Lemon Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

EVENT: Jill’s Birthday
VENUE: Cara’s Mom’s House, Long Island
TYPE: End of Summer Deliciousness
MENU: Hummus, Cheese, and Crackers; Surf and Turf (Lobster and Flank Steak); Grandpa Salad; Roasted Potatoes; Corn; Bread; Raspberry-Lemon Birthday Cake

To each her own.

This, I imagine, had to be my mom’s philosophy when my sisters and I were growing up. When you have three girls, I imagine, it can’t be easy to keep them out of each other’s hair.

Whatever Jill had, I wanted–even if it was a pair of patent leather sneakers, chunky platform clogs, or atrocious, square-toed boots that were just so in at that particular moment.

Katie, the youngest, either wanted the stuff Jill and I had ten times more than I wanted Jill’s stuff–or, cool as a cucumber, she wanted nothing to do with it at all. By the time she was in high school, anyway, clunky shoes had gone the way of the early ’00s and everyone was wearing delicate boots and sleek ballet flats.

When it came to birthday cakes, differing footwear or not, Rich Chocolate Cake was the one for all of us, though. Perhaps it would be decorated differently in October than August, but as the pinnacle of celebration cakes, it couldn’t be missed on a birthday. Jill and Kate, who have summer birthdays two days apart sometimes got an ice cream cake instead–this awesome watermelon one, preferably.

Despite the moments of being three peas in a birthday cake pod, there are differences too. I like roller coasters; no one else in my family does. I will always and forever love chocolate and tend to think fruit is a bit of a waste for dessert; others think tarts like this one are totally viable, even for a birthday.

To each her own.

In the end, the second most important ingredient for a homemade birthday cake (love, of course, is the first) has nothing to do with sisterly imitation. It’s perfect-as-possible customization. When I make a birthday cake for someone these days, the idea is not just that I’m giving them a slice of cake, but that I’ve created a cake that precisely suits their dining personality and their expressed desires. Mom got a creamy ricotta tart after filling out my “survey” one day in the car, not long before her birthday. Alex gets dairy-free carrot cake. Sarah gets peanut butter filling.

Jill, a backseat chef year-round, spent a while brainstorming the perfect cake for her 2011 birthday. Last year, I made a blueberry cake with lemony cream cheese frosting. It was pretty nice-looking and great-tasting, but I didn’t get a very good picture, so I never posted about it here.

This year, we figured out that what would be the perfect cake. It would have light, lemony layers. Pink-tinted raspberry buttercream. More raspberries for decoration. Pretty and delicious–and so perfectly suited to Jill that her friend Rachel actually guessed the flavor combination in advance.

For some of the fall birthdays (and it always seems there are a lot), give this cake a whirl. That is, if the birthday gal or guy has a special affection for raspberries and lemon. Otherwise, tweak it til it’s perfect for them.

From my kitchen, where a cake is a gift, to yours,



Lemon Birthday Cake with Raspberry Buttercream
Makes 1 cake

**Based on some questions in the comments, I want to clarify the amount of raspberries in this recipe. You’ll want to buy two pint-sized “clamshells” of raspberries. Then you use 1 1/2 of those in the icing’s puree and the remaining 1/2 for decorating. Clamshells in my area have always been labeled pints – they are about 1 dry cup’s worth of raspberries. That means it’s a different measurement than a pint of cream. So if the raspberries you buy are labelled differently, stick to the cup measurement.

Also: if you make this buttercream ahead of time and refrigerate it, you must let it get to room temperature and re-beat it before trying to spread it on the cake. If it curdles when you beat it, it’s still too cold.**

For the cake:
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons
3 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at soft room temperature

For the icing and decoration:
(adapted from The Dessert Bible)
2 pints fresh raspberries (about 2 cups)
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt

To make the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch springform cake pans, then place a circle of parchment at the bottom of each. Grease that with softened butter too.

Whisk the eggs with 6 tablespoons of the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl–the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one–whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add the butter, cut into rough tablespoon-sized chunks, and the remaining sour cream, and, using your hand-held mixer or your very strong arm if you don’t have a stand mixer, beat this together for nearly two minutes. It will be very creamy. Pour in the egg mixture in two parts, beating for nearly a minute after each.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 30 minutes, until the edges are golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted will come out clean, and the cake will bounce back when you press it lightly. Run a butter knife along the edges, then remove the sides of the pan and cool completely. When cool, flip the cake to remove the parchment from the bottom.

To make the icing: Puree 1 1/2 pints of raspberries with 1/3 cup sugar in a blender or mini food processor. Strain through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds (this takes a little while, so be patient), then set aside the seedless puree. Reserve the remaining 1/2 pint for decorating the cake.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a heatproof bowl–metal works great–and set it over a pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly but not too hard, until the egg-sugar mixture is warm (a drop on the inside of your wrist should feel hot but not burning). Be careful not to curdle it. If you’re using a thermometer, you want it to read 160°F.

