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all the better to see you with

Recipe: blackberry lemon elderflower cake

my welcome home

Yes, that was Wednesday morning… on our deck. I rather like it. It feels like home. Kaweah has been bounding about the house with a toy in her mouth, shaking the very stuffing out of it. We’re settling back into Colorado living and it’s great.

Normally when I step into California, the air feels humid to me because I’m coming from Colorado where dry takes on a whole new meaning. But going from Hawai’i to California, that air felt downright AMAZING. I know I sound like an ingrate for all of the bitching and moaning I do about the wet, humid, and hot weather in Hawai’i. Please don’t misunderstand me! Hawai’i is a spectacular place to visit, but I would be the mayor of Crazytown if I had to live there. I prefer drier climes and need more type A personalities in my life than they have on the entire big island. But gosh if it isn’t a beautiful and wondrous place, especially now that I can look at the photos from my cool, dry mountain home.

green sand (green because it’s olivine)

pretty olivine, isn’t it?

honu or sea turtle (not dead, resting!)

believe it or not, this is an action shot

nightfall at halema’uma’u crater

driving through puna

the ohia blossom

akaka falls was torrential (thanks to all of that *rain*)


waipi’o valley

pololu valley

You can see more Hawai’i photos on my photo blog, just be sure to come back for some cake. Cake? Yes, I said cake. I made a cake that required more than flipping it out of the pan. It’s been a while since I’ve done a layer cake. There’s a reason for that. Lots of dishes…

blackberries again

folding meringue into the lemon chiffon cake batter

I hadn’t been in a mood to make a layer cake for a while until I got on that blackberry kick with the blackberry curd. I made so much of it that I had some left over. Rather than spooning it directly into my mouth (the thought had crossed my mind a couple of times), I decided to make a cake and distribute it to people who needed a few extra calories.

my most reliable cake recipe at altitude

slicing 3/4-inch layers

This is my favorite kind of cake to make because I can mix and match all manner of flavors – especially fruity flavors. I’ll stop making it when I’ve run out of combinations to try which will likely be NEVER. I was originally drawn to the blackberry curd because I love fruit curds, but then I became obsessed with purple frosting. PURPLE FROSTING. Sure you can color it, but it’s so much more appealing to use real fruit (perhaps I misnamed this blog?).

whipping the meringue

adding blackberry purée to the buttercream frosting

I was hoping for a slightly deeper purple, but the light color grew on me. It also stuck on me. It stuck EVERYWHERE. Just one of those days when everything I touched was sticky. Or maybe it was the simple syrup (which is really just a vehicle for booze)? A few years ago, Jeremy got hooked on elderflower cocktails and so we have a bottle of St. Germain in our cupboards. Why not put it in a cake? I flavored the simple syrup with elderflower liqueur, but I’m tempted to try using straight booze (without the simple syrup) next time. More oomph.

it’s a light lavender color when blended

elderflower liqueur for the simple syrup

And be sure to moisten the cake with enough simple syrup. I know the tendency is to brush a layer on and call it good, but you probably want to daub the cake two or three times to really get a good soak. The chiffon can take it, trust me.

apply the simple syrup liberally

spreading buttercream over the blackberry curd layer

In the assembly instructions, I mention that you might want to pipe the buttercream onto the curd layer rather than spreading it (or if you spread it, do so very carefully). That’s because the shear modulus of the blackberry curd is low which means it slips and slides all over the place as you try to frost the layer. Just be patient and respect the laws of applied mechanics.

crumb coating

garnish with fresh berries

It’s a lovely and deceptively light (the term “delicious air” comes to mind) cake and I think the flavors work together. I would have preferred straight booze to the simple syrup because I think the simple syrup dilutes the elderflower liqueur. Jeremy liked it. In fact, I was a little surprised at how much of the cake he consumed. I gave portions of the remainder to my friends Manisha and Erin for helping me with the photo shoot. With berries coming into season, I’m sure it will be a hit for summer parties at our house.

here is your slice of awesome

Blackberry Lemon Elderflower Cake
[print recipe]

2 9×3-inch rounds of lemon chiffon cake, cut horizontally
12 oz. elderflower simple syrup
1 cup blackberry curd
4 cups blackberry swiss meringue buttercream frosting, room temperature
fresh blackberries for garnish

lemon chiffon cake
(makes 2 11×17 sheets or 2 9×3 rounds)

