What Stace had to say on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
But, there is cake

I have more to say about online drama etc., but I’m not going to say it today. Instead I’m going to talk about cake. Okay?

Yesterday was Mr. Kane’s birthday. And not just any birthday. His fortieth birthday (*cough* I remind you he is older than me *cough*). So, you know, that’s a Big Deal Birthday. And I wanted to do some Big Deal Stuff for it. We got him a BluRay player (well, to be fair, it was kind of for all of us) and a few other things, too.

But I wanted to do something special for the cake. First, I wanted to make a cake; well, I pretty much had to, because cakes you buy here are invariably gross and covered in fondant icing or whatever other roll-out paste icing they sell, and it tastes like shit and eating it is like trying to gnaw on the skin that develops on top of custard. After it’s been sitting out overnight. Seriously. It’s pretty much all you can find. SO gross.

So I had to make a cake, which is fine; I like making cakes. And–since we’re in Special Birthday time–I wanted to do a Special Cake, instead of just a regular vanilla cake or chocolate cake or whatever. I was going to do a pina colada cake, but since Mr. K knows I hate both pineapple and coconut he said I should make something I would like, too. So I thought and I thought, and I thought and I thought. And I thought, we miss Florida a whole bunch. And Mr. K is a Florida boy, having been born there. And this is the anniversary of that Florida birth.

And so I thought, “What about key lime cake? What if I could make it taste like key lime pie, even?”

Well. Here’s the fucked-up thing. Go try Googling “key lime cake.” Here, I’ll do it for you. Now, just look at those results. Do you know what 99.9% of them are? Boxed lemon cake mix, mixed with a box of lime Jell-O. Lemon cake mix and lime Jell-O. I ask you. Do you want to serve that to someone for a Special Birthday? Even if I could get lime Jell-O here, I wouldn’t touch that. That’s like telling someone they should eat more fruit and handing them a bag of Fun Dip. There are occasional mentions of this being great-grandma’s superspecial key lime cake recipe or a special secret old family recipe, which, you know, that’s fine if you’re a Yankee, I guess. I also found a few that were just white cakes with lime curd or key lime frosting, which wasn’t what I wanted (one that was a sort of graham-cracker cake with key lime filling & frosting intrigued me, but again, no such thing as a graham cracker here. I do want to give that one a try one of these days, though).

Anyway. Not only did the lack of recipes hurt me, the two I did manage to find called for–of course–key lime zest and key lime juice. Well. I dare you to find a key lime anywhere in England. I dare you. You won’t. And contrary to what some people would have you believe, there IS a difference in flavor and you CAN taste it.

So here I am trying to make key lime cake that tastes like key lime pie, without key limes, in England. I spent a couple of days studying the two recipes I found, and recipes for other types of cakes, and websites about the science of cakes, etc. etc.

Another complication, but a minor one: I don’t like zest, because I am very sensitive to little bits of stuff in my food. I do have lime oil, though, which I bought at Selfridge’s last month (it came in a little gift pack with lemon oil and orange oil, and I used the lemon oil last week to make the most awesome lemon bundt cake ever).

Remember, I wanted the cake to taste not just like key lime, but like key lime PIE. I wanted that particular creaminess, that sort of soft-sharp flavor that you only get with key lime pie.

All I can say about the result is that after Mr. K took a bite, he said, “It’s key lime pie!”

So here’s what I did.

In a large bowl I sifted together:

3 Cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
a slightly rounded 1/2 tsp salt

and set it aside to wait.

In another bowl, my largest bowl, I creamed:

2 Cups granulated sugar
1 Cup unsalted butter

and then added 4 large eggs one at a time (I beat each egg slightly in a measuring cup before adding)

To that wet mix I added (and mixed):

2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp lime oil
1/8 Cup lemon juice (this is to add tartness to the lime to simulate the flavor of key limes. If you have access to real key limes and want to use them, use 1 1/2 Tbsp of zest and 1/4 cup of juice)

In a measuring cup I stirred together:

1 Cup buttermilk
1/8 cup sweetened condensed milk

And added the flour and the buttermilk mixtures to the sugar/butter/egg mixture alternately, starting and ending with the flour.