Remove from the heat and beat on high speed using a handheld or electric mixer (I wouldn’t recommend doing this by hand). After about 5 minutes, it should have increased in volume and be light, airy, and cool. Turn the mixer to medium and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until incorporated. At points, the icing may look curdled. When all the butter is in, add the salt and raspberry puree and beat again.

Store for up to 5 days in the fridge, but let the icing come to room temperature before using (you may have to re-whip it).

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving platter. Spread a thick layer of buttercream across. Carefully place the second layer, top side down, on the buttercream. Use the remaining icing to ice the top and sides thickly and evenly. Arrange the fresh raspberries in three-berry clusters around the edge of the cake–or any way that strikes your fancy.


    • Sorry to hear it! There are a ton of things that can go wrong with buttercream if you’re not careful – butter not being room temp is a big one. In general, if your icing winds up too thin, the best thing to do is put the whole bowl in the fridge for an hour. Then try beating it again. Better luck next time!

    • Lovely! Yes, the batter is thicker than normal. I’m not sure I’d have said dough-like, but perhaps your eggs were small? Let us know how the cake comes out!

  1. I’m making this cake for someone’s birthday this week.  I made the icing tonight and plan to make the cake tomorow but. . . I’m only making half the recipe.  I heated 2 eggs and 100g sugar as instructed, beat them for 5 minutes, then added the puree from 3/4 pint of raspberries plus a bit of sugar.  And my icing is very very runny, and very very red.  It’s not at all like the picture.  I guess I got a lot more puree out of my raspberries than expected?

    Any ideas how I can fix this?  I’m thinking of starting another 1/2 frosting recipe up to beating the eggs, and instead of adding the raspberry puree, just adding my already-made icing.  Or I can just keep adding butter to what I already have, but that would make it too rich, I think. 


    • Rona–you don’t mention mixing in the butter…but i gather you did? You might have gotten the butter too soft, so if the icing is runny, the best idea would be to refrigerate.

      Otherwise, I’d recommend making the other half of the icing and mixing it into what you have.

      Let me know how it goes!

      •  I did mix in the butter with the first 1/2 batch, but there was much too much raspberry puree.  I remedied this by making another 1/2 batch without the puree and adding it to the first batch.  At first it was beautiful, but then I put it in the fridge overnight.  It was quite hard the next day (to be expected with all that butter), so I let it soften.  I whipped it again, and this is where disaster happened!  It broke!  I put it back into the fridge hoping it would unbreak, but it was destined to be a lumpy mass.  Oh well.  It still tasted fine, so I used it!

        I had some problems with the cake, too, but again, it still tasted fine.  I used a 9×13 pan which worked out well. 

        Despite all the problems I had, the cake was still a success, and my co-workers ate it all!

  2. This looks so yummy! I’m thinking about making this but don’t have a springform pan.  Sooo I was wondering if I could make it using a regular 9 inch round cake pan??

  3. Pretty sure the problem here is “2 pints” of raspberries. Based on my math, I bought 5 of the small clamshells of berries for the purée/decorating. Only used 3 for the purée, since others mentioned this step could be a bit iffy, and was left with a giant soggy hot pink mess.

    • You may be right! 2 pints of raspberries is a tiny amount: each “clamshell” is one pint. So if you used 5, you would have more than doubled it! I’ll clarify in the instructions.

  4. Thank you for a delicious Lemon cake recipe! Everyone loved the denser texture and taste! HOWEVER (a huge however), the beautiful buttercream that I made at night and then put in the fridge overnight, turned into pink cottage cheese! I tried rewhipping like you said once it was room temperature, and that did not help! I ended up going with a tried and true buttercream recipe that turned out perfect, but throwing that together an hour before the baby shower was very stressful! My cake was meant to be a centerpiece at the baby shower, and I am so thankful that I did not ice the whole cake and place it in the fridge until the morning. Anyway, I read down and noticed that several people have had the same issue with putting it in the fridge overnight. I think should you possibly put a disclaimer on your recipe so that people know to use the buttercream the day they make it and avoid the fridge!

    • Thank you so much for the comment – and I’m deeply sorry you had trouble. When you let the frosting come to room temperature, it has to be really and truly warm. If it’s cold, it will curdle. I usually take it out about 3 hours in advance, and that does the trick. Again, I’m so sorry to have thrown you into a panic on the day of a party!

  5. As an experienced baker, I have to warn anyone daring enough to try this recipe to save your money! The first sign that this recipe is a joke is the icing being referred to as “buttercream”. This is not butter cream by any strech of the imagination. My husband honestly thought that this recipe was posted as a cruel joke. Just dontbwaste your money and the 4 lbs of butter it calls for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *