I wanted to make a special and delicious cake for my mom’s recent birthday. She doesn’t love chocolate (weird – I know!) but I also go for chocolate everything so I wanted to mix it up.
For some time now, I’ve wanted to make a champagne themed cake but in this case went all in on our favorite cocktail, French 75s! 😋
A French 75 is a champagne cocktail with lemon juice and cognac (or sometimes gin but I only like the cognac version). For the cake, I decided to make a champagne sponge cake with a lemon curd filling and a cognac flavored buttercream. And to be super extra, plus to try making something I hadn’t attempted before, I made some strawberry rosé macarons to put on top.
According to the internet, macarons can keep for a while in the fridge so I made them in advance. Not going to lie, they came out a bit weird but everyone has a first day! I know that you shouldn’t attempt macarons when it’s too humid but it seemed like the rain would never stop so I charged ahead anyhow. I did not know the proper way to pipe them so I wound up with this swirly look. I also put them in too hot of an oven. Ooops! Despite all of that, they still were amazingly delicious and I can’t wait to try them again soon.
The recipe I used was this one from Tasty.co. I think I’ll try it again but won’t bother with the rosé because it didn’t seem like I could taste it anyways. The blended dehydrated strawberries in buttercream was phenomenal though and I can’t wait to try that again.
Next up was the lemon curd which can also keep in the fridge for a bit and would stay in between the cake layers more easily if cold.
I’m sure I’ve made some lemon curd before according to a recipe but couldn’t remember the details. My internet research turned up a variety of recipes and I wasn’t sure what was considered the “right” or best way to do it. Some had cornstarch as a thickener and others didn’t. Some added butter from the beginning and some mixed it in at the end. I found this post on 84thand3rd.com that really helped me to demystify some of that.
Since I wanted a thicker curd to be sure it didn’t drip out of the cake, I added an egg yolk as that article suggests. I used larger pieces of lemon rind because it was just easier to get from the lemon and to remove at the end (some people will push the curd through a sieve to remove the smaller zest pieces). My final recipe was as follows:
Thick Lemon Curd
- 3 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 cup lemon juice and 2 large lemon rind curls
- 1/2 cup cane sugar
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
- Pinch of sea salt
In a small saucepan whisk eggs, egg yolk and sugar until combined. Whisk in lemon juice and salt. Then add the lemon rind pieces.
Over a low heat bring to a simmer – whisking continuously for about 5 minutes until mixture begins to thicken. Continue to stir for another 3-5 minutes until thick.
Remove from heat and use a fork to remove the lemon rind pieces. Stir in the butter one piece at a time. Pour into a jar or container to refrigerate until cool and place plastic wrap directly onto the curd. This keeps it from forming a skin. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools.
Finally it was time to make the cake. I did this the day before so that I could allow it to fully chill before putting the cake together and decorating it.
I followed a recipe I found on Of Batter & Dough here (cake only – I used a different buttercream). It’s a bit hard to find the actual recipe there because there are so many ads and the recipe is below the post comments so just a note if you’re struggling to actually find that. On a side note, aren’t recipe sites really getting out of control with the ads?? /rant
The cake turned out delicious but I struggled to detect any champagne flavor in the end. I used their suggestion of cooking down some champagne and brushing it on the cake for extra flavor but it felt dangerously close to just tasting and smelling like stale champagne. I’m not sure how I feel about the overall concept of a champagne cake in the end. It may have just been overpowered by the other flavors in the cake. I made three layers and wrapped them up in saran wrap to refrigerate overnight.
The next morning started buttercream and construction. 🥳
Riffing off this Brandy Buttercream recipe from Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen, I made a simple buttercream with cognac added.
- 1.5 cups butter at room temperature
- 6 3/4 cups powdered sugar
- 3-5 Tbsp Cognac to taste
Beat the butter in an electric mixer until soft. Add powdered and sugar and mix until fully combined.
Add Cognac one Tbsp at a time until fully combined.
Construction and Decorating!
After seeing it done on baking shows many time, I piped a ring of buttercream on each layer as a kind of wall for the lemon curd and then filled the center with the curd before putting the next layer on.
I covered the whole cake in a thin layer of icing, known as the crumb coat, and put it in the fridge.
Just before dinner I went to town on decorations. I’d bought a small champagne bottle for decoration which I figured should be empty to reduce the weight. Twist my arm – ok I’ll drink it!
I liked the idea of the champagne appearing to spill on the cake which means drip cake! Drip cake is generally always made with chocolate or decorating chocolate but I didn’t want to add chocolate to this cake. So I just tried it with the lemon curd and hoped it stayed thick enough. Not the prettiest drip but I felt like it was worth it to preserve the right flavor combinations. I used a round tip to pipe “bubble” on the top of the cake and around the edge plus some large round sprinkles. Then added some gold food glitter and spray.
This cake was amazing but I included too much lemon curd to really get a French 75 flavor. It just overpowered the other flavors. I think in the future I’d put less in the filling and nix the drip topping to see if that balances things out better. But if I’m being realistic, I don’t often make the same cake twice because I just want to try all the things!
If you try this one out, let me know how it goes or what you do differently!