14.5 oz. cake flour (I use all-purpose at 8500 ft.)
8.75 oz. confectioner’s sugar
6.75 oz. whole milk
6 oz. canola oil
3.25 oz. eggs
0.5 oz. baking powder (omitted at 8500 ft.)
13 oz. egg whites
9.5 oz. granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 oz. lemon juice

Oven 375°F. Prep pans by buttering bottom and sides. Place parchment in pan and butter the parchment. Sift dry ingredients (except granulated sugar) into a large bowl. Mix all ingredients (except the 13 ounces of egg whites and granulated sugar) in the large bowl until combined. Whip whites and granulated sugar to medium peaks. Fold into batter gently. Bake until set, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and remove from pan. Let cool on a rack. With a large serrated knife, cut four even layers (I went for 3/4 inch layers) from the two 9×3 rounds (or the sheets if you like quadrangular cakes). If cutting from the 9×3 rounds, you’ll likely have leftover cake from the tops.

elderflower simple syrup
1 cup sugar
8 oz. water
4 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Heat water and sugar in a pot until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil and turn off heat. Let cool. Mix in elderflower liqueur.

blackberry curd
2-4 cups blackberries, fresh or thawed (I used 4 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp orange zest
1 cup sugar
2 oz. butter
4 tbsps cornstarch
4 tbsps cold water (originally 2 tbsps, but was impossible to mix)

Place the blackberries, water, and orange zest in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Press the mixture through a food mill or you can purée the berry mixture in a food processor and press through a sieve. Pour the berry liquid back into the saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 1 cup sugar and 2 ounces butter. Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl. While whisking the berry mixture, pour the cornstarch into the pan. Stir until thick and bubbly and stir for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Pour the contents into a bowl or vessel and cover with plastic wrap. Let cool. Makes about a pint.

blackberry swiss meringue buttercream
makes about 4 cups (you will have some leftover)

8 oz. egg whites
16 oz. sugar
16 oz. butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
4-6 oz. blackberry purée

Combine egg whites and sugar in a Kitchenaid mixing bowl. Whisk constantly over a simmering water bath until 140°F is reached. Place on mixer with whisk and whip until stiff. Turn down whip speed to 3rd and whip until cool to the touch (this takes a while – should be cooler than your hand). Change to a paddle and gradually add soft butter by tablespoon pieces. Mix to emulsify. Once desired consistency has been reached, add vanilla and blackberry purée. Mix until evenly blended.

Assembly: Set a cake base layer, browned-side down, onto your serving plate. Reserve the other base for the top of your cake. Cut 3-inch wide strips of wax or parchment paper and tuck them under the perimeter of the cake layer so that the edge of the entire cake is not touching the serving plate. Pour or brush the elderflower simple syrup onto the cake layer (use about 2-3 ounces – use more than you think). Spread a layer of blackberry curd over the cake. Gently spread a layer of buttercream over the curd. Because the curd will move around, I find it easiest to either pipe buttercream on top and smooth it over with a spatula, or plop some in the center and carefully spread it out with a spatula. This part might make you crazy. Place the second cake layer on top. Repeat the soaking syrup, curd, and frosting process. With the last (nominally fourth) cake layer which should be the other base – soak the rough side (the cut side) with elderflower simple syrup, but not too much because you’ll have to flip this over onto the main cake. Set the layer – browned-side up – on the cake and make sure all of the layers are lined up. Spread buttercream around the sides of the cake for the crumb-coat and to fill in any gaps between layers. When the crumb coat is smooth, finish frosting the sides and top of the cake. Garnish with blackberries. Serves 16-20 people.

44 nibbles at “all the better to see you with”

  1. Nadia says:

    Welcome back! to a “warm” Colorado!!! Isn’t it a shock to a body to go from heat to cold? or you’re just used to it?
    Jen, (i’m not sure if i even should be asking you this knowing how busy you are), but is it possible and only if it’s handy to have recipe ingridients measurements in cups/tbspoons???? My digital scale is not working, used it only once and it stopped, changed to new batteries but still won’t work, so mad.

    LOVE “ACTION SHOT” -lol, awesome

    Do you ever visit Sacramento? would love to hang out with you if you come :) You can email me, if you do plan to come and visit.

  2. kathy says:

    Looks great, and I love the combination of flavors.

