If I had a category on this blog called ‘Show-stopper Cakes’, this Lemon & Strawberry Checkerboard Cake would surely be on it!
The reason for creating this delightful pink and yellow checkered cake was all in aid of my Dad’s 88th birthday. I reckoned a grand old age deserved a grand birthday cake! And, I’d had this recipe stashed away for just such an occasion. For those of you who are stumped (as I was!) by how a checkerboard cake is made, you basically make round cakes in two different colours, cut concentric circles out of each, put them back together (alternating the colours as you go), and then stack them. Confused much?
Surprisingly, the process was reasonably straight forward. But, I did have a couple of issues to contend with. Firstly, the recipe called for four 6 inch cake pans. I could only find one left in a bakeware sale so, you guessed it, had to do four separate bakes – you can imagine just how tedious that was! Knowing I wouldn’t have time on the day to bake all four of them, I made them a few days before and froze them.
Creating the checkerboard effect looks difficult, but really isn’t. If you have one of those fancy schmancy checkerboard pans to do all the hard work for you, then it’s plain sailing. Failing that, if you happen to have 2 inch and 4 inch deep sided cookie cutters, you’re also away laughing. Sadly, I had neither. I had to go with the stone age technique of cutting out 2 and 4 inch paper circles and using them as a stencil, while I cut the shapes out using a sharp knife. Doing it this way doesn’t necessarily ensure a perfect checkerboard (if, like me, you tend to cut at a slight angle), but beggars can’t be choosers. And, hey, let’s not get too pedantic. While my squares may not have been mathetically precise, the cake still looked pretty darned impressive.
Thanks to Brit.co for the cake recipe (and for some really great process photos which make up for the fact that I didn’t get time to take any) and to Smitten Kitchen for the Swiss buttercream recipe which was, as you can imagine, sinfully divine; mind you with the truck-load of butter involved, it’s hardly surprising!
I adapted the cake to gluten-free, using a standard gluten-free flour mix. It worked out fine, though the sponge was maybe not quite so light, and it did dry out a bit faster too. For that reason, I recommend that if you’re going with the gluten-free version, you serve it to a large enough crowd (at least 12) so that it gets devoured in one sitting rather than sitting around getting dry.
I’m really glad I made this show-stopper cake – it’s been on my ‘must make’ list for ages. It wasn’t exactly a breeze, but it wasn’t difficult either. If, unlike me, you have four cake pans and some appropriately sized cookie cutters, you’ll be away laughing. Enjoy!
- 230g (1 imperial cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated white sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 3-1/4 cups cake flour (I used a gluten-free flour blend)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/4 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons strawberry preserves (I used an organic strawberry jam)
- Sprinkles (optional)
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large egg whites
- 370g (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons), softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pre-heat oven to 175C (350F). Grease and flour 4 x 6-inch round cake pans and set aside.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth. Add in the sugar. With the mixer on medium speed, mix together until fluffy — about 3-4 minutes.
- Turn the mixer down to low and add in the vanilla, eggs, and egg yolk, one at a time. Mix until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- Add in half of the flour mixture and mix on low until just combined. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk. Add in the second half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined (don’t over mix!).
- Separate the batter into 2 mixing bowls (I weighed the full amount and divided by two). Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and yellow food coloring to one bowl. Fold the batter (don't over mix) until combined and even in color. Add the strawberry preserves and pink food coloring to the other bowl. Fold the batter until combined and even in color.
- Evenly distribute the batter into the cake pans so that you have two pans of each color. Bake for about 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.
- Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
- Transfer mixture into the mixer and beat until it turns pale and doubles in volume. Add the vanilla, then add the butter, 100g (1 stick) at a time. Continue to beat for several minutes, or as needed, until the mixture moves past the curdled looking stage and becomes light and smooth.
- Once the cakes have completely cooled, use a long serrated knife to carefully level each cake so that they're the same height.
- Using the 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the centers of each cake.
- Using the 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the centers of each of the 4-inch cake pieces.
- Cut out a 4-inch and 2-inch circle out of baking paper. Place the 4-inch circle over top of one of the cakes, centering it carefully, then poke 4 skewers or pins into the 4 sides of the paper to hold it down while you cut around the circle with a sharp thin knife. (It helps to turn the cake as you go so that the knife remains in one place. Also, try to cut straight down and avoid cutting at an angle or the squares won't look right). Repeat the process using the 2-inch circle, and then do the same process for all the cakes.
- Using just a small amount, carefully smear the insides of each cake ring with buttercream (I found a small offset spatula worked well for this).
- Alternating colours, place the cake rings back inside of each other. There will be 2 layers with yellow outer and centre pieces and 2 layers with pink outer and centre pieces.
- Place the bottom layer on a cake board or serving dish, then apply a thin, smooth layer of buttercream on top with an offset spatula.
- Alternating colors, place the second layer on top and repeat. Continue with all 4 layers of cake.
- Crumb coat the entire cake with buttercream (this is basically a very thin coating over the entire cake), then chill it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to set the cream.
- Frost the outside of the cake with buttercream, then finish off the cake with a ruffled buttercream border and sprinkles.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC ‘Art’ lens / Natural lighting