I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my baby is turning two!
Well, not my real, human-type baby. He’s only one and a half. But my other baby, my blog baby, the baby that you drool over and comment on and are reading right now? That baby is two years old this month. Happy birthday, SugarHero!
To celebrate, I made mini lemon-raspberry cakes with pistachio buttercream, and decorated them with colorful candy polka dots, stripes, and bows. To me, this is a very “SugarHero” dessert—a little time intensive, but playful and colorful and most importantly, fun. These sweet little cakes make me want to jump through the screen and simultaneously hug them and eat them, which is maybe the truest statement of purpose I’ve ever written.
Writing SugarHero makes me happy. Getting to know all of you makes me so happy. And I hope that sometimes, my desserts can provide a little inspiration or happiness to you, as well. Group hug? Let’s do it.
Last year I sort of wrote a synopsis of how SugarHero came to be, but the short version is that I started a different blog in 2006, didn’t post on it very much, shared some truly terrible photos and okay recipes, and basically didn’t decide to take things seriously until 2011. [Some might argue that this still isn’t very serious…and you’re not wrong.]
Since then it’s been an ongoing process of learning the behind-the-scenes tech stuff, struggling to keep up with social media (you Twitter mavens have to teach me your tricks!), always working to improve my photography, and dreaming up more desserts than I could ever have time to actually make or eat.
SugarHero isn’t my primary job, but it does provide a portion of our income, and I never stop feeling lucky and grateful that I get to spend so much time doing what I love. It’s amazing to think that when I was in high school, trying to figure out potential career paths, the option of becoming a full-time blogger and online food writer literally didn’t even exist. (Yes, I am old. Whippersnappers to the left.) So thank you all, for visiting and becoming my not-at-all-nerdy online friends, and for making this life possible.
Now can we talk about the cakes for a second? Let’s start with the outside. All of the decorations are made out of Fruit Roll-Ups or Fruit by the Foot. The flowers on top were made using the technique in this excellent tutorial on Wedding Chicks. They’re actually really simple, I recommend knocking them out while half-watching Happy Endings reruns. (That last part is optional but it makes the time fly.)
The polka dots were made using a few sizes of fondant cutters, and the fancy-ish border you see on a few cakes is just how the Fruit by the Foot came. At first I was annoyed that they cut designs into it, then I realized that it looked awesome when wrapped around a cake. Lemons from lemonade, people.
For the brave souls out there who might actually re-create this dessert, this boring paragraph about logistics is for you. It’s really tough to find a variety of solid-colored Fruit Roll-Ups. I don’t know why they have to be so fancy and make all of their candy tie-dyed or marked with “temporary tattoos” or whatever, but finding some of the plain colors was difficult and required way too many trips to different grocery stores. Amazon sells a variety pack that has 4 different colors, and I finally found some in a mixed box with Gushers and Fruit by the Foot at my local Ralph’s. If you’re less obsessive about having a rainbow of colors on your cakes, your life will be much easier. Otherwise, happy hunting.
The cake itself tasted amazing, but I’m reluctant to share a picture of the inside because I thought the balance of cake to frosting was a little off. The cake is a lemon pound cake with freeze-dried raspberries—they provide great raspberry flavor, without making the cake soggy like fresh berries would. I layered it with pistachio buttercream, then covered the outside in vanilla buttercream. I loved the idea of 4 thin layers of cake, but I ended up thinking that there was a bit too much buttercream, and it overwhelmed the cake. So I’ve written the recipe to make two thick layers of cake instead of four thin ones, and I think this will help it to feel more balanced. Don’t worry, buttercream lovers, you will still get your frosting fix!
One last time—thanks for two amazing years. You guys are awesome. Love you, mean it.
P.S. If you want to see what I did last year, check out these Rainbow Cake Push Pops for SugarHero’s first birthday. With a bonus picture of teensy Asher nomming on a cake pop. My baby worlds are colliding.
Recipe Notes: Like my recent recipe for Pistachio Chocolate Chunk Cookies, this recipe uses pistachio paste. It gives the buttercream an awesome realistic pistachio flavor without any grittiness or graininess. I used Love n’ Bake pistachio paste for this recipe. It’s on Amazon but it’s a little pricey there. It can also be found at some grocery stores or at places like Cost Plus World Market, and I’ve also seen it at cake supply stores and gourmet food stores in my area. Other pistachio pastes, like the one King Arthur Flour sells, will also work. If you don’t want to track some down, adding a little almond extract is a good alternative, since almond also pairs nicely with lemon and raspberry.
