Within cake distance

When there's a birthday in the family, I always bring the cake.

In June, it was Baked's Sweet and Salty Cake for my mom.

In July, it was Martha Stewart's Blueberry Pie for West Coast brother D. and partner in crime R.

In August, it was Smitten Kitchen's Best Birthday Cake for Uncle G. and first cousin once removed C. (No, seriously.)

My August cake showing was a bit weak. Cake flour and I, we don't get along very well. Try as I might, I can't recall a single cake flour cake I've ever made that wasn't dry. Maybe they're especially sensitive to over-baking, or perhaps the fine grind of cake flour makes volume-based measurements even sketchier than usual. Whatever the case, I've tucked my bag of cake flour into the deepest recesses of my corner cupboard. It needs a time-out to reflect on what it's done and how it's going to make things up to me.

In the meantime, people aren't getting any younger. The show must go on.

September strutted in with not 1, not 2, but -- count them -- 3 family birthdays: sister J., niece B. and nephew D. And those are just the ones within cake distance.* Prairie brother D. went without in Alberta, as did brother-in-law C. in Oakville. Just one more good reason to live in Vancouver, I guess.

But I digress.

We celebrated the trio of September birthdays with a citrus take on a tried and true classic. Once again, the recipe did not disappoint. The cake is so light and moist, everyone will be convinced it's from a box.** The frosting is rich and sweet, but whipped to airy perfection it's a dream to pipe. For those who insist there is such a thing as too sweet (introduce me to that, will you), the tangy slick of citrus curd should keep them satisfied.

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon citrus zest***
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk

Citrus Curd:
1/2 cup citrus juice
1 tablespoon citrus zest
2/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream

Citrus Frosting:
1 cup butter, at room temperature
6 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/3 cup half milk/half citrus juice

Begin with the cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until very light. Add egg whites two at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and citrus zest.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside. Measure out the milk. Add about 1/3 of the flour and mix lightly with a wooden spoon. Follow that with 1/2 of the milk/juice and another light mix. Repeat until the flour and milk/juice are gone. Do not overmix!

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or just until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the centre. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes in the pans and then flip them out onto racks to cool completely, removing the parchment from the bottom when you do.

While your cakes are cooling, prepare the citrus curd. Combine citrus juice, zest and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

In the meantime, beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot lemon juice mixture.

Return everything to the saucepan and cook on medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until thick and bubbling. Use a fine sieve to strain the mixture into a clean bowl. Refrigerate until cool.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream lightly into the cooled curd using a flexible spatula. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to build the cake.

Next, prepare the frosting. In a large bowl, beat the butter on high until light. Gradually beat in 4 cups of icing sugar. Add the milk and vanilla and mix to combine. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 cups of icing sugar.

Place one layer of cake, top side down, on a serving platter. Spread a generous layer of the citrus curd (you probably won't use it all) and then top with the second cake layer, top side up. At this point, you may want to chill the cake for a half hour or so to help the curd set.

Before frosting the cake, insert 3-4 long skewers in the top of the cake, through both layers, to hold everything in place. Frost the sides, then the top. Remove the skewers and finish off the details as you see fit.

Makes one 9-inch, 2-layer cake.

* Think spitting/striking distance, but less disgusting/scary.
** Apparently that's a good thing to most people. As R. always says, "Just roll with it."
*** I used lemon in the cake and frosting and a combination of lemon and lime in the curd. Grapefruit could be cool.

Notes: This cake is a riff on the White on White Birthday Cake of August 2006. Has it really been 3 years already?

Source: Bonnie Stern's Essentials of Home Cooking