Dedication: This recipe is dedicated to my sweet, loving husband and best friend, The Big Lug. Thank you for your unbridled support, Sweetheart. And, for always inspiring me. I. Love. You. xo ~Stacy
Today, some of my blogging pals are attending the BlogHer Food Conference in Austin, Texas. Oh, how I wish I were there to meet my favorite peeps! If you are reading this, and in Austin now at BHF, please champion for BlogHer Food to return to Austin in 2014…you know, like in “by popular demand”? Pretty please? For all of us who adore everything BBQ and Texas? Hahaha! Thanks! I know I would just love Austin. It seems…well, so me.
Truly, I had fully planned on attending BlogHer Food 2013. However, offline real life often gets in the way of such plans. The Big Lug and I have been on vacation all this week tackling a home project. My decision not to attend the conference was based on this as well as deciding to invest in a new camera (yay!) and other upgraded photography equipment as well as in my blog’s redesign in preparation of the next big step. In all honesty, I will feel that I actually earned the trip if I go next year after having had my blog live for at least one full year.
Now for a blog update and other news. It may not appear so, but I have been working feverishly behind the scenes on some new features I think my readers will be thrilled to see. Meanwhile, of course, I am also working hard on developing cutting edge gluten free and grain free recipes. Over the next several months, each new feature will be unveiled. I’m so excited about everything!
Also, I have been working on another important project–a cookbook. Yes, I am enjoying the challenge and journey as the baking recipes are all gluten free and grain free. To my knowledge, a book such as this has not yet been published. Sure, there are books that include paleo desserts or books on the subject of paleo desserts requiring a certain brand of sweetener. However, my book will concentrate on all natural whole foods ingredients—right down to natural sweeteners. Think Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible for gluten free and grain free baking.
If Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food, is correct in her statements that baking cookbooks and paleo cookbooks rank the highest in overall book sales, I have a good inkling I am pursuing the right path by doing both in one book. I sincerely believe I was born to write this cookbook, y’all. So, please be patient if I am away for a spell from either the blog or social media. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate your support!
Okay. Let’s get on with this recipe post for Key Lime Margarita Cheesecake Cake. I’ve been eager to share it with you! Also, The Big Lug gave me permission to share some photos of him. He is shy and I respect him too much to post a photo without his approval. Since the theme of this post is about giving and gratitude, I thought I would share some photos to include a few leading up to and from our wedding day. The wedding photos I am sharing are actually scans of my wedding proofs since our actual wedding photos are hardbound.
On Love, Gratitude and Margaritas
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that my favorite cocktail on Earth is the Margarita…and, for the most part, all of its incarnations. It was at a Jimmy Buffett concert when I first conceived the idea of this special cake. Jimmy has a way of doing this to a girl. I was driven to develop the recipe for my love, The Big Lug.
The Big Lug happens to love Key Lime Pie and claims that my Classic New York Style Cheesecake (recipe coming soon to the blog) is the best he’s ever tasted. Aww, isn’t that sweet? Well, it was there, at the Jimmy Buffett concert, under the summer stars, that I thought of combining Margarita Cake and Key Lime Cheesecake into a “cheesecake cake” for my sweetheart–a Key Lime Margarita Cheesecake Cake. The Margarita Cake was inspired by the concept of Chef Andy Husbands’ recipe from his fabulous first cookbook, The Fearless Chef, which was inspired by the popular Latin “cake with three milks” or “pastel de tres leches” incorporating whole milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. However, I had envisioned using “Margarita” simple syrup instead to flavor and moisten the cake layers.
This is a snapshot taken by my friend, Gina, on the night I met The Big Lug–at his cousin’s Christmas party. Gina just got her new “big girl” camera and was getting used to it. I was wearing a white sweater with metallic threads and the front yoke had a white leather accent with silver tone metal rivets and turquoise stones with pretty leather fringe. (Sounds kind of tacky, but was tastefully done. Does anyone remember Gantos?) My earrings are real silver feather drops. And, yes…I had my cowgirl boots on! But (sadly), I was also wearing my “acid wash” jeans. Hahaha!
When I shared the idea of this layer cake with my hubby, the look on his face was one of fascination and pure joy as I detailed every component recipe to make it. He loved the idea of using key lime curd between the cake and cheesecake layers, my adaptation of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream (of which he is quite familiar) for the icing and a coconut-nut graham cracker crunch comprised of lightly toasted macadamia nuts and unsweetened shredded coconut for a delightful taste and texture sensation in lieu of just plain ordinary graham cracker crumbs.
