A Single-Layer Cake Reaches Great Heights: Cream Cheese Butter Cake with Light Lemon Curd Buttercream

Sometimes all it takes is a glance at a cookbook photo to convince me to try a recipe. That was the case with Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for "Cheese Cream Butter Cake" from The Baking Bible -- the name doesn't have much of a wow factor, but the full-page photo shows a slice of simple but beautiful dense white sheet cake, with a thin layer of lovely opaque yellow frosting. It drew me in immediately.

The "Light Lemon Curd Buttercream" frosting for this cake is essentially a whipped lemon curd with extra butter, and you need to make it ahead of time. To make the curd, you cook egg yolks and whites, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a double boiler until it's thickened. The recipe says to cook the curd until it reaches 180 degrees, and my curd was already quite thick by the time it reached 150. I decided to take it off of the heat when it reached 170 because the mixture was reducing in volume and I didn't want to lose too much of it. You put the curd through a sieve, cool it slightly, and blend in cold butter a tablespoon at a time, using either a standard blender or immersion blender. Then you chill the frosting until it has completely cooled.

The cake is a high ratio cake, with equal weights of sugar and flour. Accordingly, it's mixed with the high ratio method: you dump all of the dry ingredients (cake flour, sugar, baking power, baking soda, and salt) into a mixing bowl; incorporate room temperature butter, cream cheese, and sour cream; and gradually add a mixture of egg yolks, more sour cream, and vanilla. The batter was billowy and thick, like cake frosting. I scraped it into a parchment-lined pan and put the cake in the oven to bake.
Beranbaum instructs you turn the cake out of the pan and cool it upside down on a wire rack that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray, to flatten out the top surface. The top of my cake did end up fairly flat (the edges were a little shorter than the middle), but the square grid pattern of my cooling rack was clearly imprinted on the top, causing the small bumps you can see underneath the frosting in the photo above.

The frosting spread beautifully and held its shape nicely. (Incidentally, the frosting recipe yields more than twice what is needed to cover the cake, which is meant to be baked in an 8-inch square pan. I solved this problem by doubling the cake recipe, baking it in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan, and then using all of the frosting.) I kept this cake in the refrigerator and brought it to room temperature before serving. It was freakin' delicious. Beranbaum describes the texture as similar to a classic pound cake, but it's even better. The cake had a dense, tight crumb that was also tender and moist. The superfine crumb and vanilla flavor of the cake reminded me a lot of the Restaurant Eve cake.

And the frosting was wonderful, too -- it had the strong and tart kick of lemon curd but with a creamy and more luxurious texture. There is really nothing I can criticize about this cake or the frosting -- they were both fantastic and surpassed all of my expectations.

Recipe: "Cream Cheese Butter Cake" from The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.