So remember last week when I was whining that it was too warm and winter was disappearing too quickly? Well I think Mother Nature heard me and complied with my request for some cold weather. Because it was freezing this past weekend! Which I kind of love, but I was also walking around the city with Sara and Abby…so it was brutal. The ear muffs made an appearance.
If last week was my rain dance, this week is the opposite (a dry sit?). I’m sending winter off with a bang and a cake!
Often, I find the winter lacking for fresh produce. There are no berries or tomatoes bursting at the seams of my kitchen. Lots of cans come and go from my pantry during the chilly months. However, there is something to be said for winter citrus. Blood oranges, Meyer lemons, grapefruits, etc. all see their prime during the winter. The end of March will signal the end of the official citrus season (some dropped off at the end of February!), so I’m celebrating the bright colors and flavors while also kindly pushing them out of rotation. I’m ready for pea season guys!
Meyer lemons are well on their way to being out of season right now and hard to find, so I used regular lemons which are literally always in season. If you are lucky enough to find Meyer lemons, they’ll give a slightly sweeter, more balanced citrus note.
First, you know I can’t help myself, and I candied slices of the blood oranges. They’re just so pretty! The cake itself is an adapted version of the lemon cake in Layered soaked with thyme-infused syrup from the candied oranges. Then a blood orange mascarpone filling goes in between each layer and on top to make each bite silkier. Finally, we finish everything off with the candied oranges and a crown of thyme.
But I think we should get back to that mascarpone for a second. Remember when we used them to make these divine chocolate and pear scones? Well we’re using it again here as the main component of our “frosting.” What is that mascarpone stuff again?
I always considered mascarpone to be this magical ingredient used only in the most revered Italian dishes—and it should only be pronounced by the likes of someone as Capital-I-Italian as Giada. But guess what? It’s basically like this high-fat spoon-able cheese like a ricotta cheese if it were a million times wealthier.
And remember when we made ricotta cheese from scratch? Acid + Heat to the rescue in a one-two punch in order to change milk into a network of proteins that we experience as the final cheese texture. (PS check out this chart from my pal Pat for a refresher) Well mascarpone cheese is made exactly the same way! Except it has a crazy-high percentage of fat by the addition of cream and some whipping action. (Actually if you’ll remember we made some unconventional ricotta by adding in some heavy cream because why not) In fact, there is so much fat in mascarpone that it has close to the same percentage as butter. But not quite.
Here, I use mascarpone instead of butter to create a frosting and filling similar to buttercream. So silky and rich!
Now that we’re all caught up on some science, let’s eat cake. Buh bye winter citrus. Yay!
Candied Blood Oranges + Soaking Syrup
2 blood oranges
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh)
- Line a half sheet pan or other baking dish with wax or parchment paper. Set aside.
- Wash the citrus and pat dry. Cut into 1/8-inch rounds. Discard any seeds.
- In a large, tall skillet, heat the sugar, water, and lemon juice over medium heat and stir every now and then until sugar dissolves.
- Add the orange slices (in one layer if possible). Simmer, turning the slices occasionally to evenly candy each side. Keep doing this until the rinds soften and the center turns slightly translucent. About 17 minutes.
- Remove the orange slices from the syrup and place on the prepared pan from step one in a single layer. Let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or for up to a week.
- After removing the slices to cool, strain the syrup into a sealable container. Stick a few sprigs of fresh thyme into the syrup. Once at room temperature, seal the syrup and let sit. After two hours, remove the thyme and place in the refrigerator until ready for use.
Adapted from Layered
Makes three, 6-inch layers
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons vinegar
Scant 1 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Butter and flour (or Pam baking spray) three 6-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- Sift together the flours, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Place the sugar and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium until smooth and creamy. Add the lemon-sugar mixture and increase the speed to medium-high. Mix until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Turn the mixer on medium-low and add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time. When fully combined, stop and scrape the bowl again.
- Put the vinegar in a liquid measuring cup and fill to the 1 cup mark with the milk. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches alternating with the sour milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Right after you don’t see any further white streaks from the flour, turn off the mixer.
- Evenly divide the batter among the three pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Rotate the pans. Continue to bake for 12-14 further minutes (22-24 minutes total) or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Invert onto the wire racks and poke all over the bottom of the cakes (now on top) with forks. Brush the cakes with the blood orange thyme syrup prepared earlier. Let cool to room temperature.
- When cool, cover tightly and place in the fridge until ready to assemble.
Blood Orange Mascarpone Frosting
1 lb (454 g) mascarpone, brought to room temperature
1 blood orange, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- Lightly whip the mascarpone. Add the remaining ingredients and fold to combine.
Three Lemon Cake Layers
Blood Orange Thyme Syrup
Blood Orange Mascarpone Frosting
Thyme (about 8-10 sprigs)
- If you chill your cakes for at least 30 minutes, the assembly will be easier. Remove from the fridge and unwrap. Level if needed using a sharp serrated knife.
- Set one layer on your cake stand/plate with a small dab of mascarpone underneath to keep from sliding. Poke holes in the cake with a fork and brush with the blood orange thyme syrup. Put a third of the mascarpone frosting on the top and smooth with an offset spatula. Put a second layer on top and repeat the process. Place the final layer on top and repeat the process, smoothing more carefully than before.
- Smooth around the layers using any extra mascarpone frosting from the filling and top of the cake.
- Arrange the candied orange slices on top of the cake as you wish. Arrange the thyme in a “crown” bordering the top of the cake. To eat, serve each slice with a sprig of thyme and a candied orange slice. Remove the thyme leaves and sprinkle over the cake. Enjoy!