After I detailed this cake from my mind’s eye, The Big Lug gave me the same look of approval that he gives me when he hugs me from behind while I’m working in the kitchen and I glance up at him—that look of anticipation and feeling loved because I am creating or making something especially for him, something he enjoys. The rabbis are correct when they give marital advice. Marriage truly is all about giving. Yes, giving even in the form of making favorite dishes like cheesecakes and key lime pies. The love always seems to flow right back as I suddenly find myself being the recipient of the kindest and most thoughtful of little gifts.
This photo was taken by The Big Lug the day we were engaged and ordered my ring. It was at a family reunion picnic where we announced our engagement. I can be kind of sassy. He should have run for the hills!
The summer of 2011 was a special one for me and The Big Lug as a couple. The experiences of love and laughter will forever be burned in my memory and heart. That summer will always be remembered as the one when we fell in love for the second time. It didn’t hurt that he carried out an act of valor when I was accosted by a co-worker’s wife during an outing when she put me down in front of a large group of people for not working outside the home. He replied, without hesitation, “Her job is taking care of me and my job is taking care of her.” It was like Westley, stating to Prince Humperdinck near the end of The Princess Bride, “Drop. Your. Sword.” That ended THAT discussion right quick. Before this, we shared many special moments. However, at that moment in time, my heart swelled knowing he would always, always be there for me in a time of need. From something simple like this when someone tramples on our sacred ground (as to our marriage and the arrangements or decisions we’ve made) or something greater, I know he will always defend my honor. The Bible calls for husbands to do this for their brides and he always does it flawlessly. Yep, I shall keep him.
I’ve heard peeps talk about this “falling in love again” thing as if it were some strange phenomenon that only happens to certain people. I had always smiled hearing their tales while privately thinking it was kind of corny. Never in a million years did I believe my love for my husband, or his love for me, could grow any deeper than on our wedding day. Well, without getting too mushy here, let me tell you…it really does happen.
The above snapshot was taken by my brother-in-law. God bless him for picking up that camera to document that day and this moment! (Love him.) And, oh! Look at those nails! They are not false. They’re real. But, I had just stood up in my best friend, Kathy’s, wedding the night before. I’m wearing The Big Lug’s jacket because it was a chilly day that Labor Day weekend at the park.
When we attended a family wedding the following September, the female minister talked of this phenomenon as a gift and reward that comes to a marriage between best friends who express a deep and profound appreciation for each other. She spoke about this intensified love as something to look forward to as marital love grows. Just then, as the marriage ceremony progressed, The Big Lug squeezed my hand and I squeezed right back in recognition and as living examples of the wisdom she was sharing during her homily. When I looked at his handsome face, and saw his kind smile and the twinkle in his blue-blue eyes as he gazed at me, it was all I could do to keep tears from welling up in my eyes then running down my cheeks (and ruining my makeup!). His famous lines to me whenever I tear up are, “Oh Blanche, stop blubbering.” Or, “There’s no crying in baseball!” (Quick, name those two films!)
Our entire family was present at the wedding on my husband’s side and when I shared the news privately with my sisters-in-law at the reception (the falling in love again part), in tandem they asked me, “What’s it like?” Immediately, without a moment of hesitation, I answered, “Like skyrockets in flight…on steroids.” As the words rolled off my tongue, I couldn’t believe how succinctly I managed to communicate my emotions. The expressions on their faces were priceless exhibiting a great hope and wonderment.
Obviously, this photo is of our wedding ceremony. Father Francis was the best and fresh out of the seminary. He had a heart of gold. Everyone loved him. Any wonder why I refer to my hubby as “The Big Lug”? He’s 6’5″ tall! Also, blonde and blue-eyed handsome. He, too, has a heart of gold. I don’t know what I would do without him.
And, guess which film I am watching on DVR right now as I write this post late at night? The Princess Bride. All of which is about true love. Well, there’s also sword fights, bonding between friends, surviving a fire swamp, single-handedly fighting off ROUSes and cheating death–not to mention seeking revenge on a six-fingered man. But, I find it rather ironic that this is the film The Big Lug turned on for me before he kissed me goodnight and headed off to bed. He does these sweet little things all the time. They’re akin to sweet Valentines opened each and every single day. Because I yield to him 100% control of the television remote (I don’t watch much TV and enjoy nearly everything he selects to watch anyway), he, in turn, records all sorts of good things for me to watch or listen to while I work late. Reciprocation in marriage really does work wonders.
