Wherein I tell you all my cake making secrets

As promised here, I will now share my recipes for the best cakes ever, maybe. To begin with I should explain something. I have hardly ever fully invented a cake recipe. I usually start with a really delicious cake recipe that someone else made and then alter it beyond all recognition. That’s allowed in baking by the way. Changing ingredients until you have what you really want.

(There was a time when I would have posted this on my food blog, but I haven’t been there in so long, and I’m actually wondering how I can just import it into this one and create a seperate food section. Feel free to let me know how I can do this in the comments if you know.)

About 5 years ago Aaron discovered this recipe for Italian Cream Cake. All hail the internet for yielding old family recipes at the click of a button. I bet if you just followed the recipe to the letter this cake would be delicious. Not that we ever have. We just can’t help it. We tweak things, and the tweak some more. It’s a great base recipe though because it’s very rich, and fairly firm, which is important in something like a wedding cake, with a nice fine crumb.

Ok, the first time he made it he simply left out the walnuts, because he doesn’t like them.

Well, then I wanted to make him something special for his birthday one year and he loves key lime pie. Enter, the Key Lime Cream Cake. It is truly a labor of love if you make this cake, be warned.

I thought to myself, “What if I replaced all the coconut in the cake with key lime zest instead?” So I zested a whole bag of key limes. That takes a while my friends, that takes a while.

It turned out so delicious that I had to make it pretty much every year from then on, and then other family members requested it also, and finally, I made it for a wedding cake for 150 people about 3 years ago. Only that cake had white chocolate ganache filling and was brushed with blackberry liqueur. I know, fancy schmancy. (There was absolutely no cake left at that wedding. It was just gone!)

The ganache was Aaron’s idea, just FYI. He’s a cake genius. I learned a lot from him after we got married, and I thought I knew everything, having been raised by my mother who makes fabulous cakes for all occasions in her sleep.

So I bet you want the recipe right?

Ok. Well, I read that in recipes the ingredients list isn’t copy righted, which is fine, because I always change them, but that the directions are. So I’m going to post my revised ingredient list here, and send you over there to get the directions, and then you can come back over here for more how to get the thing to look sort of pretty and finishing touches after that. Cool?

Key Lime Cream Cake Ingredients


  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking Soda
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon key lime juice
  • Zest from one whole bag of key limes
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoons key lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream


  1. Follow the link. Except when they say to grease the pans also trace the bottom of the cake pan onto parchment paper, or just regular paper works if you don’t have any parchment paper, and put it in the bottom of the cake pan as a liner. You will thank me later, when you are trying to get your cake out of the pan without breaking it, that I told you to take this step.
  2. I had to put in a revised step 2 here also, because I changed the ingredients so much it would be confusing otherwise. In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter, and white sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk mixture, 1 teaspoon key lime juice, key lime zest, baking powder and flour. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pans.
  3. Do what they say.
  4. Leave out the nuts and coconut. Don’t forget to add the bit of lime juice. I like the heavy cream better because the more fat the firmer the icing, and it balances the lime juice. This is the most perfect cream cheese icing recipe. I use it all the time. But hold on before this step and read what I have to say about brushing and glaze.

I would dearly love to lay it all out for you in one place, but I don’t want to take away from the original recipe poster, or get sued for copyright infringement. I would copy and paste it all into a word document and then just add, or substitute my instructions and ingredients in the original recipe where appropriate before printing.

Ok, so, brushing and glaze. This takes a good cake and makes it amazing. It moistens and adds flavor and just makes it fabulous. So, for the key lime version, I then juice all those little limes that I zested before. I told you it was a labor of love. Then add icing sugar. You want it to be as thick as you can get it while still being able to brush it on. (You probably won’t need all the lime juice, start with half.) If you want to fancy it up use something like a blackberry liqueur. It looks pretty too as the purple seeps down through the yellow cake.

Now, with a pastry brush, brush this over each layer of the cake before you put the icing on. Then put it on the outside of the assembled cake, all over. It’s going to drip, just wipe it off. Then put it in the fridge to chill for a while, the freezer if you’re in a hurry. This helps the icing layers firm up and hold together while you do the outside.

Now, icing is just hard to do without good equipment. It’s kind of hard to do with good equipment too, but not as hard. Get a long icing spatula. Wait for one of those 50% off sales at Micheal’s and just get the thing. Also helpful is one of those spinning tray things. I use an old lazy susan from a friend’s garage that they weren’t using any more. It’s sturdier than that plastic thing they sell in the cake decorating section.

Start by piling a bunch of icing on the top. Hold the spatula flat, turn the turntable thingie, and just hold the spatula there, somewhat centered. Ideally the top will get nice and smooth and you will be able to then smooth the overflow around the sides. Just hold the spatula again and turn it. To make it textured on purpose I use the back of a spoon and strategically move it around as I spin the cake.

If you go so far as to use flowers just cut off the stems, shove a double pointed toothpick into the flower and the other into the cake. Arrange as you like.


Did you catch all that? Good, because that was by far the most tricky cake to describe.

There are a few other variations I really like on the base cream cake recipe.

Lemon Cream Cake.

Substitute the zest of one lemon, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and one teaspoon vanilla extract for the key lime ingredients. Add a touch of lemon juice to the icing as well. Glaze with lemon juice of course. (I just tried this recently and am kind of in love with the results.)

Strawberry Cream Cake

Make the cake as the original instructions indicate, omitting the walnuts and coconut. (Unless you want to keep the coconut, that could taste amazing.) Only buy a package of freeze dried strawberries at Trader Joe’s or elsewhere. Put the strawberries in the blender. (Don’t accidentally put the little silica package in there too.) Blend until it’s basically powder, and add to the batter. Glaze this one with a little milk, or berry liqueur, or strawberry juice. You can make the icing pink as well with more ground up freeze dried strawberries. You can also use blueberries, raspberries, etc to get different colors and flavors.

This little lady here has a pink dress because of strawberries, not food coloring.

And finally….

This year I decided to change thing up for Aaron’s birthday. I started with this great Blackberry Spice Cake recipe that I made once before. But this is Aaron, and this cake was frankly a little too boring for him on it’s own. So I substituted fresh ground cardamom for the cinnamon, coconut sugar for the brown sugar, and added chopped pistachios, unsalted, to the outside for garnish and flavor. (Coconut sugar comes in a can at the Asian food market, and it’s amazing. You could happily eat it with a spoon. It’s all wet and syrupy, and apparently better for you than regular sugar.) Whatever it is it makes amazing cake.

(I also baked it in 3 round pans instead of waiting a whole hour for it to bake in one pan and then cutting it. It only takes about 15-20 minutes this way. Just brush with a little milk to moisten after.)

This cake has supplanted the Key Lime cake as the best cake ever for many people who regularly attend Aaron’s birthday celebrations, including for me, so that’s telling you something isn’t it?

So go forth my friends, make cake, and eat it with someone you like.

Should I ask Aaron to guest post about chocolate cakes sometime? His are amazing. He’s a chocolate wizard, which makes me a very lucky woman, let me tell you.

all content © Carrien Blue

One thought on “Wherein I tell you all my cake making secrets

  1. thanks for this post!  your cakes look and sound amazing and i hope to be brave and try a recipe soon.  i tend to stick to 3 different recipes (chocolate, carrot and banana)… all very nice, but it'd be good to try something different sometime!  jessica  🙂

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