To know me is to know that I'm going to make my own birthday cake.  The outside consensus is that I shouldn't, that I deserve to take a break and have someone else do the baking for once.

"BUT BAKING'S THE BEST PART!" I whine.  "Don't take that away from me."

What others don't understand, what only fellow bakers comprehend, is that we find the greatest joy in the process.  Happiness is planning the cake, baking the layers, allowing the filling to set and then putting everything together with precision.  It's a meditation and a pleasure.  It's a gift.

It's my birthday and I'll bake if I want to.


For the lemon chiffon cake
(this is adapted from my book Bake It Like You Mean It)

1/3 cup canola oil
4 eggs, room temperature and separated
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Flour cake flour, sifted
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

For the filling

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in 1/4 inch thick slices lengthwise and macerated in 2 tablespoons sugar (to macerate:  place the cut strawberries in a small bowl and toss with the sugar.  Allow to sit until the juices run and the sugar's melted)

1 batch lemon cream

(this is Pierre Hermé's lemon cream filling, posted by Dorie Greenspan.  I didn't change the recipe but simply added finely minced lemon thyme to the cream at the very beginning and strained it before adding the butter.  You can find the recipe here.)

For the lemon buttercream

7 egg whites, large
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon extract (not oil)
1 pound 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
yellow gel dye

For the cake
(I make 2 batches for four layers total.  I don't double the recipe but make the cake twice)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (conventional).  Butter the bottom of two 8" pans but not the sides.  Line the pans with parchment.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, lemon zest, and lemon juice and stir just to combine the ingredients.

Sift the flour, one-third of the granulated sugar, the baking powder, and salt over the egg yolk mixture and, using a large balloon whisk, whisk all the ingredients until well combined, about 2 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and whisk until white and foamy.  Slowly add the granulated sugar and whisk until stiff, glossy white peaks form.

Gently stir 1/3 of the egg white meringue into the egg yolk-flour mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the remaining meringue into the batter and divide evenly among the 2 pans.  Bake 35-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and gently spring back when poked.  Run a paring knife along the edges to release the cake from the sides of the pan the minute they're out but don't turn them out until completely cool.

For the buttercream

Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Place the bowl over a double boiler, with the water just simmering.  Whisk the egg white mixture constantly over the simmering water until the sugar has completely melted and the mixture reaches 160ºF.  Transfer to the mixer and whisk on high until cool and you've got a stiff meringue.  Add the extract and mix to combine.

Add the butter, an inch cube at a time, allowing each addition of butter to incorporate before adding the next.  Continue adding butter until the mixture thickens and smooths out into a spreadable icing. Most often, just before the buttercream comes together, the mixture will appear separated and curdled.  This is normal.  Continue mixing, add another small hob of butter, and let the mixer to its thing.  You probably will not need all the butter so don't throw it in all at once.  Be patient.

Divide the buttercream among three bowls, adding a little less than half to one.  Add 2 drops yellow dye to one and one drop to another, keeping the third, the bowl with most buttercream, plain.

To finish

Place a cake layer on a cake round and brush the cake with juice of the macerated strawberries.  Place a layer of strawberries on top of the cake and then top with 1/3 of the lemon cream filling.  Freeze for about 5 minutes to set and continue building the cake as you did with the 1st layer until all 4 layers of cake are stacked.  Freeze for 1/2 hour until set.

Spread a thin layer of plain buttercream in a crumb coat over the assembled cake and refrigerate about 10-15 minutes to set.  Make sure to keep the remaining plain buttercream crumb free for the finishing layer.

Place the three buttercreams in separate piping bags and cut a 1/2 inch opening in each bag.  Pipe the darkest yellow in concentric circles along the bottom 1/3 of the cake, follow by piping concentric circles of the lighter yellow in the middle 1/3 of the cake and then finish with the plain icing.

Place a second cake circle on top of the cake to use as a guide and using a bench scraper or large "taping knife" (I get them at the hardware store), smooth the sides of the cake.

Remove the top cake board and smooth any remaining plain buttercream in a smooth coat on top.

Garnish with gorgeous strawberries.  And wish yourself happy birthday while you're at it.

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