I only just realized that my grandmother had never really loved cooking when she moved into the seniors home and breathed a sigh of relief. I’m still a bit shocked, but not entirely. Now that I think back, I remember her being very rushed, always trying to get the cooking done and ‘out of the way’. It was always basic, but delicious and hearty fare; the best kind for feeding a large growing, farm family. With all the bread baking, pickling, preserving, and gardening, I don’t think she had much time for kitchen experimenting or recipe development. Birthdays were celebrated with a simple sheet cake or home baked pie, and nothing more because that’s what was expected. Life was much simpler back in the days when my dad grew up, the oldest of 6 kids, on a farm in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan.
That hard work ethic was passed on to my dad who, by the age of ten, was driving the small farm tractor and helping out with farm chores. To those that aren’t farmers, the hard work and dedication of farming life often goes by unnoticed. There were times during harvest when I barely saw my dad for weeks at a time while he combined into the wee morning hours until the dew fall-finally signalled bedtime.
Now that he is retired (to be honest, farmers never retire…) he and my mom have been able to visit us in Alberta more frequently. I was ecstatic that they could be with us to celebrate their granddaughter’s graduation, since it was also my dad’s birthday, pleased to be able to finally be able to bake my dad a well deserved cake. I really wanted to go all out because man, does this guy have a sweet tooth! When I took it out of the fridge, he was so tickled that I had baked him a cake. With a big smile, he marvelled, “It has FOUR layers!” and then I realized he had probably never had such a cake, ever. My mom, while an amazing bread baker, just could never manage to bake sweets including, cookies, pies, and cakes.
Lemon Cardamom Layer Cake with Strawberries and Mascarpone
- 1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups (500 mL) granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) grated lemon zest
- 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
- 3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
- 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
- 1 tsp green cardamom
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
- 1-2/3 cups (400 mL) milk
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
- 4 cups icing sugar
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 2 (16 oz./475 g) tubs mascarpone cheese
- 3 lbs strawberries (depending on how nice they are...always pick the best ones for the outside!
- Pre heat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Grease two 9 inch cake pans and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper.
- In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Continue beating and add eggs one at a time, then add the lemon zest and vanilla.
- In a separate bowl whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and salt.
- Stir 1/3 dry mixture into wet mixture, then add 1/3 milk. Alternate until the remainder of the dry ingredients and milk are gone. Stir in lemon juice to make the batter slightly curdle.
- Divide evenly between the two cake pans, filling no more than 2/3 pan.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester come out clean. Let cool on wire racks, then remove from pans.
- Halve cakes horizontally to make 4 layers.
- Mascarpone Cream - Mix two tubs mascarpone cheese with 4 cups icing sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cardamom.
- Drop about 1 cup mascarpone cream mixture in the centre of each layer (except top) and spread outward, leaving a 2 inch space of cake surface between the cream and edge of the cake.
- Hull and slice strawberries lengthwise and place them snugly against each other on top of the mascarpone cream.
- Place the nicest strawberries on the bare cake surfaces with the tips facing outward and sticking out slightly. Add the next cake layer. Repeat strawberry steps for each layer (except the top).
- Spread the cake top with the remainder of the mascarpone cream and arrange uncut strawberries on top, or decorate with edible flowers, etc.
Some thoughts on baking the cake…2 cups of sugar is A LOT. I knew the cake would be quite sweet, so I didn’t want the toppings to add even more sweetness. The mascarpone cheese worked well in this respect and had enough integrity to keep it’s shape. The cake is even better the next day…as cakes usually are.