Sending my bros off to college in style – Vanilla Custard and Lime Curd Fillings!

So, this week I made a cake for my twin brothers’ high school graduation/college send off party.  Patrick leaves for soccer pre-season this Friday at Catholic University in DC, and Christopher is off to Boston to attend Brandeis University the following Friday!  It is a bittersweet send-off for me, because, as any good older sister would feel, while I am excited for them to go off to experience all the wonders and excitement of college life, I am also sad that they are growing up.  Once they go off to college, they will be corrupted, in all the good and bad way I am sure, and I’m not ready!  I said this to someone at their party this past weekend and their response was, “Were you corrupted by college?”  My response, “DEFINITELY!”  College is great, and will change them FOREVER…my baby brothers are going off to college!  AHHH!!!

Bro's grad cake

Catholic Cardinals and the Brandeis Judges (hence, the gavel). I told Christopher there is more to a college than its mascot, haha.  And I made little flags to go around the cake…because I felt like it.IMG_1814

Anyway, for their party, I decided to make a cake composed of the bottom two tiers of Amy’s wedding cake:  I made one 14″ x 2″ cake, and one 12″ by 2″ cake.  I wanted to make sure I tested out the sizes and baking times, and picking up and handling of these large layers, and just overall make sure I have tried everything so there are no unexpected cake disasters next week.  I also wanted to see how much batter would be necessary, for while I made an elaborate spreadsheet to calculate how much I would need, I wanted to be sure.  The long and short of it is that my calculations said I’d need 2 batches, but I actually ended up using 2.5 batches (and I could have used a tiny bit more even).  I started writing about my amazing spreadsheet in this post, but since this post is getting pretty hefty in length, I am posting THAT in a separate post.  See my next post if you wish to experience me take the term “enginerd” to a whole new level…

ANYWAY, to bake these large cakes, I used a heating core and makeshift heat strips (I used strips of t-shirt – idea courtesy of my dear friend Ashley).  It was interesting and worked splendidly!

Here’s my version of Large Cake-Making 101 (10-12″ cakes and bigger):

Since these cakes are so big, the heating core is used so the inside of the cake heats more evenly, since normally the cake heats outward-in.  This way, it heats from the center-out as well.  You put cake batter inside the core also, so you don’t have a big hole in your cake when you are done baking it.  You just pop the core cake piece out of the core, and pop it in the center of the cake! (Make sure to use plenty of cooking spray so the core “plug” comes out easily.)  To take care of the outside of the cake, you take heat strips – or t-shirt strips, in my case – make them damp with water, and wrap them around the outside of the cake pan.  The moisture in the strips keeps the edges of the pan cooler, baking more evenly and creating perfectly level and moist cakes.  It worked great and I highly recommend use of heat strips.  Since the edge stays cool, the middle doesn’t rise up as much either, so you don’t have to worry about leveling the cake as much…Now, if you discover your oven is not level – like I did – you might have a lopsided cake, but that’s a whole other issue.  I think I can remedy this pretty easily for the real deal; I just need to be careful and make sure the cake is level when I put it in the pan and then into the oven.  I’m not concerned…  :/

Heat core and heat strip

Heating core (filled with batter as well), and my makeshift heating strip. (I cut up a pink t-shirt, wet it, and wrapped it around the pan…the shirt doesn’t HAVE to be pink, but I think it helps.  😛 )

Finished cake!

Finished cake before popping the plug back in the center.

Sidenote:  I just purchased an 8 qt stainless steel mixing bowl, and it is amazing.  It is so big and holds so much! I can make 2 batches of my vanilla cake in it and endless amounts of buttercream!  Now I want the 13 qt one!  (Sometimes it disturbs me how excited I get over things like mixing bowls and food processors…)


Once the cakes were baked, I had to assemble them of course.  Since I had two fillings I needed to try again, I decided to split the cake down the middle with a buttercream barrier and made half vanilla custard and half lime curd.  So it was a SURPRISE as to what you got, which was an added bonus I think.  🙂  I’ll get into the making of the fillings in a minute…

Cake fillings

Lime curd on the left; vanilla custard on the right. Yum all around.

Sidenote 2:  Daisy loves watching me bake.  She sits right outside the kitchen on the carpet and watches…or sleeps…and when she gets tired of my baking, she picks up  a squeaky toy and comes over and squeaks it and rubs it against my leg until I play with her.  She is my baby 🙂


As I mentioned a second ago, the REAL challenge of the week was making the fillings.  While I was concerned about making the larger cakes and wanted to test it out, I was much more concerned about the fillings…since I had messed them up already…on multiple occasions…  The challenge: Lime curd and vanilla custard.  The outcome?  I did my happy dance.  A lot.  For a long time.  Daisy joined in too.  SUCCESS!!!

First up:  Lime curd.  For whatever reason, I used a recipe last time that used the microwave to heat up the sugar lime mixture and make the curd.  Why I thought this would work or was a good idea that would not cover my microwave in goo is beyond me.  I had a lapse in my better baking judgement.  This time around, I did it right.  I made it on the stove.  The sugar quickly and easily dissolved and  melted and the curd came together just fine.  It was actually really easy when I did it on the stove, which is what I should have done all along.  It looked, smelled, and tasted like curd.  Limey, smooth, and delicious, but not overpowering.  Here’s a brief overview of how it went:

I mixed the sugar and eggs, then mixed in the lime juice.  Here, I also added lime zest from one lime, just because I felt like it.  🙂  I then began heating the mixture at low temperature and slowly added pieces of butter.  Be careful here, because if you heat it too fast your eggs will cook and that is no fun!  You can always remove out the pieces at the end when you strain it, but it is still best to avoid these pieces (at least most of them) if possible.  I had a few tiny pieces of cooked egg white and no big deal.  Strainer took care of it.

