Confession: I am allergic to chocolate. It makes my tongue itch and my throat swell. Many people express extreme sympathy when I tell them this, but to be honest, it doesn’t really phase me.
Why? Because I know how AWESOME non-chocolate cakes can be. A few strong contenders in my book for *best* non-chocolate cakes are lemon, carrot and ginger.
I think that the reason many people don’t care for non-chocolate cakes is that they often seem to be on the dry side. That said, the easiest way in the world to combat a dry cake is by throwing a packet of pudding into the batter. It almost ensures a cake will be moist. For real, that assurance is so comforting that I have not made a cake without pudding in it since the earliest days of my baking.
Anyway, a friend of mine from UC Berkeley, who plays trumpet alongside me in the marching band, loves lemon cake, too. This cake was inspired by him and created to fit his tastes!
Vanilla cake base
3 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
16 tbsp softened butter
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 standard packet vanilla pudding
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and line three 8-inch cake pans. This could also work for three 6-inch pans, if you torqued each layer in half for a six layer cake!
In a medium bowl, whisk together mix flour, salt, baking powder and pudding.
Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy and lightened. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition and mixing until fully incorporated.
Mix in the buttermilk in two additions, alternating with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix batter until just incorporated. Do not over mix.
Use measuring cups to separate the batter into three equal portions in medium sized bowls.
Zest of one lime
1 tsp lime extract
1 tsp lime juice
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp lemon juice
Zest of one orange
1 1/2 tsp orange extract
1 tsp orange juice
Mix in one set of citrus into each of the three portioned bowls. Add a drop or two of food coloring to each respective flavor so that they are distinguishable from one another.
2 large, pink grapefruits
4 egg yolks
2 cups white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold butter, diced
Zest and juice both grapefruits. Simmer the grapefruit juice on the stove until it has reduced to 1/2 cup liquid. Allow liquid to cool to room temperature
In a large, heat proof bowl, rub white sugar and and grapefruit zest together with fingers for a few minutes. This will promote the grapefruit zest to release its natural oils into the sugar.
Whisk eggs and egg yolks into the sugar mixture until fully incorporated and sugar has dissolved and mixture has slightly thickened. Whisk in cooled grapefruit juice reduction.
Create a double boiler by placing the heat proof bowl on top of a pot of smaller diameter, filled with an inch or two of boiling water. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the surface of the water.
Place the double boiler back on the stove and allow water in the pan to come to a boil. Add cubed butter into the egg and sugar mixture, one piece at a time. Allow to melt and mix until fully incorporated. Sprinkle salt into mixture and incorporate.
Cook curd on the stove for 8-10 minutes, stirring continuously, until it has thickened significantly.
Remove from stove and allow to come to room temperature. Place in a sealed glass container until ready to use.
Standard vanilla buttercream
2 cups butter at room temperature
7 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of fine table salt
2 teaspoons milk or cream
Cream butter until fluffy and slightly lightened in color. Add vanilla extract and salt. Whip in the first three cups of powdered sugar until frosting is smooth. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Mix in remaining powdered sugar and 1 tsp milk or cream. Scrape down bowl and beat until completely smooth.
Hint: At this point, I use this thicker buttercream to fill and stack the cake layers. I find that buttercream with minimal milk or cream perfectly in between layers to prevent cakes from sagging or drooping. After assembling the cake, add second tsp of milk or cream to the remaining buttercream for a smoother icing that is easier to decorate with.
Assemble cake layers, creating a dam between each layer and filling it with grapefruit curd.
When using looser filling, like citrus curd, it is IMPORTANT to refrigerate the stacked layers for an hour or so to allow the buttercream dam to harden. Do this before even putting on a crumb coat. To combat the drying power of the fridge, just loosely wrap the cake with plastic wrap. Trust me, that hour is worth it in order to prevent the dam from bursting and all of the citrus curd splurting out the sides of your cake.
Once cake has cooled, place a dowel in the center of the cake to prevent the layers from sliding while decorating. I usually use cheap wooden chopsticks sawed down to the height of the cake. Ice with a crumb coat and allow to cool for another half hour in the fridge.
Once cake has cooled for a second time, apply the final layer of buttercream and decorate as desired!
Keep this cake refrigerated. Allow to come to room temperature for an hour before serving.