A glorious layered lemon cake with lemon buttercream – Lamaita (Lemon Cake) or Alba ca Zapada (Snow White Cake).
This lemon buttercream cake is one of my favorite Romanian cakes! I like lots of them, of course, but this layered lemon cake – Lamaita has a special place in my heart.
Why? Simply because it was one of the first truly typical Romanian cakes that I’ve tasted and actually liked. I have mentioned it before that as a child I was not really a cake or sweets person.
There were a few choice things I liked (like the No Bake Romanian Biscuit Salami – Salam de biscuiti or Arlechin), but the list was short. And most of the times I would not even try any cake, I just assumed I would not liked it and ignored it. I particularly hated buttercream cakes.
Layered Lemon Buttercream Cake Recipe
It was at my mother’s place that I hadthis layered lemon cake for the first time. I was already grown-up, so I thought I should get over it and just give it a try. I liked it so much, I could not stop eating it for a while. We even baked it together again a few days later.
Afterward I had it several times at my aunt Geta’s place and it is her layered lemon cake recipe I will give you today. Actually it should be the same recipe my mother used, both lemon buttercream cakes tasted exactly the same.
How to make lemon buttercream
Start with making that delicious lemon buttercream as the pudding will need time to get completely cool before you add the butter and the lemon juice.
To make the pudding, you will need some flour, cornstarch, sugar and milk. The procedure is the same as when making a regular pudding. You mix the flour, cornstarch and sugar with enough milk to obtain a thick yet pourable paste.
In the meantime, bring the remaining milk to a boil. Slowly start pouring in the flour mixture while whisking continuously to avoid the formation of clumps.
Let the pudding bubble for about 20 seconds while stirring, transfer to a bowl. Cover the pudding with a piece of cling film directly over the surface, this will prevent the pudding from forming a skin.
While the pudding is cooling, take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it come at room temperature.
It is very important that both the pudding and the butter have the same temperature (room temperature) when you start mixing them. Otherwise the buttercream will curdle.
Also make sure that you don’t taste the lemon buttercream while mixing it, the spit from your fingers will also cause the buttercream to curdle.
So, once the pudding and the butter have reached room temperature, beat the soft butter until pale and fluffy.
Mix the pudding with the freshly squeezed lemon juice. Start with about 8 tablespoons and add the remaining juice to taste. I always add all the 10 tablespoons, I love the buttercream to be really lemony.
Slowly start adding the pudding, one tablespoon at a time, to the butter while beating all the time. Mix well.
How to make the layers for the lemon cake
This Romanian lemon buttercream cake consists of four layers of crust held together by the creamiest, most delicious lemon buttercream filling.
The idea of baking four layers of crust might sound difficult or time consuming, but it is really not the case. The dough is rather oily and that makes it really easy to roll and it only needs about 10 minutes in the oven, a total time of 40 minutes which is really more or less about the time you will need when baking a regular cake base as well.
You should make the cake layers while waiting for the pudding to cool. The cake layers will also need some time to cool, but not as long as the pudding.
When first publishing the layered lemon cake recipe I used baking soda to make the crusts. I wasn’t bothered by the light baking soda after taste, but I had readers saying that the after taste was too domineering.
I suggested the use of baker’s ammonia, although I had never used that when making this particular layered lemon cake. But I knew for a fact that baker’s ammonia is very popular in Romania and that my aunt uses it a lot when making cakes.
The reason I have never used it myself and why it took me so long to test this lemon buttercream cake with baker’s ammonia is that this particular ingredient is quite difficult to obtain in Germany and I was not very keen on ordering it online and paying 4 times the amount of money one package costed just for the delivery.
Recently I was able to find it in a store and here it is, the new recipe for the lemon buttercream cake. And I have to admit that making the cake layers using baker’s ammonia makes this lemon cake 10 times better than it already was.
What is baker’s ammonia?
The most important thing you have to know is that you should never mistake baker’s ammonia with cleaning ammonia. Cleaning ammonia is poisonous!!!
Baker’s ammonia or ammonium bicarbonate is what bakers used to take before the discovery of baking soda and baking powder. Those two quickly replaced the baker’s ammonia in baking due to one reason: baker’s ammonia stinks!! Really badly!
That is why it is best to use the baker’s ammonia for making “only low-moisture baked goods like crisp cookies and crackers that thoroughly dry out during baking, lest the ammonia linger”.
Once the cake layers are baked, there will absolutely no lingering smell anymore. Nothing at all! And most importantly there will also be no soapy-tasting after taste of baking soda or baking powder.
How to bake and assemble the lemon buttercream cake
You will have to bake the four cake layers or cake crusts on the back of a baking tin. This is a very often used technique in Romania, there are lots of layered cakes being baked this way.
However, you can also bake the layers on a regular tray lined with baking paper, you just have to pay more attention that the layers all have roughly the same size.
You will only need to butter the back of the tin before baking the first layer. When baking the following layers, make sure you use oven gloves as the tin will be extremely hot.
Roll the layers on a lightly floured surface in rectangles about the size of the tin. Transfer them to the back of the tin and roll or press the dough around to make it fit the back of the tin.