Lime curd

Once I could draw a line through the curd and it lingered (see picture above), I removed it from the heat, strained it, and put it in the fridge until I was ready to assemble my cake!

Thank you Annie’s Eats!  As I mentioned above, I slightly modified the recipe and added some lime zest, and I think I will also add a teaspoon of gelatin, just so it holds its shape a little better for the real deal.  It did a little bit of oozing when I put it in the cake and I had to use some super cake skills to push it back in/wipe it up.  If I add some gelatin, it will not effect the flavor at all, and should give it what it needs to hold its shape so Amy’s cake will be ooze-free.  I’ll also be able to put a thicker layer of deliciousness in it if it is firmer!

Here is the final recipe in all its glory:

Key Lime Curd

Yield: about 1¼ cups
Prep time: 20 mins


3 large eggs
¾ cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed key lime juice*
1 teaspoon gelatin**
Zest from 1 lime
4 tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces


  1. In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the eggs and sugar.  Whisk together until well blended.  Whisk in the lime juice.  (If using gelatin, whisk gelatin and lime juice in saucepan until gelatin is dissolved.  Allow to cool some so you do not curdle the eggs when you combine.  Then combine this mixture with eggs and sugar.)
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring or whisking constantly, until the mixture is warmed through.  Be careful not to heat the mixture too quickly to avoid curdling the eggs.
  3. Whisk in the butter a little bit at a time, stirring in each addition until completely incorporated before adding more.
  4. Continue to cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture thickens and a spoon or spatula leaves a path when drawn through it (no higher than 175˚ F on an instant-read thermometer.)
  5. At this point, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.  Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.  (This keeps up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.)

*This can certainly be made with regular limes if you can’t find key limes, as well as other types of citrus – lemon, orange, etc.  I used regular limes and it was delish.  🙂

**Omit if you just want the lime curd for a spread, but if you want to fill a cake, add this in to make it firmer so there will be no oozing out of your cake layers!


Now let’s move on to the vanilla custard!  This was my first experience using real live vanilla beans and it was fun!  I was expecting them to be crunchy – I guess kind of like raw green beans – but they were much softer and more of a chewy consistency.  They are easily cut down the middle to reveal a plethora of tiny little baby vanilla seeds!  Put them in your milk and instantly it’s like vanilla ice cream, only it’s custard!  This custard really tastes like vanilla ice cream too.  It is delicious.  And the preparation went off without a hitch.  This recipe is courtesy of my dear friend Ashley (again), who provided me with the recipe and the confidence of “I’ve made it before, so you can too!”  She was right.  🙂  (alas, she usually is…)

This custard was the perfect consistency to make an excellent cake filling.  It was plenty firm enough to create an ooze-free layer of cake.  I’ll do a brief run down of how it went, but overall, it went smoothly.

Once I mixed the egg yolks and sugar together, I added in the flour and corn starch.


Then, I sliced open the vanilla bean and added it to milk in a saucepan and brought that to a boil.  I then added some of that mixture to the egg mixture, stirring constantly (so that the egg wouldn’t cook too fast).

Vanilla beans and custard

Once it’s mixed, I poured the whole thing back into the sauce pan with the remaining milk and vanilla bean.  I added the butter and vanilla and mixed constantly for a few minutes as I watched the custard come to fruition right before my eyes!

Custard coming together

And that is it.  You are done and have delicious vanilla bean custard, complete with tiny vanilla beans in no time!  (I know, sadly you cannot see them in the picture, but they are there!  I promise!)  This is a great recipe for all your custard needs.  If you decide to make either of these recipes, I hope it goes as smoothly for you as it did for me!  Best of luck!  ❤

Vanilla Bean Custard

Yield: about 1¼ cups
Prep time: 20 mins


3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 T cornstarch
2 T flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
1-2 tsp vanilla
2 T butter


  1. Mix together egg yolks and sugar in a heat proof bowl.
  2. Mix flour and corn starch together and add to eggs and sugar mixture.
  3. Place the milk and vanilla bean (cut open) in a saucepan and bring up to a small boil – the milk is foaming.
  4. Pour a bit (about half) of the milk mixture into the egg mixture, making sure to stir the egg mixture constantly as you add the milk to temper the eggs and not cook them.  Note if some of the egg cooked and there are chunks you can run this through a strainer to remove chunks.
  5. Return the milk egg mixture to the saucepan and the rest of the milk and return to a low-med heat. Add the butter and vanilla, stirring constantly.
  6. Stir constantly until it begins to boil/thickens. Sometimes it thickens without really boiling but usually does boil.  If it boils, cook til it thickens about a minute more.  (At this point I tried to scrape out a lot of the seeds on the inside of the bean so they mix in, but I left my bean in for more flavor until I was ready to serve.)
  7. Immediately remove from heat once it thickens…if you want it to be thinner, add a bit more vanilla or milk. Whisk until well incorporated.
  8. Place this in a different bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap on top.  Mix every 20 minutes for an hour to prevent a crust from forming.  (I did not mix every 20 mins for an hour – I just stuck it in the fridge and left it and I had no crust problem.)

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