Lemon Lavender Layer Cake

This Lemon Lavender Layer Cake is a sweet teatime treat. It’s easy to make, yet pretty enough to serve for a special occasion.

Lemon Lavender Layer Cake

Happy Spring! It seems that the season has finally settled in to stay for a while here in East Tennessee. Winter’s chill is gone and the venerable camellia bush tree in our yard is heavy with pink blooms. However, spring has always been unpredictable here. We may yet have a Dogwood Winter (snow in April!). But for now the warm weather and colors of spring have inspired my mood and appetite.

Lemon Lavender Layer Cake

Lemon Lavender Layer Cake is – yes – inspired by spring’s new blooms, but also by a set of thrifted china my mother gifted to me. I’m so grateful for her generosity, and happy to add new (old!) china to my collection. But I wasn’t sure about the colors. Pink and purple together is something my 10 year old self would have adored. And I’m pretty sure this china is from the big ’80s. Maybe I felt I’d outgrown those hues a little? Ultimately (as you can see) I decided to embrace them, and to create a cake to match the sweetness and color palette. Now, I just love those dishes! The pattern is retired, but Replacements.com has a few pieces if you’re looking to add to your granny-chic collection.

A light touch of lavender.

The lavender flavor in this cake is so lovely and mild. It’s quick-steeped in the wet ingredients, and some buds are added to the dry mixture. Combined with the lemony-citrus notes, the end result leans more toward Earl Grey tea flavor than anything. When using lavender, the last thing you want is for your baked goods to taste like granny’s soap. I think even those with some lavender ambivalence, may find this a delicious flavor combination.

3 abundant layers.

The batter bakes up in three 8-inch cake pans. I developed the batter to make three hearty rounds that don’t puff up much in the oven. No leveling means less cake waste (and I’m all for that!). If your cakes puff a little in their centers, lay a paper towel on top of them while they are still warm in the pans. Press the puffed center down gently before turning the cakes out to cool completely.

Billowy, light, buttercream.

Swiss meringue buttercream also lends lightness, as it is less sweet than American buttercream. If you’ve never made it before, it can seem intimidating. Just know, before you start, that during mixing the frosting goes through several ugly stages before it becomes beautiful, billowy buttercream. (See my how-to video in this post.)

Lavender flavors and hues.

Flavor the buttercream with a little lemon extract and a touch of lavender extract. This creates an extra layer of flavor that matches the cake’s interior. Fill and coat the cake with a crumb coat of the frosting. I almost liked this as a ‘naked cake’ (sidebar: here’s an article I wrote for Food Network on the subject). I love the cake layers peeking through, but ultimately decided for a more substantial coat.

Tint the remaining frosting a rosy color. Because of the inherent pale yellow that lives in buttercream, mixing colors can be a challenge! So add a little gel color at a time as you go. I managed to create this color using red, purple, and fuchsia gel food colors. See the recipe notes to simplify mixing hues.

Decorate!

I used gum paste flowers that were already made up, and leftover, from a wedding cake I made last year. I don’t have a tutorial for them today (maybe soon!) but you could simplify things by using organic rose petals as a garnish. Or, consider supporting a wonderful Etsy maker and purchase some ready-made.

To one side, pipe leftover frosting mounds in a half-moon shape. Add some berries, flowers, petals – whatever inspires you! I added a sprinkle of culinary lavender buds on top.

Lemon Lavender Layer Cake

I’m already planning to make this cake a second time, perhaps for Mother’s Day. It fits so many occasions! It would even make an appropriate Easter cake. The flavors are spot-on to convey the lightness of spring.

Lemon Lavender Layer Cake
Lemon Lavender Layer Cake

If you’re like me, and have the opinion that no tea party is complete with out madeleines, you can whip up a batch using this batter recipe. Omit the orange peel and add a little lemon extract, and 1/2 teaspoon of lavender buds to the batter. They are so lovely alongside this cake.

Lemon Lavender Layer Cake

Heather Baird
This Lemon Lavender Layer Cake is a sweet teatime treat. It's easy to make, yet pretty enough to serve for a special occasion.
The flavors of this cake are light and delicious, not tart and overpowering. Using lavender in baking takes a judicious hand, so don't be tempted to add more. The cake's lavender and citrus flavors together bring to mind Earl Grey tea. It's not soapy, it's more floral and fruity.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12

Equipment

  • Fine mesh sieve
  • microplane or citrus zester
  • 8 inch cake pans, 3
  • disposable piping bag

Ingredients
 
 

Lemon lavender cake layers

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/4 teaspoons dried culinary lavender buds divided
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon fine, use a microplane
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract

