Lemon Elderberry Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sick of carrot cake but want a springtime dessert? Then this cake is for you!

Somehow, someway, no matter how prepared I am before I go to the store, I always end up making multiple trips. In the case of this cake, I am fairly certain I made at least three separate trips to the same store, and it may be paranoia but I'm pretty sure I could hear snickers under the masks of the checkout clerks. But I digress.



As I write this, Easter is tomorrow, Passover ends tomorrow, Holi was about a week ago and Ramadan starts soon. No matter which religion you do or do not celebrate, spring is in the air and the joy and excitement of a new season is palpable! Well, unless you live in Minnesota. In that case you may be digging out of a mountain of snow. And for that I am deeply sorry.



And if you are like me or are simply tired of making carrot cake (which to be fair to carrot cake is pretty unlikely) then this lemon-elderberry cake is for you! A light and fluffy white-cake base works wonderfully with the light acidity and floral notes of the lemon and elderberry, and paired with a cream cheese and labneh frosting (you heard that right!) this cake is surely to please even the most dessert-aversive folks.



This recipe is based off of Mark Bittman's recipe for white cake from How to Bake Everything; though it cuts down on some of the butter that is originally called for, swaps whole milk for half and half, and uses a blend of baking soda and baking powder in addition to the elderberry syrup and the lemon zest/juice. I highly recommend purchasing the cookbook if you are new to baking or are looking to dive right in, as the instructions are clear and the recipes/techniques are full proof.



A couple of notes on elderberry syrup: The one I used in this recipe was actually from my local farmers market, but most health food stores or your local Whole Foods should carry it. A lot of versions of elderberry syrup tend to be a blend of the actual elderberries themselves as well as honey, so should you not be able to find any you can sub the syrup for any kind of honey or syrup (such as maple syrup, golden syrup, etc.).



Another note on the frosting: In this recipe I utilized strained full-fat greek yogurt that I made myself by placing about a cup of the yogurt in a sieve set over a bowl that I then wrapped in saran wrap and let sit in the fridge overnight. An alternative to this option would be to use pre-made labneh, which is sold at stores such as Whole Foods. Should you wish to omit the strained yogurt all together, the frosting should still work, though the texture might be slightly firmer- just something to keep in mind when icing your cakes.



Ok, with all of these pointers kept in mind, let's get into the recipe!


Lemon Elderberry Cake with Cream Cheese frosting

(makes two 8 1/2-inch round cakes)


-2 cups cake flour, sifted

-1 cup granulated sugar

-6 egg whites

-1 stick unsalted butter, softened

-2/3 cup half-and-half

-zest of two lemons

-1 tbsp elderberry syrup

-2 tsp baking powder

-1 tsp lemon juice

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-1/8 tsp salt


-2 packages of softened cream cheese

-1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

-1 tbsp elderberry syrup

-1/2 cup labneh or strained Greek yogurt (5% fat content)

-zest of one lemon


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8 1/2 inch cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and whisk together. In a separate bowl, add the softened butter and beat with a hand mixer on medium/high speed until pale in color and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add half of the granulated sugar and beat on medium/high speed for one minute. Add the remaining sugar and beat on medium/high speed for about 3 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add half of the egg whites to the butter/sugar, mixing slowly at first then increasing the speed to medium/high until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining egg whites and beat with the hand mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just to combine. Add half of the half and half and again mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining dry and wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the cake pans and spread into an even layer with a spatula. Put the cake pans into the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 -25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before flipping onto a plate or wire rack to continue cooling. If making the cakes the day before assembling, wrap the cooled cakes into saran wrap and store in the fridge. To make the frosting, add the cream cheese and labneh to a large bowl and mix with a hand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, the lemon zest, and elderberry syrup and again mix on medium speed for about 1-2 minutes until smooth. To assemble you cakes, add a small dollop of the frosting to the center of a large plate or cake stand and place one of the cakes on top as your base. Add about ¼ to 1/3 of the frosting on the top of your cake and spread and smooth with a spatula. Stack the remaining cake on top and frost the tops and the sides with the remaining frosting. Slice as desired, serve and enjoy!

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