Joni Woolf: The perils of amateur cooks

Published 2:07 pm Saturday, September 15, 2018

Recently a friend approached me about baking two cakes for a birthday celebration. I bake a fair amount of cakes, and with relative ease. Over time, I have become comfortable with a few recipes that I use over and over. So, when he asked for an Italian Cream Cake, I knew that was no problem. I even had most of the ingredients on hand. But the second cake he requested was a Key Lime Cake. I not only had never made one; I had never tasted such a thing. I had made Key Lime pies, though not often. Key Limes are not always available. And it simply was not on my radar. But I decided to do a trial run; I would make the cake and take it to Calvary Episcopal Church for an upcoming luncheon, and check out the response.
So, I began searching for Key Lime Cake recipes. There are many on the Internet, though most call for using cake mix, which I rarely use. I wanted “the real thing.” I found one recipe in a cookbook of Mark Ballard’s called The Four Seasons, and published in 2003. I knew Mark, had enjoyed his and his wife Debra’s hospitality, so I trusted the recipe. So, I cooked the layers. A small portion stuck to one of the pans when I removed it from the oven, so I tasted it. I wasn’t sure. I thought it tasted of vegetable oil (which it contains). I let the layers cool, prepared the frosting, but had serious doubts. So, I decided I must try another recipe. I wanted this cake, which I would be paid for, to be perfect. As I mentioned earlier, the Internet did not offer many options, but I finally found one that did not use cake mix. (Nor did it use lime gelatin, as the first recipe did.) So, I made it. The layers were beautiful, though not green. The crumb, it seemed, was perfect. So, I frosted it, and took them both to church, certain that the second one would be “the people’s choice.”
Well. Both cakes were completely devoured, but when I asked around, the Ballard cake got the most votes. And I realized, that once the layers cooled, the taste was not only different; it was delicious. And it was green! The second cake did have an excellent texture — denser than the Ballard cake, but no better. In fact, from now on, when someone asks me to make them a Key Lime Cake (which probably won’t happen for another year or two), I have the recipe, in the book on a shelf in my kitchen — within easy reach. I recommend both, of course. But you choose!

Key Lime Cake (from The Four Seasons, by Mark Ballard)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 (6 oz.) package lime gelatin
5 eggs
1 ½ cups vegetable oil (I used 1 1/3 cups and it seemed to work)
¾ cup orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup powdered sugar

6 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
½ stick butter or margarine (room temperature)
2 tsp. vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 box (16 oz.) plus ½ cup powdered sugar
Blend sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, gelatin, eggs, oil, orange juice, and extracts at low speed until moist. Beat 2-4 minutes at medium speed. Pour batter into three 8- or 9-inch greased and floured baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees F. 30 to 40 minutes (Note: I used 9-inch pans, and 25 minutes was long enough.). Pour lime juice mixture (1/3 cup lime juice, 1/3 cup powdered sugar) over warm cake while the cake is in the pan, prick cake with fork to allow mixture to soak into the cake. In medium bowl, mix icing ingredients together and frost cake.

Key Lime Cake, adapted, from the Internet
3 eggs
¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks)
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon key lime zest
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Line three, 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper, then grease and flour sides of pan, with small amount on top of parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In electric mixer, mix together the butter, sugar and lime zest until creamy. Add the eggs one at time, beating thoroughly after each. Add the lime juice and vanilla and blend well. Combine the cake flour and soda in a medium bowl, then sift. Add gradually to the butter mixture, alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour into prepared pans and bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool layers in their pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out and cool before icing. I use the same icing/frosting recipe as above, except I increase the amounts to: 12 ounces cream cheese, ¾ cup butter, 5 ½ cups confectioner sugar, 2 teaspoons flavoring. I do not like to run low on frosting, and I usually have a small amount left over. Better, I say, than not enough.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at