I am not a big fan of pie, so before Christmas, when my mom asked me what was going to be for dessert, I immediately knew it would not be yet another apple pie. I wanted something decadent and reminiscent of winter, and baking a cake was definitely on the short list of ideas, but it couldn’t be a simple chocolate or vanilla cake. It was not until Annie, over at Annie’s Eats, posted her sugared cranberry tutorial that an idea finally came to me. A bright lemon cake with cream cheese frosting would be the perfect canvas for sparkling cranberries reminiscent of frozen berries after a snowstorm.
I prepped the cranberries several days in advance, following Annie’s directions. All you have to do is make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar. Dip fresh cranberries in the syrup and let them dry so you have a sticky coating. I did not have a cooling rack that would hold the cranberries, so I just let them dry on a foil lined cookie sheet. It worked fine, although I did have to roll some cranberries out of the little puddles of sugar water so they could dry properly. Once they dried, roll in fine sugar and set on the cookie sheet for about an hour before storing in a Tupperware container. Do not store in the fridge, as the humidity in the fridge will melt your candied coating.
For the cake, I used a basic lemon layer cake recipe from Martha Stewart and prepped a basic lemon cream cheese frosting. I do not like a ton of frosting on my cakes, so this frosting recipe makes just enough, but feel to double the recipe if you like more frosting on your cake- of have a habit of snaking on the frosting as you work
Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded
For the Frosting
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2 teaspoons lemon extract or lemon zest
dash of kosher salt
2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-by-2-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.
2) In a large bowl beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks. Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
3) Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined.
4) Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack.
5) While cakes are baking, bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add lemon slices and simmer 25 minutes. Remove lemon slices from syrup and stir in remaining 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice into syrup.
5) Using a fork, poke holes in warm cakes on rack. Brush with lemon syrup. Let cool completely.
6) While the cake cools, cream together butter, cream cheese, salt, and lemon extract. Add powdered sugar about half a cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. If you find the frosting too sweet add another sprinkling of salt to cut the sweetness.
7) Frost the cake and store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. Arrange the sugared cranberries on top of the cake just before serving.