Slowly but surely my favorite thing to make and see on the blog is birthday cakes! Katie posted a sweet surprise cake a few weeks ago that she and her friend Sarah made together, and I will always love and cherish the one we made together for Katie's birthday in September. I've always thought of the cake as the centerpiece for all birthday celebrations. The first cake I remember loving dearly was made for me by my mom when I turned 7. I had a pajama party and she made a sheet cake and decorated it to match my favorite pair of blue and yellow polka-dot pajamas. (This most definitely got her mom of the year!)
My mom passed many traits down to me — one of them is most certainly my affinity for offering myself up as the cake baker when a special birthdays rolls around. I started making cakes for friends in high school and experimented with fondant and triple layers. The first cake I made myself was a giant pink 'H' complete with sprinkles for my friend Hillary's birthday. (This is so laughable to me now because I didn't even frost the sides, only the top!) I made a cake in the shape of my high school yearbook (total nerd) and a tie-dyed a fondant layer cake for my friend April before she left for a mission trip for the summer. So many cakes!
However, my most memorable was the three-layered lemon cake I covered with buttercream and painted sunflowers on for my friend Sarah's birthday our senior year of high school. Honestly, it was hideous and so over the top, but when you're 17 and have your mind set on making your best friend a birthday cake complete with her favorite hand painted flowers — you just do the dang thing and don't look back. I got a chance to redeem myself this year and make another cake for Sarah. Still lemon, but this time a bit more refined.
Sarah is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We bonded in 3rd grade when we sat next to each other at lunch one day. We still love and hate all the same things and both get more excited about a night in than going out to a "club." (We have sat and pondered together, "what even is a club? Have I been to one? Do I want to go?" The answer is always no.) We were 'track & field day' partners almost every year and would call each other during the commercials of nearly every single episode of Lizzie McGuire. I also begged her to come to the movies with me the night after Reagon Thompson asked me to be his girlfriend in 7th grade because I was so nervous — and like a true sister she sat between us to ease my nerves.
The last time we were in the same place for her birthday was when I made her that over-the-top sunflower mess. Now, somehow we both ended up in California. Sarah moved here just a month after me to take a job in occupational therapy. I can't say I'm surprised the universe placed us back together, but I will tell you all I am so very thankful it did. True friends who love you for all your flaws, rejoice in your successes as if they were your own, and truly have your back are a rare commodity in this life. Sarah is that and more, and I'll be making her lemon birthday cake until we are old and grey.
*To download a printable PDF version of this recipe click here.
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 325° degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan; chill in the refrigerator.
- In a stand mixer bowl (fitted with a paddle attachment), combine the granulated sugar and lemon zest. Using your fingers, rub the sugar and lemon zest together until very fragrant. Add the softened butter, and beat mixture together at medium speed 4 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice; beat until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until the yellow disappears.
- Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add to butter mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition.
- Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 55 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 1 hour. Transfer cake to a plate and cool completely (about 1 hour).
For the glaze:
- Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth.
* Note on serving size: I halved this recipe to fit my smaller bundt pan. (If you also have a 6-cup bundt pan I'd do the same.) Otherwise stick with the full recipe! *