The edges do not have to be perfect, you will cut them away anyway before slicing the cake.
To remove the cake crust from the back of the tin, hold the tin firmly with a gloved hand and run a long knife underneath the cake layer. It works very easily, you will not have to worry about the crust getting stuck to the tin or breaking.
Place the ready baked cake layers on top of each other and let them cool completely. They will not stick to each other if stored this way.
Divide the lemon buttercream into 3 equal portions and cover 3 cake layers with the buttercream. Use the nicest looking layer to place on top of the cake.
Cover the cake with cling film, place in the fridge and let it set overnight. The lemon buttercream cake needs time to become really tender and develop the flavor.
I also recommend using European style unsalted butter, it has a higher fat content and less water and it tastes better when making buttercream.
I used about 10 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice for the buttercream, that would be the juice of 2-4 lemons, depending on their size.
- For the lemon buttercream:
- 150 g/ 5.3 oz/ ¾ cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 350 ml/ 11.8 fl.oz/ 1 ½ cups milk
- about 10 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (Note 1)
- 200 g/ 7 oz/ ¾ cup + 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
- icing sugar
- For the crust:
- 60 g/ 2.1 oz/ 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 100 g/ 3.5 oz/ 1/3 cup + 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
- 1 tablespoon baker's ammonia (Note 2)
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 300 g/ 10.6 oz/ 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- zest of 1 organic lemon
The layered lemon cake with lemon buttercream should be made one day in advance, it needs to spend the night in the fridge in order to become really tender and develop the flavor.
Give the flour, starch and sugar to a bowl and mix with so much of the milk to obtain a thick yet runny paste.
Place the remaining milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly add the flour-sugar paste while whisking all the time. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil again, that will happen very quickly. Let bubble for a few seconds while whisking and remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl and place a piece of cling film directly on top of the pudding to prevent it from getting a skin and let it cool completely.
When cool add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir well. Taste after adding about 8 tablespoons and continue adding until it is as tart as you like it.
To make the buttercream, both butter and pudding have to have the same temperature, which is room temperature, otherwise the buttercream might curdle.
In another bowl beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Slowly start adding the lemon pudding to the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until incorporated.
Taste the buttercream again and add more lemon juice if you like it.
While the pudding for the buttercream cools, make the cake layers.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
To make the crust beat together the butter and the sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and mix well. Mix together the baker's ammonia and the milk and incorporate that into the egg mixture.
In another bowl mix together the flour and the grated lemon zest. Incorporate into the egg mixture. You will now have a rather oily looking dough that should not stick to your hands at all. You may add one tablespoon of extra flour if you feel it necessary, it depends on the size of your eggs if you need that extra tablespoon or not.
Divide the dough into four equal parts. Wrap the three dough balls that still have to wait in cling film to prevent them from drying out and set them aside in a cooler place, not the fridge but also not that close to the oven.
You will only need to butter the tin before you bake the first layer of crust.
Roll the first dough ball into a rough rectangle on a lightly floured surface, place it on the buttered baking tin and roll again until the dough layer is as large as the baking tin: 32x22 cm/12x9 inches approximately (or similar size it doesn't have to be so exact).
And don't stress too much about having perfectly straight edges, you will cut those away before slicing and serving the cake.
Bake for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges.
Take out of the oven and while holding one side of the tin with a gloved hand, run the blade of a long knife underneath the crust. Let it slide carefully and slowly onto a cooling rack.
Repeat with the remaining dough balls. Keep in mind that the tin is now very hot, don't touch it when rolling the dough on top and use gloves when you transfer it to the oven.
When the crust layers are baked, you can carefully staple them one on top of the other, they will not stick. Let them cool completely.
Give the flour, starch and sugar to a bowl and mix with so much of the milk to obtain a thick yet runny paste.
Place the remaining milk into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Slowly add the flour-sugar paste while whisking all the time. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil again, that will happen very quickly. Let bubble for a few seconds while whisking and remove from the heat. Place a piece of cling film directly on top of the pudding to prevent it from getting that annoying skin and let it cool completely.
When cold add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir well. Taste after adding about 8 tablespoons and continue adding until it is as tart as you like it. I like it very tart.
In another bowl beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Slowly start adding the lemon pudding to the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until incorporated. Taste the buttercream again and add more lemon juice if you like it.
Divide the filling into three portions. Reserve the best looking crust for the top of the cake. Place one crust on a serving plate and top it evenly with one portion of the buttercream. Place the second crust layer on top, press gently then cover it with the second buttercream portion. Repeat one more time. Place the reserved crust layer on top, press gently again and cover the cake with cling film. Place in the fridge for several hours or better overnight.
Cut into small rectangles and dust with icing sugar shortly before serving.
Note 1: I used about 10 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice for the buttercream, that would be the juice of 2-4 lemons, depending on their size. I like the buttercream to be really tart, that strong lemon flavor is the best thing, but you should start tasting after adding about 8 tablespoons and decide yourself if you want more or not.
Note 2: Baker's ammonia or ammonium bicarbonate should not be confused with cleaning ammonia, which is poisonous.