  3. Montserrat says:

    Mmmmmm! Yummy yummy!

  4. Caroline says:

    Wow, what a contrast! I too am a heat and humidity hater. I couldn’t fully enjoy my trip to Brazil because the humidity drove me insane but now from the comfort of my cool and dry home, I can see from my pictures that it is a beautiful country indeed :)
    I picked February to visit Japan because it was much better for me to be a bit cold rather than suffer for the horrible humidity.
    That cake looks are an amazing baker!

  5. Bing Chou says:

    The purple tint of that buttercream is great, especially with the berry garnish.

    Not many people appreciate leaving Hawaii and waking up to a deck full of snow. Including me. But I do appreciate how you appreciate it. Apparently enough for the both of us.

  6. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) says:

    nightfall at halema’uma’u crater = the coolest pic!

    the cake = a work of art. omg. the flavors. the delicate assembly. the photography. wow. So that only took you about 10 minutes to make then, right? :)

  7. Kristin says:

    Beautiful photos. I love love love the resting sea turtle. And it really IS resting, right? You aren’t doing what I used to do to my kids when we saw a dead animal & said, “It’s probably just chosen a really bad spot to take a nap.”? Who am I kidding…I still try to tell myself that.

  8. Michelle says:

    everything about this post is pretty!

  9. Anna says:

    Wow! That picture of the turtle resting is gorgeous! I kind of want a print out of it. Do you sell prints? If not, you should.

    I’ve never tried making a chiffon cake, but yours looks perfect! I have elderflower concentrate somewhere, so I might mix that with st.germain instead of making the simple syrup, but this recipe is going on my must make list! Now to find some decent blackberries….

  10. Jess says:

    My fav photo is driving through Puna- I love roads surrounded by plants and trees, it feels like adventure! The cake is lovely and I too am obsessed with St. Germain. Looks delicious!

  11. William says:


  12. Georgie says:

    WOW! The photo’s are breathtaking, though the “Blackberry Lemon Elderflower Cake” is really pure awesomeness! I’m swooning!

  13. Anita says:

    Shear modulus! Jen, I love you. P.S. Gorgeous cake, better than I could have ever done! XO

  14. Bri says:

    I need to make that cake immediately. Fortunately, it’s my friend’s birthday this weekend so I have an excuse! Thanks Jen!

  15. Steve says:

    Hey Jen!

    Glad you made it back to CO! The pics are beautiful! Love the gecko shot. The cake of course looks out of this world delicious. A little to complicated for me to make though! lol Hope you all are doing well!

    Steve, Mary, and Lorna Doone

  16. Alex says:

    I love your photos- what kind of camera do you have? I am getting a new 1 and am doing a little homework:) Thanks

  17. Lisa @ Tarte du Jour says:

    Your cake looks delicious and I really enjoyed your photos of Hawaii! I love the blackberry and mint garnish.

  18. alicia says:

    haha – ‘believe it or not, this is an action shot.’ The cake looks delicious and berry-yummy!!

  19. Jill says:

    Love the Action Shot.
    Love Kaweah in the background.
    Love the thought that some people need more calories!
    Awesome photos.

  20. April in CT says:

    You. Are. Amazing.

  21. Apron Appeal says:

    The cake looks like a Hawaiian headdress for men. Its all amazing. I’ve got a bunch of blackberries in my fridge that I’m thinking about turning into a cake too.

  22. hannah@ bake five says:

    Oh this cake looks divine! and by the way, I really like the sea turtle on moss shot!

  23. melanie says:

    That cake is beautiful.Fantastic flavor combination.It would make a good macaron.
    I love St.Germain,too. My favorite way to drink it is with a nice sharp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Kim Crawford would work) Three ounces of the wine,an ounce of St.Germain over ice,top with seltzer or Perrier and add lemon wedge,twist or slice.These go down very easy on a hot day !
    Thank-you for your gorgeous blog !

  24. Teresa says:

    The cake (and blackberry curd) looks so good! I’ll have to give it a go one of these days. Your pictures are beautiful, as usual. You have such amazing talent!

  25. Tawnia says:

    I am sure it tastes amazing–and–it is so pretty! I have long wanted to try the simple syrup on a cake–I think I will take a shot at it now.

  26. Donna says:

    Simply beautiful. Cakes at high altitude are tricky. I’m giving this one a try.