Now. Everyone knows that real key lime pies without coloring are a sort of pale yellow-green shade of ivory, barely a color at all. I wanted to duplicate that (all the recipes I saw added food coloring to make it really green), but my batter wasn’t quite right. So I had some green paste food coloring. I touched it with my fingertip and swiped said fingertip against the beater of my electric mixer, then, well, used the mixer. It added the very faintest greenish hue to the batter. Score!

This was enough batter to make four 8″ cakes. I only used three for the layers. You know the pan-prep drill, I assume: butter it, lay down some parchment. Or use a non-stick spray or whatever combination you like (no Pam here either). These ended up taking about 28 minutes to bake at 325F, but my oven is slow and rather wonky–it’s like thirty years old, and actually has open flames at the back–so you might want to experiment.

Now, the frosting. The batter was pretty key-lime-pie-y, but I knew the frosting needed to make up for some of the lost creaminess and tanginess and “coolness.” The recipes I found called for a regular cream cheese frosting, and I like cream cheese frosting, but I also had that can of sweetened condensed milk open, and I had whipping cream in the fridge…

This is sort of a cream cheese frosting. If you’ve ever made that, or buttercream, you know it’s not really an exact science; you sort of play with it until it’s the consistency etc. you want. Also, I had no idea how much I would need so ended up making a ton. But here’s basically what I did:

creamed about 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter with 2-3 Tbsp of cream cheese (full fat)

Added a cup or so of icing sugar (it’s what they have here; not quite the same texture as powdered/confectioner’s sugar, at least so it seems to me, but I could be wrong) in 1/3 cup batches, beating well

Did that again. Somewhere in the middle of that second cup I added a Tbsp or so of sweetened condensed milk

Yummy, but not enough. So I added more sugar. Then a splash of whipping cream. Then a dab more cream cheese when it seemed that flavor was being lost. Then more sugar and another Tbsp or so of sweetened condensed milk.

All told I used about 1/3 of a can of sweetened condensed milk, about 2 Tbsp of whipping cream (basically half-and-half), about 2 Tbsp of 2% milk, about 4 Tbsp of cream cheese, and probably 6-8 cups of sugar. But oh man, this is a yummy frosting, and it absolutely MADE the cake; it added the right creamy tanginess to make it definitely taste like key lime pie.

The cake was lovely. Not dry. Not heavy. I do think next time I’ll increase the lemon juice to 1/4 cup instead of 1/8. I’m also quite curious about what would happen if I cut down the sugar a bit and subbed sweetened condensed milk for some of the buttermilk; we’ll see. I’d originally thought of subbing cream cheese for some of the butter, but was worried about that giving the cake a too-thick pound-cake-type texture; I may try that at some point, though, too.

But all in all I was quite pleased, and Mr. K. loved it and that’s what matters.

The cake (keep in mind, I am not a professional cake decorator. At all. I fail at cake decorating):

So there you go. Isn’t it nice to just think about cake for a few minutes?

15 comments to “But, there is cake”

  1. Raylee Burchell
    · July 17th, 2012 at 5:56 am · Link

    After you went to all that trouble on the internet, and ending up designing your own recipe by the sounds of it, you deserve a rest. :smile: maybe Mr K could make you a cake for your efforts. Im from Australia so i dont know what key limes are, ive certainly never found them in my local supermarkets. but im glad you found away to bring a bit of florida into your home again. congrats on the cake. and Happy Birthday to Mr K. and to you for your next one.

