Every August my mother’s side of the family gathers at my aunt and uncle’s house for a weekend reunion of sorts. I’m not sure how the tradition started, or even when really, I just know that one weekend in August I get obliterated on good alcohol and go shopping the next day. It’s pretty awesome.
This “reunion” consists of my mother and her three sisters, their husbands and children and the occasional stray boyfriend, who often looks bewildered and unsure of how he came to be there. That look of bewilderment is often mirrored on all the husband’s faces at this event. My mother and her three sisters are all Italian, and with that comes several rather strong ethnic traits – foremost among them is an uncanny ability to reach decibel levels more often heard at a heavy-metal concert. I am not excluded from this trait, however some of my cousins fared better (must be that Polish blood) and have managed to avoid the ear-drum-shattering pitch that the rest of us can make. So once the alcohol is flowing (which starts when my family arrives on Friday night and ends with mimosas before shopping on Sunday morning) you can imagine the cacophony of sounds echoing throughout the house.
This year’s event was a little more subdued as several members had to depart before the shopping extravaganza for concerts and moving dates. It was a shame, though I suppose it was also a blessing. This was the first year that I managed to plead enough to get The BF to come with me. After exchanging a battery of e-mails with all my family members in an attempt to stem any kind of awkward encounters that they may have been plotting, The BF and I packed up and headed to southeastern-PA. He managed well and there was minimal invasion of privacy, and he’s still dating me, so I guess it was a success.
A secondary purpose (or maybe this was the real reason) for this reunion is to celebrate the summer birthdays, one of my aunt’s and my own. We used to always have a Carvel ice cream cake, because it isn’t a summer birthday without one (I’m sure I had a lot to do with this, because I love ice cream cake, and my youngest cousin does as well). Sadly as time passed two of our members became lactose-intolerant. We lovingly refer to them as lactards. We adjusted to this hardship and bought them a smaller (inferior) non-ice cream cake, and kept right on eating our large Carvel ice cream cake (we have compassion in spades in our family it seems). This year I made the lactard cake.
I got an awesome cookbook from one of my aunts for my birthday this summer, The Boozy Baker (about which more to come) and decided to select a recipe from there. The book had only one recipe that had absolutely no milk or cream in it (apparently butter is fine for both of them) and that was vetoed, so I decided to adjust one of the other recipes to be (relatively) lactose-free. The following is a delicious lemony cake with limoncello and Campari. Everyone thought it was fantastic. I used my buttercream recipe because I have finally mastered Swiss buttercream and am spreading it on everything I can. The frosting was easily the star of the cake. My dad was sneaking licks of it while I was icing the cake, and we even used some of the leftovers on muffins and banana-gingerbread (recipe to come) the next morning. I’m pretty sure my mother was just barely able to restrain herself from eating it by the spoonful.
If you do not have limoncello or Campari do not fret, the recipe should work just as well with lemon juice and a little lemon extract. You can’t really taste the Campari in my icing recipe, though maybe you can in the original. It’s pricey at the liquor store and apparently only comes in one giant bottle. I bought one because I like booze and figured I would be able to use it again. (Funny story, my aunt also bought a bottle for Negroni cocktails that we made that weekend and promptly dumped down the drain. I now own two bottles of Campari). But if you don’t want to use it you can substitute cherry liqueur (like Kirsch) if you have it, or cherry juice.
(p.s. can you tell I got to use my dad’s ultra fancy Canon Rebel EOS that weekend? I have a million shots of this cake, and the cacti, and the cats, and just about everything at my aunt’s house :])
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cup buttermilk (or 1 6oz container of soy yogurt for lactards)
- 3 tablespoons limoncello
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- the grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp lemon extract (optional)
- ½ cup boiling water
- ¾ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup meringue powder
- about 1 lb. powdered sugar
- 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tbsp limoncello
- 1 tbsp Campari
- ½ tsp lemon extract
- Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans and set aside.
- Whisk the flours, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the zest, lemon juice and limoncello.
- Add the flour in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk/soy yogurt, and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition to ensure it is thoroughly mixed. If you’re not afraid of raw egg, test the batter at this point to see if it is lemon-y enough for you. I didn’t think it was so I added the lemon extract by ¼ teaspoonfuls until I thought it had the right flavor. If you’re too scared of raw eggs, just add ½ tsp of lemon extract or skip it altogether.
- Pour equal amounts of batter into the two pans. It will be a slightly thicker batter than the runnier types made by a box mix, so it will need some coaxing with the spatula to fill the pan and lie flat. Bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. The tops of these cakes are very light and will not brown much, so testing is essential.
- Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool on racks.
- Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water and stir until it is no longer gritty – this a simple syrup. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Place the meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or use a hand mixer (be warned you’ll be mixing for a while). Whisk the meringue powder and syrup on the highest setting until soft peaks form, about 6-8 minutes. You will have a huge mass of meringue.
- Add the powdered sugar by the cupful, whisking on medium, until the meringue is silky looking. Add the butter in chunks and whisk on high until it is smooth and silky again. At this stage your icing may look slightly curdled or chunky, do not panic, just keep mixing I promise it will look beautiful.
- Once the butter is incorporated add the flavorings and beat to incorporate. At this point you should have a spreadable icing, if it looks too runny (and it might if you have a very hot kitchen like I did) add more powdered sugar, or ¼ cup of cornstarch, to thicken it. Makes enough to cover two 2-layer cakes, or one 2-layer cake with piped decoration.
- I tinted my icing yellow, because I wanted to highlight the lemon flavor more than the Campari, and I also made my icing a little stiffer so I could pipe the roses on top.
- If you don’t use all the icing (which is entirely probable) you can pop it in the fridge in an airtight container for a week or in a freezer safe ziplock bag in the freezer for up to two months. Just thaw to room temperature before using, and it may need some vigorous stirring and extra powdered sugar to get the life back in it.