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?