Of lemons and blueberries and birthday cakes

This year, on my birthday, I woke up early, got dressed up in a green and white striped dress, and headed into the kitchen. I put on my great grandmother’s half apron- black chintz cotton with pink flower print. I put on my happy music, and I began singing and dancing out loud to myself as I grated lemon peels, cracked eggs, sifted flour, and creamed sugar and butter together. I made myself the Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Cake my way with three tiers and blueberries.

Mon Cœur has funfetti cake,

I make a blueberry pound cake for Millie every year,

Mon Amour has carrot cake, and

Chou Chou has marble cake.

Every year I wait silently, and I wonder why there’s no cake or celebration. I resolved to change my attitude and to celebrate my birthday this year by baking my own cake. I can’t be upset no one did anything when I didn’t make a big deal myself, and if I want my cake, I’ll make it.

For those of you who know me…you know this is a labor of love – I love to bake and I love to cook. It’s my love language. It is a joy to bake for others and it is a joy that I bestowed upon myself this year.

I chose a Lemon cake to make. Years ago, I had found this recipe and made it, using limoncello instead of water as part of the glaze. It’s a great summer cake, and it was even better drenched in that glaze. But since I don’t need any extra fun and I was sharing the cake with the family (read Mon Amour and Mon Cœur), I toned down the limoncello and tossed in some frozen blueberries instead. Blueberries are so fabulous with lemons anyway.

I was dancing away and then I heard pattering from my room. The littlest helper arrived to mix…we measured buttermilk together and began adding it alternating with the flour. Really, he just moved a kitchen chair and stood on it, marveling at the noise of the mixer and how it combined all of the ingredients.

Next I heard puttering from the other end of the house…another helper, still with sleep in her eyes and bed head hair, she stumbled into the kitchen wondering what was going on. Even though she has no idea – the smile she gives me every morning and the snugs I get when I first see her wake are my gift for the day. I smiled and said, “It’s my birthday – I’m baking a cake!” A huge smile lit her face up and she asked, “Can I help?” “Of course.” She has always loved to help me bake.

The recipe below was accessed online at foodnetwork.com (5/2010!), and adjusted by me. Enjoy!

Lemon cake

makes 1 three tier cake (9 inch diameter)

Cake Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp

granulated sugar- divided: 2 cups, ½ cup

4 large eggs, room temp

⅓ cup grated lemon zest (6-8 lemons)

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

fresh lemon juice- divided: ¼ cup, ½ cup

¾ cup buttermilk, room temp

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups frozen blueberries

Glaze Ingredients:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

¼ cup fresh lemon juice


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour pans. Drop ½ cup of frozen blueberries into each pan.

2. Cream butter and 2 cups sugar with an electric mixer, until light & fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, add lemon zest.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine ¼ cup lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mix alternately to batter – begin and end with flour. Did you remember those blueberries ? If you forgot, it’s not too late… plop them in here!

4. Divide batter evenly among pans. Smooth the tops, and bake for ~30 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

5. Allow cakes to cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.

6. Combine ½ cup granulated sugar with ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.

7. Remove one cake from its pan and place on plate. Spoon lemon syrup over the cake. Repeat with next two cakes. Allow cake to cool completely.

8. Make the glaze by whisking together sifted confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Pour over the top of the cake, allowing it to drizzle down the sides.

Can be enjoyed fresh or can be frozen for later!

This cake turned out so lovely, and only survived a couple of days (such is the destiny of any sweet in this household), so I decided to make it again for Mon Amour’s baptism luncheon. Also, I had an abundance of buttermilk even though I bought the smallest container. I made his cake and froze it until the day before, then added the lemon syrup and glaze.

Prep work and tips:

With little helpers I always try to prep as much as I can by pre-measuring and mixing what I can before I invite them into the kitchen. I also remind myself, “There will be messes (or bêtises as MC calls them), and they can be cleaned up.”

Lemons: I zest and juice the lemons the day before and store in the refrigerator. I store the juice divided for the cake, syrup, and glaze.

(Side note: I just read that warming lemons in warm water before juicing gets the most juice out – I wish I had read that before! Hopefully I’ll remember that trick next time.)

Flour: I measure the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and place into one ball jar for little hands to dump and sift.

Eggs: I crack them and place in a ball jar to make adding (pouring) one egg at a time easier and shell free.

Liquid: If it will fit into one of my measuring cups, I always measure and mix ingredients there. Less clean up, and easier pour for little hands (hello handle!). Alternatively, Ball jars usually have measurements on the side – I might measure in there if I need a different measuring space.

What is your birthday cake tradition?


2 thoughts on “Of lemons and blueberries and birthday cakes

  1. So when is your actual birthday? I had a birthday (year before last) that was super acknowledged by friends but not by family, which kind of made it worse. There was a lot going on in the family at the time. It hurt though. I did not handle it graciously, but everybody remembered the next year. Your beautiful, gracious way of making what sounds like the most delicious cake of all time is triumphant! Your little ones are precious! You are precious beyond words! Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

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