  27. Margie says:

    A very pretty cake! Labor intensive, but I darn bet it’s worth it.

    Welcome home! Off to view the photos. :)

  28. Dina says:

    your cake layers look great. i love elderflower liquer. this looks wonderful!

  29. cooking rookie says:

    Amazing photos! You’ve had a beautiful trip :-). I miss Hawaii so much….

  30. Jenny says:

    That looks fricken awesome! Im off to buy some St germain right now! Love that stuff! One tip that I’ve found useful for icing cakes is that I’ll finish off by scraping gently with a bench scraper or similar to get a nice clean finish on the side of the cake (if you’re looking for that kind of finish!)

  31. Helen in CA says:

    When you are able……any chance for non-weight measurements? Cups for the cake? Many thanks.

  32. Siti says:

    I agree with Jess, my favourite photo is driving through Puna. And the cake looks heavenly!

  33. jenyu says:

    Nadia – I’m sorry about the chiffon cake recipe. I have never had the measurements in terms of cups and spoons. The pastry class I took measured in weight and this recipe comes from that class. It’s actually far more accurate to weigh rather than measure in cups, which may be why this cake comes out so consistently well for me. Sorry.

    Bing Chou – :)

    Averie – It probably took me about 5 hours total.

    Kristin – nope, he’s resting. He opened his eyes and checked me out a few times, then went back to sleep.

    Anna – I do sell prints (see

    Anita – what good is that engineering degree if I don’t apply it to everyday life? ;) xoxo

    Steve – thank you!

    Alex – I have Nikon D3X, Nikon D700, and Nikon D200 bodies.

    Margie – thank you.

    Jenny – thanks for the tip!

    Helen in CA – please see my first response above. I never received this recipe in cups and spoon measurements.

  34. Joy says:

    That cake looks wonderful.

  35. Tracee says:

    I made the cake today. It is almost spongy like an angel food cake. I plan on making it more of an almond flavor with an almond syrup and an almond flavored frosting. :) I have been looking for a dense cake that can stand up to lots of simple syrup being added, so I am so excited to see how this one turns out! :) Thank you for the recipe. I went and bought a scale just to make it ;)

    Also, I tried to cheat and just buy the egg beaters brand of egg whites (so I didn’t have to waste all those yolks) and they never would stiffen up. So I ended up having to toss it out and start with the real thing.

  36. Chelsea says:

    I’m attempting to make this cake for a friend but she doesn’t drink any alcohol, so could I just use a regular simple syrup instead? and also, what does the simple syrup do? Is it essential to the cake? Thanks so much!

  37. jenyu says:

    Chelsea – yes, you can use regular simple syrup. It moistens the cake layers and adds flavor. I would say it’s essential since I like moistened cakes with booze and/or flavor, but you don’t HAVE to (it just won’t be as nice). Good luck!

  38. Cara says:

    Thanks for a great recipe! I’m in Bogota dealing with the altitude as well and this cake turned out perfectly.

  39. Lan says:

    hello, this is beautiful! i am going to attempt to make it this week for a friend’s wedding.

    do you bake at 375F because you’re up so high or is this temp for the cake, no matter what sea level you are at? (it’s a weird question, i know, but the cake recipes i’ve been looking at bakes at 350F.

  40. jenyu says:

    Lan – nope, this cake recipe is 375°F :) It should work for you.

  41. Lan says:

    Jen, i just wanted to let you know that this cake recipe was a hit and it is now officially my favorite cake. it was amazing to work with, it pulled from the sides of the pan like no other cake i’ve ever worked with, the crumb coating was a dream and it withstood the simple syrup, curd and frosting (i ended up making a cream cheese butter cream). the bride + groom were pleased. thank you so much for sharing and for your help. i will post about the cake this week, and link back accordingly.

  42. Julia says:

    Jenyu, I’m going to bake this stunning cake for my friend’s birthday. I’m using AP flour, should I omit baking powder, too?
    Your blog is amazing! Wish you all the best!)))

  43. Julia says:

    Jenyu, one more question: Do you use blackberry puree or blackberry curd for the buttercream? For puree you just mash the berries? Seeds retained?
    Thanks in advance for your answer!

  44. jenyu says:

    Julia – only omit the baking powder if you are at 8500 feet in elevation. The recipe calls for blackberry purée in the buttercream. You will want to run the blackberries through a food mill for the purée.

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