Next week is my older sister Cynthia’s birthday. She was my first friend, my first confidante and my first co-conspirator. She loved tennis and french, classical music and fashion. She was the best big sister. She watched out for me and was always there for me especially when I went through my “wild” stage. She never judged and has unfailingly given me the best advice she could our whole lives together. We share the early years in Puerto Rico before Tommy and Pamela were born. We shared Crayola crayons while coloring and spent hours playing “little dolls”. While in college the clouds of cigarette smoke billowing out of her bedroom were epic during our late night girl-talkathons.
Here she is circa 1974 after a tennis match and cooling dip in the pool. Slender, feminine and a helluva flirt she drove her college beaus mad. Today we both have a passion for books and the sophisticated appointment of rooms. Pearls thrill us beyond measure. And she has a thing for lemon cakes (but she calls them “lemon kuchens”). “Kuchen” being cake in German. Every single time she comes home to Fort Lauderdale, which is three or four times a year, she’ll ask me, “How ’bout that lemon kuchen? and I always answer, “What about it?”. I answer that way because I once baked her a lemon pound cake, from scratch, and ultimately she never had any because she never made time during that trip to come over to my house. So no more lemon kuchen! Until now. I’ve been on a pound cake kick, not surprising when you see my girth. I’m certain I’ve gained at least 4 pounds since I started on this mission. I craved… no, lusted after a dense, lemony-bright, tart and rich pound cake topped with a crown of smooth, creamy citrus icing. As you can well imagine the development process has been a short visit to Dante’s fifth hell. Not. Also, here in South Florida, it’s key lime season and I would venture to say that here in this tropical end of the state, key lime cake comes in close right after key lime pie in popularity.
I was lucky enough to have a plethora of key limes given to me and have juiced and zested my fingers down to the bone. Consequently long after the season is over I will have juice and zest safely tucked away in my freezer portioned out and labeled rendering me capable of baking great quantities of my new favorite pound cake. This cake bakes up beautifully. It would make an exquisite wedding cake, the icing decorated with the dramatic “pop” of fresh blackberries or raspberries. On the other end of the “pretty” spectrum around the “practical” end James mentioned to me in passing me that for the past several days he has had a thick wedge for breakfast. I’m telling you people, you cannot stay away from this cake. It’ll sing out to you from the next room. It’s the devil. And if loving it is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Yes, the cake is sweet, however the substantial addition of lime zest propels it to a new world of citrus wonder. The crumb is heavy and dense, incredibly moist while at the same time smooth and somehow almost weightless. The icing is a recipe in richness. The cream cheese works in tandem with the lemon to make a “dolce-crostata”, or sweet-tart heaven in your mouth. That being the case I look forward to having a key lime cake baked the next time Cynthia comes down for all of us to delight in and savor. Happy, happy birthday, sweet sister.
Hey, y’all! I first published this recipe almost five years ago. Although it’s been incredibly popular I have received a plethora of questions including the occasional wail of failure. That said, I’ve worked on both the cake and the icing recipes, tweaking and improving to make this spectacular cake better. (Is that even possible?) More eggs, less flour and more Key lime zest are some of the changes made. I recently made the new and improved cake for this past Thanksgiving and… y’all. Everyone loved it. Scarfed it right down. Including me. So keep a light hand when it comes to mixing the batter and this marvelous cake will do you proud. Merry Christmas, y’all!
Key Lime Pound Cake with Key Lime Cream Cheese Icing
- 4 sticks butter, that’s 1 pound, room temperature
- 3 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs plus 2 yolks, room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh key lime juice. If Key limes are not available conventional limes are perfectly fine. Stay away from the bottled Key lime juice unless you like a distinct metallic taste.
- 1/4 cup evaporated milk, (I always keep a good number of those small, 5 ounce cans in my pantry.)
- 1/4 cup grated Key lime zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 325°. Cover inside of 10 inch tube pan with non-stick spray. My pan is 10 1/2″ and it’s just fine. Set aside.
- Using a stand-up mixer or electric hand-held, beat the butter well until light in color and fluffy scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add sugar and again beat well for at least 5 minutes. I use a stand up mixer and beat the mixture 5-10 minutes. I don’t like a “grainy” cake.
- One at a time add the eggs and beat only until the yellow disappears.
- Add lime zest to batter and mix to combine.
- Stir juice, milk and vanilla together.
- Now mixing by hand, gradually flour to the butter-egg mixture alternating with the key lime juice and milk mixture. Begin and end with flour. Mix just enough to incorporate all ingredients. You don’t want a tough pound cake!
- Pour evenly into the tube pan and tap pan on the counter to loosen any air bubbles.
- Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs but not wet.
- Cool on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes in the pan then transfer from pan to cooling rack and allow to cool another hour or until completely cool.
The cake is far better the following day or 2 days later.
Key Lime Cream Cheese Icing
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 3-4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed Key lime juice
- 2-3 teaspoons grated key lime zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Using a hand mixer beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until well mixed.
- Add confectioner’s sugar and beat well until completely smooth and fluffy.
- Add key lime juice, zest and vanilla and mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Ice cake.
This makes quite a bit of icing. After icing the entire pound cake I fill the middle hole with the excess icing. When the cake is served icing can be taken from the middle and dolloped along the side the slice of cake. Or fill a pretty bowl with the excess icing and serve with the cake slices.