When I was 18 years old, I lived on a ship in Africa.
I've written a bit about ship life before, but just a bit of recap: it was during those 7 months abroad that I began to take seriously the idea of following a career in baking and pastry.
It was also in those 7 months that I built a community of friends that span the globe. Friends with whom I've rejoiced and grieved, clinging to one another through more life events than should be typical for women our age.
Recently, one of those women got married and, in true ship friend fashion, four of us came together from the corners of the continent to celebrate.
I eagerly agreed to bake the cake, despite the fact that I lived 1200 miles away. As soon as Aimee told me about her pine cone wedding toppers, I set about making a plan to cart a wedding cake on an airplane.
It is typical cake baking protocol to wrap a cake in plastic wrap while still warm, then freeze for a day or two. The ice crystals formed from the steam cut small holes throughout the cake, and, once melted, render it tender and moist.
Why not just carry those frozen cakes on a flight with me, I thought? And check a bag with frosting and curd? What could possibly go wrong?
I arrived at the airport at 5:30 am, frozen cake bag in tow. I checked my luggage, praying that the container of cream cheese buttercream would not explode on my nice dress.
I watched the insulated lunch bag roll through the security line as I walked through the metal detector on the other side. As I went to retrieve my belongings, my stomach churned to see the bag detained.
I practiced calming breaths as I waited for the security agent to come speak with me about any potential issue. I talked myself through the ways I would share with Aimee that she would not in fact have a wedding cake. "The security agents got hungry," I would say to try and make her laugh.
"Is this your bag?" The agent asked as she walked closer to me. "It looks like its full of a bunch of cakes..."
"Yes, it is!" I responded quickly, hoping she could hear the nervousness in my voice and have mercy. "Wedding cakes. The buttercream is in my checked bag."
She had a good chuckle as she handed me my bag, though not without a short look as if to say, "What kind of person flies on an airplane with a wedding cake?"
Thankfully the rest of travel was smooth. I assembled the layers at the apartment where I was staying, buckled it into the front seat while driving, and applied a final layer of frosting at the venue.
I'd say this might just be one of my proudest accomplishments. It turns out you can travel cross country with a wedding cake.
zucchini olive oil cake, olive oil lemon curd, cream cheese buttercream
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cups sugar
3/4 cups olive oil
1/2 cup greek yogurt
zest of 1 lemon
1 zucchini, grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 egg whites
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 sticks butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1. Mix together the flour, leavening, and salt in a medium sized bowl until the ingredients are well distributed.
2. In the base of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until they are thick and voluminous -- what baker's call the "ribbon stage."
3. While continuing to whip, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
4. Using a spatula, gently fold in 1/2 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 the yogurt, repeating with the rest of the flour and yogurt.
5. Gently fold in the grated zucchini and lemon zest until evenly distributed. Pour into two 8" cake rounds, sprayed generously and lined with parchment.
6. Bake the cake at 325°F until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then turn out of the cake pans onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
7. While the cake bakes, prepare the curd. In a glass bowl or the top of a double boiler, whisk together the olive oil, sugar, lemon juice, salt, egg yolks, and cream. Place the bowl or the double boiler over a pot of simmering water.
8. Stir the curd consistently with a spatula as it cooks. It will slowly thicken enough that it will hold its place while stirring. At this point it is done. Pour into a clean bowl, press plastic wrap against the top surface of the curd, and let cool.
9. To mix the frosting, cook the sugar and water over medium heat until it reaches 240°F.
10. While the sugar syrup is cooking, whip the egg whites and lemon juice in a stand mixer.
11. Once the sugar reaches 240°F (soft ball stage), pour it slowly into the beating egg whites. Let this meringue continue to whip for 10 minutes, until cooled.
12. Once the meringue is cooled, add the butter 1/3 at a time while continuing to whip. The meringue will deflate -- don't get discouraged! Just continue adding butter and in time it will regain its structure.
13. After all of the butter is incorporated, add in the cream cheese 1/3 at a time. Continue whipping until the buttercream is fully emulsified and holds its structure.
14. To assemble, pipe buttercream around the outside edge of the top of one layer of cake. Fill the inside of this edge with lemon curd, spread evenly across the cake. Top with the second layer of cake, and cover the entire cake with buttercream.
You might not be carting your cake cross country or topping it with a pine cone couple, but you can still enjoy the juxtaposition of earthy olive oil and bright citrus in this cake.