A couple of years ago, I lived with one of my closest friends, Ren. Ren is funny and smart, creative and kind, and I love her dearly, but Christ is she a pain in the arse to cook for. Not only is she a vegetarian, she’s a picky vegetarian, with allergies to random things like red food colouring and white chocolate, who irrationally dislikes things that are traditional cornerstones of vegetarian meals, like mushrooms and salad. On her birthday one year, I made the mistake of asking her what she wanted me to cook for her birthday dinner.
‘Anything you like!’ I said, hopefully. ‘Come on, let me treat you!’
‘I want an omelette’, she replied, definitively.
My face fell. ‘Omelette? Really? I could make you anything! Something special! What about a goats’ cheese and red onion tart? Homemade ravioli? A vegetarian pithivier?’
‘Omelette’, she repeated, stubbornly.
In the end, she consented to let me make it ‘special’ by putting blue cheese on top. I didn’t try to make her a special birthday meal again.
I was reminded of this recently when I asked my fiancé’s brother what kind of birthday cake he’d like me to bake for him, and he answered, without hesitation, ‘Lemon drizzle’.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a good lemon drizzle cake. Sometimes it really hits the spot. But when I’m making a birthday cake for someone I care about, I like to make an occasion of it. You know the sort of thing. Multiple layers, probably ombre. New and exciting flavour combinations. Two types of frosting. Edible flowers. Chocolate all the way. Something that’s going to take hours and probably cause me a huge amount of stress and be impossible to transport when ready, because I never learn.
So, because I can’t let well enough alone, I decided to try to create a sort of ultimate special occasion lemon drizzle cake. A cake with the base values of a lemon drizzle very much included, but with a bit more pizzazz. A bit more excitement. A bit more… gin.
And this cake was born.
Source: I began with the sumptuous Nigella’s base recipe from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, but have adapted it liberally.
Notes: The gin measurements are merely suggestions. They give a definite taste of gin, but not an overwhelming raw punch of it. Obviously, feel free to add more if you want the sort of cake you can’t drive after eating.
For the cakes
300g caster sugar
4 large eggs
zest of 2 lemons
350g self raising flour
1 tsp salt
3 shots gin
For the syrup
juice of 3 lemons
200 g icing sugar
3 shots of gin
Optional: 4 more shots of gin
For the buttercream
250g icing sugar
zest of 1 lemon
Optional: 1 jar of lemon curd
- Preheat your oven to 180C/ gas 4. Grease and line two 20cm cake tins.
- Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each, and then lemon zest, beating again. Sift the flour and the salt together and then fold them into the mixture. Once combined, add the gin and mix again.
- Divide the batter between your tins as evenly as you can, and bake for around 45 minutes, or until the cakes are risen, golden, and firm.
- While the cakes are baking, make the syrup. Put the lemon juice and icing sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture cool slightly, and then add the gin – you don’t want to cook off the alcohol.
- Immediately after you take the cakes out of the oven, puncture all over with a skewer or a fork, and pour the syrup over the cakes while they are still warm. It will seem like there is too much liquid, but the cakes will eventually drink it up. If you want an extra gin hit, pour two more shots of ‘raw’ gin over each cake after the syrup.
- Once the cakes have cooled completely, remove them from the tins. To make the buttercream, beat the butter with an electric whisk until it’s completely soft. Sift the icing sugar over the butter, then beat it in gently with a spatula before attacking it with the electric whisk – if you go straight for the whisk it will go everywhere. Add the lemon zest and blend again.
- Up-end one cake on a plate and spread lemon curd over the surface, if using. Spread the other cake with buttercream and sandwich them together. Cover the cakes completely with the remaining buttercream, if you like (you could also just do the top or leave them bare). Top with whatever you fancy. Raspberries? Lemon zest? Candied peel? Decorating birthday cakes is not exactly my strength, as you can see.
Share with friends, and hope none of them are teetotal. Or driving.