02 Oct Lemon Cake with Haupia Filling & Hibiscus Buttercream
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?)
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.
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!!
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!
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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.