Swiss meringue buttercream

  • 8 large egg whites about 1 cup or 8 oz.
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lavender extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
  • Gel food colors in red purple, and fuchsia (see recipe notes)

Decors

  • Gum paste flowers optional, see blog post for sources
  • Organic purple rose petals washed and patted dry
  • 1 teaspoon lavender buds
  • 2/3 cup fresh whole raspberries

Instructions
 

Lemon lavender cake layers

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat three 8-inch cake pans with flour-based baking spray.
  • In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the milk for 1 minute on 100% power. Add in 1 tablespoon of the lavender buds and let steep about 10 minutes. Sieve the milk mixture over a large glass measuring cup with a pour spout (4 cup or larger) so that you have 1 cup of lavender milk. (The buds will soak up some of the milk.) Discard the lavender buds. Allow the milk to cool slightly before using.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and fine grain sea salt. Stir in the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons dried culinary lavender buds.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Scrape down the bowl and beat again until consistent.
  • To the cooled lavender milk, add the lemon juice. Stir to combine. The mixture will curdle; this is normal and supposed to happen. Add the zest and lemon extract. Mix well.
  • Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture alternately with the wet ingredients; begin and end with flour.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared pans. This will be about 2 3/4 cup of batter per pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. The cakes shouldn’t crown (puff up) much, but if they do, lay a paper towel on top of the cakes in the pans and press gently while they are still warm. This will knock down the puff slightly and you won’t have to level the cakes with a serrated knife or cake leveler. Turn the cakes out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Swiss meringue buttercream

  • Place a saucepan filled 1/3 full of water over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
  • In a large stainless-steel bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over the simmering water and cook while whisking intermittently. Cook until the mixture is hot (110°F) and you can no longer feel sugar granules when the mixture is rubbed between your finger and thumb. Transfer the hot mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 10 minutes or until a thick, shiny meringue forms that holds stiff peaks. The bowl should feel cool to the touch. If it doesn’t, refrigerate the meringue in the bowl for 10 minutes. Return the bowl to the mixer and swap the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment.
  • Beat the room temperature butter into the meringue one cube at a time on medium-low speed, waiting to add the next cube when the previous cube disappears. The batter will deflate with the butter addition, and may even look curdled (if the butter was the slightest bit cold this happens), but this is normal. When all of the butter is added, beat the mixture on high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the lemon and lavender extracts and salt.

Assembly

  • Place a cake layer on a cake plate or cake board. Top with 1 cup of the buttercream; spread evenly. Top with a second cake layer. Add another cup of buttercream and spread evenly. Top with the remaining cake layer. Cover the entire cake with a crumb coat of frosting, and chill until firm, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, tint the remaining frosting with the food colors, adding a little of each at a time until a purplish rosy-mauve color is achieved. Spread a thick layer of buttercream over the chilled cake and smooth the top and edges using a cake smoother or bench scraper.
  • Place the remaining buttercream in a disposable piping bag and pipe mounds of frosting over one side of the cake in a half moon shape. Pipe mounds on top of mounds in the center of the half moon to give that area some height. Add gum paste flowers, if using, rose petals, raspberries and sprinkle on lavender buds.

Notes

Freshly squeezed: The juice from 2 1/2 large lemons should give you about 1/2 cup of juice. So, add 3 lemons to your shopping list for this cake.
Buttercream: You may have a little buttercream left over. It is my preference to always have more than needed in case accidents happen, or if inspiration strikes and I decide to pipe big swirls of frosting on top of the cake. If you’re more conservative with your ingredients, you could reduce the buttercream recipe by 1/4. Or, if you make the madeleines pictured, you could split them and sandwich with the leftover buttercream.
Mixing hues: To simplify getting the right color for the cake’s exterior, there are many ready-made rosy-lavender colors that will give you the result without having to be a buttercream mixologist. Shop the colors at your local craft store in the baking aisle. Ready-made mauve by Wilton is close to the finished color of this cake. Or you could simply use lavender or violet gel food color and opt for a more purple icing to match the lavender flavor. 
For convenience: The gum paste flowers I used were already made up from a wedding cake I made last year. They were a last minute addition to this cake, so I don’t have a tutorial for them. If you’re not experienced with gum paste, don’t have the time or the equipment to make them, consider purchasing some flowers ready-made. I’ve linked an Etsy seller in the blog post, or you can search ‘gum paste flowers’ on Etsy and find a wide variety of beautiful gum paste flowers. 
Keyword dried culinary lavender, lemon zest, swiss meringue buttercream
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Cindy
Cindy
1 month ago

This cake looks AMAZING! I love the color-it just screams Spring!

Kathleen
Kathleen
5 hours ago

Can I make the frosting ahead and store in the fridge for a day or two?