I love all sweet-and-sour foods: a half-ripe persimmon, cheap Chinese takeout, and Lemonhead candies. For a candy, Lemonheads have it all going on—a 1980’s fashion-forward color, eye-squintingly sour outer shell, and a sweet, smooth center. It could possibly be the perfect candy, so I let it be the inspiration for this sweet and sour cake: tangy lemon layers with sweet, buttery frosting decorated with the candy it’s named after. Finally! A sweet-and-sour dish that delivers and doesn’t involve a sauce packet you have to open with your teeth.
What you need:
2 3⁄4 cups cake flour
1 2⁄3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
3⁄4 cup (1 1⁄2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
4 large egg whites, plus 1 whole large egg
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk or regular whole milk
1⁄2 teaspoon lemon extract
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla paste Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting (recipe to follow),tinted bright yellow with food coloring
2 (7-ounce) bags Lemonhead candies for garnish
Lemonhead Syrup: 1⁄4 cup Lemonhead syrup (5 Lemonhead candies melted in 1⁄4 cup water and cooled)
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and spray the paper. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest and mix on low speed for 1 minute, or until just combined. Add the butter and increase the speed to medium. Mix for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is a paste. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the whole egg and beat to combine. Scrape down the bowl as needed. The batter will be thick.
In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the coconut milk, lemon extract, and vanilla paste. With the mixer on medium speed, slowly pour this mixture into the batter. Beat for 3 to 5 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a rack, then turn them out of the pans. Slice a thin layer of cake from the top of each layer to create
a flat surface. Place one layer (cut side up) on a cake pedestal or plate. Using a chopstick or skewer, poke a few holes in the top of the cake. Brush the top of the cake with half of the Lemonhead Syrup. Let the syrup seep into the holes. Spread 1 heaping cup frosting over the top of the first cake layer. Place the second cake layer on top of the frosting, cut side up, poke holes in the top, and brush the top with the remaining syrup. Spread 1 heaping cup frosting as a crumb layer (Watch this How To Frost a Layer Cake Video) to cover the entire cake (it’s okay if you can see the cake through the frosting). Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Use the remaining frosting (about 3 cups) to apply the final decorative layer over the entire cake. Garnish with Lemonhead candies. (I love polka dots, so I piped dots all over the cake and then put a Lemonhead candy on each dot. You could cover the entire cake in Lemonheads, which would be unreal!)
Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
(easy, buttery, and stable)
yields about 5 cups
What you need:
5 large egg whites
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
1 1⁄2 pounds (6 sticks) butter,cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
What to do:
Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches water and place over medium-low heat. Set a medium ovenproof bowl over the simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t come into contact with the water.
Put the egg whites and sugar in the bowl and whisk together until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Pour the hot egg white mixture into the (room temperature) bowl
of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed for 10 minutes, or until the meringue has doubled in volume, holds a stiff peak, and has cooled down. It’s important that the meringue is not warm, or it will melt the butter. I usually stick my finger down into the meringue to feel the temp—and get a taste!