In our neck of the woods we were teased with what seemed to be an early spring that started up in late February. The snow disappeared, the air was warm, the sun was out, and all the little kids at my school gleefully ditched their snow pants and mittens. A few even came to school in shorts.
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That tease came to a bitter end in mid-March when we received over two feet of new snow (as well as two snow days to spend at home, which admittedly were quite fun!) The sun went away, the wind kicked up and the temperature plummeted. Bye-bye, spring.
And as though that were not enough, we received another eight inches of snow last night. Ugh.
Nevertheless I am still thinking spring, dreaming of spring, eagerly awaiting spring. In my kitchen I am trying to work my witchcraft to bring about that spring… by dreaming up some Spring cakes!
I have baked some sweet, sweet sunshine into this cake, in the form of lemon marmalade and lemon syrup – permeating two soft layers of white cake and slathers of buttercream frosting.
And atop this cake are two more calls to spring: green grass (shredded coconut, that is) and little chicks!
I got the idea for a chick-topped cake from an unlikely source: a very tiny reference in a hilarious book that has nothing to do with baking.
The book is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-3/4 by British author Sue Townsend. It’s Easter and Adrian visits his grandmother’s house.
“…had a fantastic tea at Grandma’s. She made a cake covered in little fluffy chicks. Some of the fluff got into my father’s mouth, he had to have his back thumped hard. He always manages to spoil things. He has got no Social Decorum at all.”
That image of the little fluffy chicks cake stayed with me – I don’t know why. I guess it just sounds very cute: cute enough to charm an angst-ridden, self-proclaimed “undiscovered intellectual” 13-3/4 year old.
It inspired me to create this fluffy chicks cake, and all parts of the chicks are edible: buttercream and sprinkles.
So no back thumping. Just a happy, little spring cake!
And if you wish to take a shortcut on the chicks by topping your cake with some marshmallow Peeps chicks, well that’s okay. I do like Peeps!
Spring Chicks Cake with Lemon & Coconut
The cake recipe is adapted from a recipe in The Baker's Manual by Amendola/Rees. The buttercream frosting recipe is slightly adapted from the Easy Buttercream recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baking Companion.
For the cakes:
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 2-1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring pans, unbleached
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1-1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
For the lemon syrup:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
For the coconut "grass":
- 1/2 of a bag shredded coconut, 7 ounces
- Green food coloring
- 3/4 cup butter, 12 tablespoons, a little softened
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, like Crisco
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 6 cups confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup 2% milk
- Yellow food coloring
- 1/3 cup lemon marmalade
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round spring-form pans or cake pans. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of the pan. Grease and flour the parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a large stand mixer, beat the softened butter with the 1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar for about 5 minutes: the mixture should be fluffy and pale yellow in color. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the egg whites and vanilla, and mix them into the butter-sugar mixture. Add to the mixing bowl a third of the flour mixture and run the mixer until it is just combined. Add in half of the milk and mix this in too. Repeat these steps with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk and then finally the last of the flour mixture. The batter should be smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes for 30 minutes.
- While the cakes bake, prepare the lemon syrup: to a small saucepan add the 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and the lemon juice. Stir these together and heat the mixture over medium heat. Stir occasionally while you bring it to a boil. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring it occasionally. After 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Allow it to sit and cool slightly while the cakes finish baking.
- After the cakes have baked for 30 minutes, check them by inserting a toothpick or wooden skewer into the center - it should come out clean. If necessary, bake the cakes a few minutes longer until the tester comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on a cooling rack. Use a pastry or silicone brush to brush the tops of the cakes with the lemon syrup. Stop when the tops of the cakes seem moistened - you will not need all of the syrup. The remaining syrup can be poured into a jar and refrigerated for up to two weeks (or you can discard it.)
- Allow the cakes to cool completely. Remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the parchment rounds. Wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and refrigerate the layers for at least 1 hour or up to two days.
While the cake layers chill, prepare the coconut and frosting:
- Place the coconut in large gallon-size Ziploc bag. Add in a few drops of the green food coloring plus 1 teaspoon of water. Seal the bag and gently squeeze it to mix the green through the coconut. Repeat as necessary with more green food coloring and water until you get the shade of green you want, to look like grass on the cake. Keep the coconut sealed in the bag until you're ready to use it.
- To prepare the buttercream, beat together the 3/4 cup of butter and the 1/4 cup of vegetable shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the salt. Beat in 1 cup of the confectioner's sugar, followed by a little of the milk. Continue alternating the sugar and milk until all of the sugar has been mixed in. Add in the vanilla and beat the frosting until it is light and fluffy. (You may not need all of the milk.)
- Scoop out 1 cup of the frosting and place it in a small bowl. Add in a few drops of the yellow food coloring and mix it in with a fork. Continue adding food coloring until you get a nice shade of yellow that is bright and chick-like! (If the frosting gets too soft add in a little confectioner's sugar.)
Assemble the cake:
- Remove one cake layer from the fridge and unwrap it. Place it on a round cake platter. Spread about 1 cup of the buttercream over the layer and to the edge all the way around. Make the frosting even across the layer with a slight rise around the edge. Spoon the lemon marmalade over the frosted layer and spread it evenly to within two inches from the edge. Remove the second cake layer from the fridge, unwrap it and place it on first layer. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top as a crumb coat. Spread a thin layer of frosting as a crumb coat over the sides as well. If there are gaps between the layers, use buttercream to fill them in. Spread the remaining butter cream over the sides and over the top layer, Touch up and fill in gaps along the sides or in places where cake is showing.
- Spread some green coconut over the top of the cake and gently press it into frosting. Sprinkle more coconut over the top so it looks fluffy. If cake top is not quite flat, build coconut up at edges and make it flatter through center where the chicks will be.
- Place the reserved, yellow frosting in a piping bag with a #12 tip. Or, place the yellow frosting in a medium Ziploc bag, and snip off one corner to make about a 1/4" opening. To make a chick, pipe a mound of yellow frosting onto the coconut (for the chick body) and then on top of this a smaller mound (for the head.) If the yellow frosting is too soft and not holding its shape, refrigerate it for 10-15 minutes until it is more firm. Repeat these steps to make several chicks over the top of the cake (I did nine and had frosting leftover.) Push two chocolate sprinkles into each head to create two small, black eyes on each chick. Place the triangle sprinkle under the eyes with the corner sticking up and out slightly to make a beak on each head. Place a yellow oval sprinkle on the top of each head, on its side and sticking up to look a like a Mohawk.
- Slice the cake and serve. Keep leftover cake in a covered cake storer for up to three days. Serves 10 people.
Create... Be Curious... Celebrate... with Food!