  2. Laura
    · July 17th, 2012 at 6:28 am · Link

    If I find a bottle of key lime juice, or something that would travel well, I will send it to you! Though it sounds like you did just fine without it. :-)

  3. BernardL
    · July 17th, 2012 at 7:11 am · Link

    Happy birthday to Mr. Kane. Forty seems like sixteen to me from here. :) Great looking cake, and the making of it read like an adventure novel. :)

  4. Colleen
    · July 17th, 2012 at 7:14 am · Link

    That was quite the undertaking and looks like it was totally worth it. I love key lime pie but can’t eat it so I am pretty excited to try your cake recipe! 😀

  5. Tina R.
    · July 17th, 2012 at 9:12 am · Link

    Don’t sell yourself short! From what I can see that cake looks pretty well decorated. Mine always involve just wording and sprinkles!

  6. Miss Bliss
    · July 17th, 2012 at 10:48 am · Link

    WOW! You can’t get key limes here in California usually either. My folks both grew up in Florida and my Mom just about killed herself, and us, trying to make key lime pie when I was a kid. We had only been living in CA for about four years and I think she snapped because she hadn’t had any real key lime pie for so long. Sadly her experiments didn’t turn out as well as yours did. I should try your recipe the next time I go to visit them. Wouldn’t that be a nice treat? Happy Birthday to Mr. K!

  7. Randi Rousseau
    · July 17th, 2012 at 12:58 pm · Link

    I would happily send you graham crackers, but doubt they’d survive the trip. :( But you know if you mention you want something, and how to send it, you’ll get A LOT of it from your fans! We’ll always find a way.

    Happy Birthday to Mr. K (a fine day to be born, as it’s my birthday too!)

    • Stace
      · July 17th, 2012 at 3:15 pm · Link

      Well, Mr. K. and I say happy belated to you! :)

  8. Laura
    · July 17th, 2012 at 3:13 pm · Link

    Just goes to show that creative people tend to be creative in multiple areas! That sounds FABULOUS

  9. Seeley deBorn
    · July 17th, 2012 at 5:15 pm · Link

    That cake is not a lie.

    The ones made with boxes of preserved stuff and artificial flavours and colours totally are. I really wish recipe sites would stop accepting crap like that as “recipes”.

    I love lime and may just have to make that myself sometime. Where did you get the lime oil? I’ve never seen it. Would zest work?

    • Stace
      · July 18th, 2012 at 6:50 am · Link

      Yeah, I was really stunned to see that there were hundreds of those “Take a box of cake mix and add a box of Jell-O powder” recipes and only two that actually use real lime etc. Really, nobody’s ever wanted to make a key lime cake before? I mean, people who actually bake and not who just throw some boxes of stuff together. I’m not wholly opposed to using boxed mixes for some things, but I generally use real ingredients.

      You can buy lime oil online. And yes, you can use zest. Just soak the zest in the juice to soften it first and help bring out the flavor. My suggestion if you’re using regular lime zest & juice would be 3 Tbsp zest, and then 1/4 cup juice. And to compensate for the flavor difference, maybe add 2 tsp of lemon zest to that? You want some lemon because key limes have a lemony tang.

  10. MrsJoseph
    · July 18th, 2012 at 8:22 am · Link

    Though this is a day late and a dollar short, my favorite go to site for complicated/exotic recipes is Epicurious.com: http://www.epicurious.com/tools/searchresults?search=key+lime+cake&x=0&y=0

    BTW, I think I’m going to try your cake!

  11. Duffi McDermott
    · July 18th, 2012 at 9:01 am · Link

    Beautiful! This looks like it would be fun to make. Congratulations! & belated happy birthday to Mr. K

  12. Johnna @Weightloss.net
    · July 20th, 2012 at 2:21 pm · Link

    That looks so good! I believe I just found another reason to break my diet! I loo-oo-oove key lime anything!

    On another topic, I wanted to tell you that I’m completely hooked on the “Downside Ghosts” series and that “Sacrificial Magic” is my favorite of all so far! Please tell me you have another book already at the publishers! 😀

  13. Guicella Gonzales
    · July 23rd, 2012 at 1:50 am · Link

    Wow! The cake looks wonderful. All that effort you put into it really shows you’re love and dedication. We will definatly use you’re recipe! Thanks for sharing!

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