought that by the time I was my age I would just be so grown up.. but don’t feel any different at all! Being an adult is HARD!! Anyway, hope you have a lovely birthday! 🙂

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 12:32h, 08 October Reply

      Thank you, Claudia! haha, totally agreed on being an adult. Enjoy college while you can, I miss it every day!

  • ellie | fit for the soul
    Posted at 18:58h, 08 October Reply

    Ohhhh my goodness, how is it that I can relate to you 100%??! First of all, happy birthday a little late! May this year be blessed and life-changing in good ways.
    I’m also turning 28 on the 12th, and I have always felt stressed about my birthday and part of it goes to childhood issues, haha. But even now I hate thinking about it except for the cake part. Did someone say cake? As long as I have that I’m good. 😉 And this is such a gorgeous cake, Katie. The flavors sound perfect and the decoration is matchless. One last thing–thanks for the hearty chuckle because your blog name and motto are too hilarious. <3

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 14:22h, 12 October Reply

      Thank you so much, Ellie! And HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! Cake makes everything, okay! Hope you have one (or more) slices today!

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  • Josefin
    Posted at 03:58h, 10 October Reply

    This is such a beautiful pink cake and I hope you had a great birthday!
    I’m allergic to coconut and just wondered if you might have any recommendation for what to use instead? Judging from what you said at the top the haupia seems to have a pretty special consistency and it might not work to just replace it with custard or something like that.

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 10:54h, 12 October Reply

      Hi Josefin! While haupia does have a unique texture, you could certainly use a traditional pastry cream or curd here (lemon would work perfectly). Just make sure you don’t go too thick with the layer. You could also ditch the idea of a cream all together and just use the buttercream! XO

  • Amy | Club Narwhal
    Posted at 13:42h, 13 October Reply

    My grandma (who is going on 90) once told me that she still feels like a teenager and is surprised when she sees herself in the mirror and sees not only an adult, but an old woman! Life really is funny like that. Happy belated–I’m glad you got to celebrate with this gorgeous cake!
    Amy | Club Narwhal recently posted…Black Magic Cake with White Chocolate Truffle FillingMy Profile

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 10:21h, 16 October Reply

      Your grandma sounds like such a great lady! Thank you, Amy!

  • The-FoodTrotter
    Posted at 09:28h, 19 October Reply

    Your cake is absolutely lovely!!! I love it, the hibiscus frosting, the lemon batter and the rose on the top! So girly and beautiful!
    The-FoodTrotter recently posted…Falafels & yogurt-tahini dip / Falafels & Sauce yaourt-tahiniMy Profile

  • Dani
    Posted at 14:17h, 01 November Reply

    As a native Hawaiian and a food blogger, I was thrilled to see this cake with a Haupia filling. One of my favorite desserts is a Haupia cream pie. Happy belated Birthday.

    <3 Love and Aloha

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 11:22h, 02 November Reply

      Thanks, Dani! This was my first time making haupia (I’d tasted it before on a trip to Hawaii) and I absolutely loved it!

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  • Michelle Ryan
    Posted at 05:46h, 25 May Reply

    Hi Katie!
    Thanks for sharing these recipes, when making the lemon cake, what consistency should the egg whites become? I assumed they would be fluffy or stiff but the instructions say to simply whisk them. Thanks so much!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 13:08h, 25 May Reply

      Hi Michelle! You can just whisk the egg whites right in with the buttermilk; no need for them to be stiff in this recipe. Enjoy!

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  • Heather Steele
    Posted at 22:48h, 07 July Reply

    Where, oh where, do you find your dried hibiscus?? I need to know!

    • KWahlman
      Posted at 11:27h, 09 August Reply

      I find it at my local grocery store but you can also get it at most international markets or on Amazon. Thanks!

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