Did I ever share with you my adoration for William Goldman? He’s my favorite novelist and screenwriter of all time. I studied film at both the junior college and university levels purely because I love it so. If you have not yet read the novel, The Princess Bride, place it on your bucket list and don’t delay. The 30th Anniversary Edition was released on May 2, 2013 and is available now. Read it ASAP. You are in for a real trip! (No. At this time, I am not an Amazon.com affiliate. I just adore both the film and the novel, The Princess Bride. And, William Goldman. And, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And, the late Paul Newman.)
The above photo was taken after our marriage ceremony at the side of our church in Ann Arbor. This was a rather romantic moment because The Big Lug did not get down on his knee when he proposed. So, he had secretly arranged this shot with our photographer. I was pleasantly surprised.
This Key Lime Margarita Cheesecake Cake was developed last summer, on June 15, 2012 to be exact. At the time, I had already wanted to have my blog launched. When I attended my first blogging conference a year ago April, I had slated a blog launch date of June 1st. That date had come and gone and I was a bit down in the dumps about my illness. Not two weeks later did Nora Efron (another favorite writer of mine) pass away. No one other than close family and a handful of confidantes ever knew she was ill. To say the news took me by surprise is an understatement. I was in total shock. If you look at my Twitter feed during that time, I was absent due to being in a total funk. (I think that I even expressed this to Dianne Jacob via Twitter.) It was a wretched funk. My illness had worsened and was God-awful by the time July 4th rolled around.
Our wedding day was gorgeous. It was a warm 70-degree Indian Summer autumn day, without a cloud in sight, and a big football Saturday for the U. of M. To this day, fall is my favorite season! Note: The guests did not listen to directions. Everyone was supposed to walk up the path and then release their balloons for the sendoff–once beyond the trees. Instead, some got stuck in the pretty fall trees!
It was not only the dog days of summer, but it was one of the worst heat waves in recorded history—not only for our area here in the Midwest, but everywhere around the country. The severe heat made things worse for my condition and I felt sicker by the day—to the point of having to cut short our summer vacation in early June. Life was unbearable. But, somehow, I managed to make my Sweet-Tart Cherry Cobbler for The Big Lug on the morning of the 4th of July and even uploaded my image to my Flickr stream the following week.
That following week, on July 11th, I tweeted a message to David Leite and shared the link to the photo of my Sweet-Tart Cherry Cobbler. His reply made my day when he tweeted back, “I’m going to tell your husband you’re cheating on him with me. This is gorgeous! Sinfully sexy.” I was incredibly ill at the time and his comments made my day. My week. Okay, my year as far as the food world goes. Talk about immense gratitude.
During this time, all I could do was keep tweeting and supporting others until I was better. Some food bloggers sent me DMs asking if I was going to launch already or not. When I wrote back, I had explained briefly that I was ill and fighting a terrible infection. Most wrote back wishing me well and stating they hoped I would get better soon. Meanwhile, one blogger (at the time, she was following me and I was following her) never even bothered to write back.
By the end of summer, I faced the fight of my life concerning this infection. And, I beat it through diet. By removing all dairy, grains and sugar from my diet, as well as keeping my body alkaline, I was able to finally persevere and become well again by late September/early October and only had to fight off a cold in October. By the time our wedding anniversary rolled around in October, I was finally ready to hire a web designer to design my blog. Please believe me when I say that I fought tooth and nail to get this blog live, up and running before the end of 2012—just as I had promised in my Twitter header for a “holiday 2012 launch”. It is amazing what drive and passion can do. And, not to mention, a very dedicated web designer who just happens to work her day job as an attorney. It’s like, totally a unique blend of adrenaline…that’s fer shure (in my best 1980s “valley girl” voice).
The important message I wanted to share in this post is this…appreciate each and every day as a gift. Appreciate everyone close to you in your life and make certain they know it. Ignore those who do not support you or act negatively toward you. If there is one thing I have learned about the food blogging community is that we are here for each other to support and encourage one another. The more gratitude we express to one another, the more blessings will be bestowed upon us. And, whenever you welcome the blessings from The Lord Above, don’t forget to thank Him.