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Lemon-Raspberry Cake with Pistachio Frosting
yield: one 7×9-inch cake, or 4-6 miniature cakes
For the Cake:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Zest of 2 large lemons
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
8 oz butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp lemon extract
1.2 oz freeze dried raspberries (one Trader Joe’s bag, about 1 1/4 cups)
For the Frosting & Assembly:
9 egg whites, at room temperature
14 oz (2 cups) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 lb butter, slightly softened to the touch but still cool—not greasy or warm
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) pistachio paste
Green food coloring
Fruit Roll-Ups (I used about 3 boxes for my mini cakes, but that included a lot of waste due to cutting circles for the bows, and wanting to use specific colors)
To Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 13×18″ rimmed baking sheet with parchment, and spray the pan and parchment well with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
Finely zest two lemons. Place the zest and the sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and rub them together between your fingers until the sugar is fragrant and has the texture of wet sand. Add the butter and cream cheese to the bowl. Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment, and mix on low speed until combined, then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the lemon extract. Finally, turn the mixer to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients. Stop when just a few streaks of flour remain. Finish mixing the cake by hand, using a spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl well. Coarsely crush the freeze-dried raspberries (using either a knife or your hands is fine) and add them to the batter, stirring them in until well-mixed.
Scrape the cake batter out into the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer. Bake the cake for about 20 minutes, until it is a light golden color, the top springs back when lightly pressed, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. The cake can be made several days in advance and kept, well-wrapped, at room temperature or in the freezer. If freezing, defrost before using.
To Make the Frosting:
Combine the egg whites, granulated sugar, and salt in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk them together. Choose a small saucepan that lets you fit the base of the stand mixer snugly into the top of the saucepan—this is your makeshift hot water bath. (Alternately, you can use a different bowl or an actual bain marie and then transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl once it’s heated.) Add an inch of water to the bottom of the saucepan, and bring the water to a simmer.
Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure that the bottom isn’t in contact with the water, and heat the egg white mixture. Whisk frequently so that the egg whites don’t cook. Continue to heat the whites until they are hot to the touch, and when you rub a bit between your fingers, you don’t feel any grittiness from the sugar. Once the whites are hot, transfer the mixing bowl to your mixer and fit it with a whisk attachment.
Beat the whites on medium-high speed until they are no longer warm to the touch—feel the outside of the bowl, and make sure that it is around room temperature. Depending on your mixer and the temperature of your environment, this may take 10-20 minutes, or more.
Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the softened but cool butter in small chunks, a tablespoon at a time, making sure to wait in between additions. It may separate or look a little gloopy at this point—fear not. Once all of the butter is added, increase the speed again and whip until it comes together and is light and fluffy. If, after 5 minutes, it hasn’t come together, refrigerate the mixing bowl for 5-7 minutes, to cool the mixture down, and whip it again.
Once the butter is fluffy, add the vanilla extract and mix until well-blended. Separate out about two-thirds of the buttercream, and to the remaining third, add the pistachio paste and a drop or two of green food coloring, and mix until well-blended. The buttercream can be made in advance and kept at room temperature if you’re going to use it the same day, or refrigerated. If it’s been chilled, let it sit at room temperature until it softens, then re-whip it to get the fluffy texture back before you use it.
Cut the cake in half widthwise, so you have two rectangles that are about 7”x9”. Cut a piece of cardboard the same size, and slide it under one of the cake layers. Spread the pistachio buttercream on top of the rectangle on the cardboard, and place the second cake layer on top. Run a spatula around the sides of the cake to smooth out any pistachio frosting that is sticking out. Spread a very thin layer of vanilla buttercream on the top and sides of the cake, and refrigerate the cake until the frosting is firm, about 30 minutes.
Spread the remaining vanilla buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Use an angled spatula or bench scraper to get the sides even and the corners neat. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect—you can cover up any bad spots with polka dots or stripes!) Refrigerate the cake again to firm up the frosting. Cut out circles, long ribbons, or other shapes from sheets of Fruit Roll-Ups. Press them into the sides of the cake. If you need the Fruit Roll-Ups to stick to themselves, dab them with a small amount of water. The Fruit Roll-Ups will start to get sticky after sitting on the frosting for a few hours, so this decoration is best added right before the cake will be eaten. For the best taste and texture, serve this cake at room temperature.
Mini Cake Variation: Make mini cakes the same way you would make the large cake, but after the two cakes are stacked on top of each other, cut the large cake into smaller squares, rectangles, or circles. You can experiment with making some cakes taller by stacking more layers on top of each other. If you make a lot of mini cakes, you may need to make an additional batch of vanilla frosting to cover the outside of the cakes. Make sure you cut cardboard pieces to put under each cake—this makes working with them and transferring them infinitely easier.
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