My daughter is turning three this week. As any mother can attest, I just can’t understand where the time has gone. She’s smart, sassy, full of song, and has been waiting for her birthday for months. With no prompting she has provided constant reminders of her wish for birthday hats, balloons (one of each color), and a cake (with fire on top) for months. I was happy to finally oblige with all three this weekend.
The cake, of course, is the centerpiece of any birthday party. But I’m also that mom and sugar is a rare treat in our house – birthdays being a reasonable exception. Still, I didn’t want to overload her, myself, or our guests with a sugar bomb topped with more fat and sugar in the frosting. So, I shared my vision for a fresh, homemade, but easier-on-the-sugar cake with our assistant editor and resident baker extradordinaire, Dana.
This Strawberry Lemonade Cake was a hit! It was rich and dense like a restaurant or bakery cake, but felt clean, light, and perfectly sweet. That’s because we didn’t use any butter and went light on the sugar, but made up for it with honey and fresh strawberries.
We replaced some of the standard white flour with whole wheat pastry flour, a lighter flour that ultimately gave us that rich and dense texture that makes a perfect cake. Once the batter was prepared, we made two 8-inch rounds. These baked for about 30 minutes and then cooled in the refrigerator.
While the baking and cooling took place we had plenty of time to prepare the frosting. I love a thick and gooey cream cheese frosting, but can’t stand pouring cup after cup of powdered sugar in to it. For years I’ve made my own using honey. I first shared it atop these Chocolate Pomegranate Cupcakes we made for the launch of FitBottomedEats.com, and then adjusted it a bit to add the tart lemon to our strawberry birthday cake.
Cream cheese, honey, and fresh lemon juice and zest make this a tart and tangy topping for this sweet birthday cake.
Once the cake was cooled, Dana spread the bottom cake with frosting and then topped with a juicy layer of freshly sliced strawberries. The second cake was placed on top of the whole thing wrapped in a thick layer of lemon cream cheese frosting and adorned with a few whole strawberries.
The candles (with fire) were added later, but certainly not forgotten.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (pastry or regular)
1 cup organic cane sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup honey
4 large eggs
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil (sub up to half with applesauce)
1 1/4 cup strawberry puree*
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
16 ounces (2 8-ounce blocks) light cream cheese
1/3 cup honey
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half a large lemon
(Optional: powdered sugar or all purpose flour for thickening)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and butter and flour two 8 inch round cake pans. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients: Flours, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients: Honey, eggs, oil, strawberry puree, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk well to combine.
3. Add the wet to the dry and stir until well combined.
4. Pour evenly into the two 8-inch round pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Let rest in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool (lay them on a towel to protect fridge shelves).
6. In the meantime prepare your frosting by beating cream cheese, honey, lemon juice and zest. Taste and adjust flavor as needed. Add more honey for extra sweetness, more zest and juice for more lemon flavor, and a touch of all purpose flour OR powdered sugar to thicken it up (optional). Alternatively, to thicken you could refrigerate it for an hour or more.
7. Once cakes are cooled remove from fridge and loosen the edges with a knife.
8. Line the edges of a cake stand or serving plate with parchment paper so they can be removed once the cake is frosted to reveal a clean edge. A dot of frosting underneath toward the center of the plate will help them stick.
9. Loosen the first cake from the pan and drop it face up onto the stand or plate and lightly carve off the middle if it’s raised.
10. Frost the first layer trying to avoid too many crumbs in the frosting. Top with a few sliced strawberries in a single layer (optional).
11. If the second cake is arched on top, lightly shave off the top with a serrated knifed until it’s mostly flat. Then gently flip it upside down and place it on top of the first cake (face down).
12. Frost generously, first adding about 1 cup of frosting on the top of the cake and working your way out. I found using the back of a spoon to nestle frosting in between the two layers was helpful. Use a butter knife or frosting knife to smooth the edges.
13. Garnish with a circle of fresh strawberries (tops removed) and lemon zest. Chill until serving.
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recipe and photos by Dana Shultz