A Few Recipe Inspiration Notes About This Cake
Our cheesecake recipe is based on the Key Lime Cheesecake from Epicurious.com first published in Bon Appétit magazine, October 2006. Recipe developed by Jeanne Thiel Kelley. Also adapted from the Cheesecake Layers of the “cheesecake cakes” by Lori Lange of RecipeGirl.com. These recipes were chosen for their flavor profile and creamy texture, respectively.
Our cake recipe is based on Kathleen King’s Yellow Cake recipe (found on page 76) from her much-loved first cookbook, Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook; St. Martin’s Press, 1990 (now, out-of-print), with recipes from her first bakery in Southampton, NY that she opened at the age of 20. Known today as the Hamptons’ most beloved baker, at Tate’s Bake Shop (named after her father, Tate King), Kathleen’s award-winning cookies are now sold at over 5,000 gourmet retailers throughout the United States and her bakery has been the recipient of multiple best bakery awards and is regarded as a “must-visit” Hamptons’ destination. As for her yellow cake recipe, I decreased the flour by ¼ cup, added ¼ teaspoon baking soda, used part butter and part shortening, substituted egg whites for whole eggs (using a bit less for a moist cake) and doubled the pure vanilla extract for a good white cake. This recipe was selected because it calls for regular all-purpose flour versus cake flour and sour cream for a moist and tangy yet somewhat sturdy cake to complement as well as stand up to the weight of the middle cheesecake layer.
Our Margarita Simple Syrup recipe is based on Rich Simple Syrup at About.com and my own Top-Shelf Margarita cocktail recipe. By using a “rich” simple syrup, with a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water, versus 1:1 ratio for traditional simple syrup used in cocktails, the thickness of the syrup allows for the addition of the tequila and liqueurs without becoming too thin and causing the cake to get overly moist or mushy.
The Coco-Nutty Graham Cracker Crunch recipe is my own concoction and embellishment to make the cake more tropical in nature. It was inspired by a slice of Key Lime Pie I shared with The Big Lug at Mitchell’s Fish Market, Seafood Restaurant & Bar, here in Carmel, Indiana. The pastry chef had incorporated chopped macadamia nuts in the crispy and buttery graham cracker crust and the top of the pie was embellished with shredded coconut.
What makes our Key Lime Margarita Cheesecake Cake wicked good?
Moist Margarita Cake layers drizzled with Margarita syrup. A fresh and “cool as a cucumber” key lime flavor profile in a rich and creamy middle Key Lime Cheesecake layer. A pleasantly tart homemade or fine-quality Key Lime Custard filling. A to-die-for ivory cream cheese buttercream frosting—either our classic Cream Cheese Buttercream or our White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream. And, to top it off…a delightful Coco-Nutty Graham Cracker Crunch. Need we say more?
- For the Key Lime Cheesecake Layer
- 2 (8-ounce) packages (452 grams) cream cheese, such as Philadelphia®, softened to room temperature
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs (mine were 103 grams total w/o shells)
- ¼ cup (60 grams) dairy sour cream, such as Daisy® Brand
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1½ tablespoons (22.5ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1½ tablespoons (22.5ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1½ teaspoons (3 grams) freshly grated lemon zest
- 1½ teaspoons (3 grams) freshly grated lime zest
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
- Butter or favorite cooking oil, for greasing springform pan
- For the Margarita Cake Layers
- 2¼ cups (270 grams) all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal®, plus extra for cake pans, see Notes below for Gluten Free Option
- 1 teaspoon (4.8 grams) baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon (3.6 grams) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (4.8 grams) kosher salt
- ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup (96 grams) organic palm shortening, such as Spectrum®
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 7 egg whites (about 210 grams), at room temperature, divided
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
- 1 cup (240 grams) dairy sour cream
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1½ teaspoons (3 grams) freshly grated lemon zest
- 1½ teaspoons (3 grams) freshly grated lime zest
- Butter or favorite cooking oil, for greasing cake pans
- For the Margarita Simple Syrup
- ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) purified water
- 1½ tablespoons(22.5ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1½ tablespoons (22.5ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) fine-quality tequila, I prefer Cabo Wabo® Reposado
- 1½ teaspoons (7.5ml) fine-quality orange liqueur, such as Cointreau®
- 1½ teaspoons (7.5ml) Grand Marnier® Orange Cognac
