The Recipe: Key Lime Snack Cake with Cayenne Cream Cheese Frosting

I don’t think I’m alone in the January announcement to be low on the totem pole in the “favorite months”. Now, the post-holiday blues are kicking in, the weather is cold and gray (and snow doesn’t seem quite as magical), and there’s not much to look forward to in the calendar year for a while (Valentine’s does not in my opinion). As someone who isn’t big on decisions, I’m also not thrilled with the barrage of messages about “clean eating” and “lifestyle changes” that the start of the year inevitably brings. All of this means that as the new year begins, I’m craving a cake that will channel the warm, sunny vibes I need right here in my New York kitchen. That’s where the bright and bold — and easy — Key lime cake comes in.

Bottled lemonade is a star here (no, not just for the pie), and while you can substitute regular lemonade if you can’t get enough of the lime variety, you’ll definitely miss the last sweet-tart zippiness. The rest of the recipe is pretty standard, and depends on the ingredients you probably already have, but the resulting cake is just the way to run the mill. While I originally wanted to incorporate traditional key lime pie elements, like condensed milk and graham crackers, I ended up taking things in a spicier (and more exciting) direction by heating cream cheese with chili. The heat is light, but it comes at the end of every bite, and goes well with the overall look of the cake. (However, if seasoning isn’t your thing, feel free to omit the chili. If you do, you may want to add a pinch of salt to soften the sweetness of the garnish.)

Overall, this is a cake that serves as an antidote to dreary weather and a delicious way to combat post-holiday fatigue “project baking”—we’re talking about a simple square pan, less bundling, and zero juicing. I’ve already counted the days for warmer weather, longer days, and my next flight, but I’m not too bothered that this fun, sweet cake would make me company in the meantime.

Snack Lime Cake with Cayenne Cream Frosting

Makes an 8″ x 8″ cake


To make the main lemon cake:

1 1/2 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Half a teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
peel one lemon (optional, but it adds more zing)
2 large eggs at room temperature
Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup full-fat sour cream (90 grams) at room temperature
¼ cup bottled main lemon juice

To decorate the cream cheese:

4 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 1/2 cups (278 grams) powdered sugar

To take first place:

Unsweetened toasted shredded coconut


Step 1: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-by-8-inch square cake pan with a little non-stick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving a two-inch overhang on the sides (to make it easier to remove the cake after baking), and grease the parchment.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined. Sit aside.

Step 3: In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add sugar, lemon peel, and cream to mixture until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.

The fourth step: Beat the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition until combined. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous.

Fifth step: Add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until blended. Gently whisk together the lemon juice, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and blend until the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to over mix.

Sixth step: Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a teaspoon. Bake the cake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Seventh step: Let the cake cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then gently run a teaspoon around the edges to loosen it. Using parchment ropes to help, transfer cake to a rack until completely cooled.

Step 8: Make cream cheese: Using an electric mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk the chili. Gradually add the powdered sugar (to prevent a mess) and whisk until the frosting is smooth.

Step 9: Spread the frosting over the cooled cake (do not use all the cream cheese) and sprinkle with toasted coconut until the end.

Joey Chu Freelance writer, recipe developer and pastry chef based in New York City.
Celeste night is a Filipino-American food, travel, and portrait photographer based between Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep

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