Pucker up: Amy Donahue's lemon-rich cake a hit for husband, others

Pucker up: Amy Donahue's lemon-rich cake a hit for husband, others

January 23rd, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Amy Donahue spreads the lemon cream cheese icing on the her Triple Layer Lemon Cake.

Photo by Connor Choate /Times Free Press.


Do you have a dish that you're known for? Do your friends and neighbors ask for that one recipe? Is there something your family asks you to make over and over again? Is it a casserole? A cake? A fantastic salad? A savory soup?

The Times Free Press would like you to share that dish with our readers and to show you preparing the dish. If you would like to become a part of this new feature or if you have someone you'd like to suggest (with their permission), contact Clint Cooper at 423-757-6497 or ccooper@timesfreepress.com.

Amy Donahue has become known in her family for her Triple Layer Lemon Cake.

Amy Donahue has become known in her family...

Photo by Connor Choate /Times Free Press.

Amy Donahue's search some years back for a lemon cake recipe that would please her then-boyfriend led to what today has become her most requested dish.

Her Triple Layer Lemon Cake, which she makes for birthdays, holidays and other special occasions, has lemon peel and lemon juice in the cake, filling and icing.

"[Lemon's] his favorite flavor," Donahue, 26, says of her now-husband, Chase.

Whatever tricks she uses apparently work, according to her husband.

"She's made it a few times," he says with understatement. "She's perfected it."

Her original quest sent her first to the "Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook" her mother gave her as a young college student. It was there, Donahue says, she found "the bones" for the recipe, but she has made changes and adaptations to it through the years to make it her own.

"It's labor intensive," she says, "but not that hard. Any skill of cook can make it."

Donahue says the cake has even pleased the most die-hard chocolate fans.

"People who love lemon really love it," she says. "Even people who don't [like lemon] really like it."

Chase, an engineer at Invista, says the cream cheese frosting is the best part.

"Icing is what makes the cake," he says.

Donahue says she makes the cake from scratch, eschewing a box cake mix, already prepared lemon curd and canned icing.

The filling, made with three egg yolks, is the most temperamental part of the process. "If you're not careful," says Donahue, a communications specialist at River City Co., "you can get scrambled eggs."

The filling is made on the stove top, and that mixture is then cooled slightly before being added to the yolks.

"This tempers the eggs," she says, "to avoid cooking them before" the combined mix is returned to the stove.

When making the cake, Donahue says, a few tips and tricks render an even better finished product. Use fresh lemon juice instead of processed juice, for example, she says.

"If you're going to put in the time [for the recipe]," she says, "you should squeeze."

And when choosing lemons for the zest, Donahue says, pick ones that are firm.

"With softer ones," she says, "you won't get as much zest."

Donahue says she learned to cook when, even as young children, she and her sister were allowed to help her mother prepare meals, which they ate around the table each night.

"My mother is a wonderful cook and baker," she says. "That's where my love for cooking came from."

Even now, Donahue says, she cooks most nights. It's probably five nights a week, her husband says.

"I love to cook," she says. "I love to come home and cook. It relaxes me."

Triple Layer Lemon Cake

Lemon Cake

1 cup unsalted butter (softened)

4 eggs

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour (King Arthur's recommended)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons lemon peel

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup buttermilk

Butter and eggs should sit at room temp for 30 minutes. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In stand mixer (hand mixer will work too), beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar, lemon peel/juice until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately. Pour batter equally into three 9-inch cake pans. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool in pans 10 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely.

Lemon Filling

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon peel (all lemon peel in recipe should be finely shredded)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons water

3 beaten egg yolks in small separate bowl

1/4 cup unsalted butter cubed

In a small saucepan, stir sugar, cornstarch, lemon peel, lemon juice and water. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick. Remove from eye and let cool slightly. Then slowly add half of the lemon mixture to the egg mixture. This tempers the eggs to avoid cooking them before incorporating. Return to heat and cook on medium until it boils. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add butter. Let filling cool before putting on cake. If storing filling in refrigerator, place plastic wrap directly on top of filling to avoid a film build up.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

1 teaspoon lemon peel

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (fat-free not recommended)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar (may need more depending on consistency of icing)

In stand mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and lemon juice until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar. Stir in lemon peel.

Cake Assembly

Place lemon filling between layers, and ice top and outside of cake with frosting.

- Amy Donahue

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.