Lemon-Berry Shortcake Cake

So here's the thing: the past several weeks have just about blown my head off my shoulders. Lots of travel, lots of appointments to keep, and many, many lists. (Lists are my savior. The hand-written kind, scribbled on scraps of paper or in my little planner book. I get endless grief from the husband about my very non-technical list-making efforts, but there you have it.) And every time I've written one of these lists lately, I've lamented the fact that none of them have had a "make ___" entry. No cookies, no cakes, no little homespun confections. Well, except for lots and lots of marshmallows.

Turns out, when you write a single subject cookbook and go places to pimp it out, everyone wants you to bring samples. Not that I'm complaining at all--I still love making those fluffy, puffy gems just as much as when the recipe testing flurry began more than a year ago. But after dozens of batches of them over the past couple weeks, I was so ready to make a dang cake the first chance I got. And the push came from a source from whom I've been gleaning much book promotion inspiration throughout this whole crazy cookbook process.

You know Ree Drummond, don't you? This lady is everywhere, people. Blogger! Author! TV! Supermom! Wearer of Amazing Tunics! It's almost maddening, the amount this woman can accomplish in a day. And her second book just came out, full of the lovely photos and ranch life anecdotes for which she is totally famous on the interwebs. She has the sort of easy, warm persona that makes everyone think they're best friends with her, like, say, daydreaming about co-hosting a hybrid cooking/parenting/musical variety show with her or something but hey I don't know whatever I'm just saying. Anyway.

I'm a big Ree fan in general, so my heart sort of leaped out of my chest when she sent me a copy of her latest cookbook. I dug into the recipe for her Strawberry Shortcake Cake as soon as I got more than 24 hours in my own home with an opportunity to make something other than marshmallows.

The thing was, my kitchen was kind of in a sad state after a few weeks of neglect and no real, solid grocery shopping trips. I was good on my baking pantry basics, though, so I just made a few small tweaks to make the recipe work with what I had in the house. And like many of Ree's good old-fashioned recipes, this cake recipe with highly suitable for the riffing.

Instead of strawberries, I used a mix of frozen and fresh raspberries and blueberries. I trimmed the sugar just a wee bit here and there, added the zest of a sad lemon that was left rolling around in a refrigerator door, and opted to layer the cake Tomboy-style to make up for the fact that I was short on ingredients to make a full batch of the icing. Turns out all those tweaks worked out awesomely well, and we ate this cake happily for three days straight. There's not enough that can be said about finally being together with your little family once again, and all putting cake in your faces together. Also, cream cheese icing instead of whipped cream in a shortcake-inspired dessert? I definitely can't say enough about that, either. Hoooo, boy. 

Lemon-Berry Shortcake Cake

Adapted from Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier

Ree's original recipe calls for fresh strawberries for the cake, but I used a combination of frozen raspberries and blueberries and fresh blueberries. I opted to thaw the berries, keeping most of the juice, and then sweetening them before mashing them a bit with a fork and then stirring in a few handfuls of fresh unmashed berries for a little extra texture. I'd say you could use pretty much any berry you like here, but different berries will yield different amounts of juice after macerating them--just use your best judgement as far as how much of the juice you drizzle over the cake layers so things don't get too soggy.

Due to lack of supplies, I trimmed a stick of butter and about half the sugar from the icing, and opted to leave the layers of the cake exposed instead of icing the whole thing. I found the ratio of cake/fruit/frosting to be wonderful this way. Double the amounts of butter and sugar if you want to coat the whole thing like a layer cake like Ree does (heaven knows there's nothing wrong with more cream cheese frosting). With less butter and sugar in the icing, however, I found that it spread easily over the fruit, but if things aren't going smoothly or if you double the butter and sugar, then spoon the berries over both cake layers first, and freeze them for about 15 minutes to firm up the berries a bit before topping the layers with icing. 

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the berries:

16 ounces frozen or fresh mixed berries (thawed if frozen, juices reserved)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper, and lightly spray the paper, too.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the sour cream until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until the batter is well-blended. Divide the batter equally between the two pans and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before inverting them onto a wire rack to cool and peeling off the parchment paper.

Place the berries in a large bowl. Add the sugar and stir well. Let sit for 15 minutes, then mash the berries a bit to release their juices.

To make the frosting, beat together all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer just until smooth.

To assemble the cake, place one cooled cake layer on a serving platter. Pierce the top all over with a fork. Spoon half the berry mixture and its juices over the cake. Dollop half the frosting over the berries and smooth gently and evenly. Repeat with the second cake layer, remaining berries, and the rest of the frosting.

Cake, FruitShauna Sever