- For the Key Lime Curd Filling
- Homemade “Key Lime” Curd, recipe by Wicked Good Kitchen™
- Or, 1 (11.5 ounce/326 grams) jar prepared key lime curd, such as Stonewall Kitchen®
- For the Optional Coco-Nutty Graham Cracker Crunch
- 6 (about 98 grams) graham crackers, such as Honey Maid by Nabisco®
- ½ cup (70 grams) whole macadamia nuts
- 1 tablespoon (about 13 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (about 13 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
- Two pinches or more fine sea salt (I used Hawaiian Alaea Sea Salt, ground in mortar & pestle)
- 3 tablespoons (about 42 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup (60 grams) organic unsweetened shredded coconut, such as Let’s Do Organic®
- For the Cream Cheese Buttercream
- 1 (8-ounce) package (226 grams) cream cheese, such as Philadelphia®, softened
- 1 cup (2 sticks or 226 grams) unsalted butter, softened (or 1 stick salted & 1 stick unsalted)
- 2½ teaspoons (12.5ml) pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey®
- 4 to 4½ cups (480 to 540 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted (spooned into cup, leveled off & then sifted)
- Or, White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream, recipe by Wicked Good Kitchen™
- For the Optional Cake and Plating Adornments
- Shredded sweetened coconut, such as Baker’s® Angel Flake® Coconut
- Fresh lime slices, sliced very thin
- Fresh strawberries, sliced & fanned for plating
- Whipped cream, garnish for plating
- Special Equipment
- One 9-inch nonstick springform pan
- Two 9-inch by 1½- to 2-inch round cake pans
- One baking sheet
- Two insulated cake strips, such as Wilton® Small Bake Even Strips (Set of 2), necessary for even cake layers
- Three wire cooling racks, the third being used to flip cake layers right side up
- One 9-inch cardboard cake round, helpful but not necessary
- Cake Turntable, such as Ateco ®, helpful but not necessary
- Metal Angled or Offset Icing Spatula, such as Ateco® or Wilton®, helpful
- Metal Icing Spatula, such as Ateco® or Wilton®, helpful
- Wax paper, for lining cake pans and cake plate for icing & crunch coating
- Pastry brush for brushing simple syrup over cakes
- Parchment paper, for lining baking sheet
- Piping bag, coupler and no. 21 star decorating tip, not necessary if no piping is desired
- Mini prep food processor
Tips:In general, prepare as many component recipes in advance for a stress-free day in the kitchen the day you assemble and frost the cake. Read through each of the tips below to determine how to store each component recipe until ready to assemble and frost the cake. I like to prepare each component in advance, with the exception of the buttercream, and then prepare the buttercream the day I assemble and frost the cake. By preparing component recipes in advance, it will assure you have enough time to chill the cake before slicing and serving. For the Key Lime Cheesecake Layer: Cheesecake layer can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. This will make for less time in the kitchen the day you assemble and frost the cake. For the Margarita Cake: Cake may be made 1 day in advance. Keep wrapped in plastic food wrap at room temperature overnight. Use insulated cake strips such as those by Wilton® to ensure cake layers bake evenly. If you do not have insulated cake strips, you can always trim your cake layers so the top of each is level. After assembling and frosting the layered cake it is best to chill it until firm, about 1 to 2 hours. Chilling, before slicing the cake, will yield neater cake slices for a better plated presentation. For the Margarita Simple Syrup: Simple syrup can be made 1 day ahead. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. For the Coco-Nutty Graham Cracker Crunch: The graham cracker crunch can be made 1 day ahead and stored at room temperature in a zip-top food storage bag until ready to use. For Measuring: When measuring all-purpose flour for this recipe, aerate your flour by stirring it then gingerly use the dip and sweep method. Dip your 1-cup dry measuring cup into the flour and scoop lightly, then use a thin metal icing spatula or straight edge of knife to sweep. This way, you should get approximately 120 to 125 grams of flour per cup measure, or 300 to 312 grams of flour for the cake layers. This tip is provided for home bakers who do not use a kitchen scale to measure ingredients by weight. For Gluten Free Option: Substitute 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (272 grams) Cup4Cup (C4C) Gluten-Free Flour, available at Williams-Sonoma, or your favorite gluten-free flour blend measured cup for cup or by grams in place of the all-purpose wheat flour called for in the cake recipe. You will need extra flour for dusting cake pans. In addition, substitute the graham crackers with equivalent of Graham Style Crumbs by Kinnikinnick.
Visual Step-by-Step for Key Lime Margarita Cheesecake Cake
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