Tequila + lime + Cointreau combine so perfectly in a frosty cocktail, I thought I’d try them together in layer cake, and here’s the happy result: Tender buttermilk-lime cake layers imbibed with a tequila-lime soaking syrup and frosted with a French-style Cointreau buttercream. The flavor is subtle – you won’t be getting a buzz after enjoying a slice – but the combination is unmistakably margarita-like and bound to put you in a festive frame of mind. I’ve given instructions for making either a 6-inch or 9-inch cake, so choose the one you prefer. Note that I kept the amount of buttercream the same for both; that’s because I like to pipe high dollops on top of the small cake, to emphasize its height. Please eat responsibly. (Photos by Elena Clement.)

Makes one 6-inch or one 9-inch layer cake


  • Lime Buttermilk Cake (for a 6-inch cake):
  • 2 1/4 cups (256 grams) cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/16 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 large (150 grams) eggs
  • 2 teaspoons (4 grams) finely grated lime zest
  • 3/4 cup (181 grams) buttermilk

Lime Buttermilk Cake (for a 9-inch cake)

  • 3 cups (341 grams) cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 16 tablespoons (227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon (6 grams) finely grated lime zest
  • 1 cup (242 grams) buttermilk

Tequila-Lime Soaking Syrup

  • 3 tablespoons (44 grams) water
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) freshly squeezed strained lime juice
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) tequila

Cointreau Buttercream (for both size cakes)

  • 5 large (150 grams) egg whites
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) water
  • 30 tablespoons (423 grams) unsalted butter, softened but cool
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) Cointreau (or Grand Marnier, in a pinch)

Cake Crumb Garnish

  • Domed tops of cake layers
  • 1 ½ teaspoons finely grated lime zest


  • Crispearls (available here)
  • Lime zest
  • Large coconut flakes, lightly toasted (toast in a skillet over medium-low heat, tossing frequently)


Make the Cakes

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of either two round 6-inch diameter by 3-inch high cake pans (to make a 6-inch cake) OR two round 9-inch diameter by 2-inch high cake pans (to make a 9-inch cake). Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
  1. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed for 3 minutes, until well blended and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, reduce the speed to medium, and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and mixing until blended (the batter will look curdled at this point, but will become smooth once the flour is added). Beat in the lime zest until blended. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the buttermilk in two additions. Mix just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly, and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
  1. Bake the cakes for 20 to 25 minutes (for the 9-inch cakes) OR 40 to 45 minutes (for the 6-inch cakes), until they are lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans, set on wire racks, for 15 minutes.
  1. Invert the cakes onto wire racks, reinvert them so that the domed side is up, and cool completely.

Make the Tequila-Lime Soaking Syrup

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, lime juice, and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally just to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tequila. Let stand at room temperature until ready to use (you can make this ahead and store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use).

Make the Cointreau Buttercream

  1. Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, egg whites, and water. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
  1. Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
  1. Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat in the vanilla extract and Cointreau. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute. Mix at medium speed until completely combined. Set aside at least 1/2 cup (for the 6-inch cake) or 2/3 cup (for the 9-inch cake) of the buttercream to garnish the cake.

Make the Cake Crumb Garnish

  1. Using a serrated bread knife, cut off the domed top of each cake so that it is completely level. Break the domed cake pieces into chunks, place them in a food processor with the finely grated lime zest. Process the chunks until fine crumbs form. Set the crumbs aside.

Assemble the Cake

  1. Using the serrated knife, cut each cake layer horizontally in half to make a total of 4 cake layers. Place one of the layers on a cardboard cake round or cake plate and using a pastry brush, soak it well with the Tequila-Lime Soaking Syrup. Using a metal icing spatula, spread a scant ½ cup (for the 6-inch cake) or a full ½ cup (for the 9-inch cake) of buttercream on top of it, covering it completely. Top with another cake layer and repeat the soaking and layering, ending with the last cake layer. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake (this is a crumb coat). Refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes, to chill the buttercream.
  1. Spread the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake, making the buttercream as smooth as possible.
  1. Pat the reserved cake crumbs gently and evenly around the side of the cake.
  1. Put the reserved buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a 0.63-inch open star tip (such as Ateco #828). Pipe large star dollops around the edge of the cake. Garnish with some white chocolate Crispearls, lime zest and coconut flakes. Serve the cake at room temperature. Store leftover cake in the refrigerator.

Recommended Equipment

Wilton Aluminum 6-Inch Round Cake Pan Set

Wilton Small Cake Leveler, for Cakes 10 Inches or Less


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Tish Boyle
Tish Boylehttps://pastryathome.com
Tish Boyle is the Managing Editor of Pastry Arts Magazine, a food writer and cookbook author with expertise in baking, desserts and chocolate. A graduate of Smith College and La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine, Tish has written several dessert and baking books including Chocolate Passion, Diner Desserts, The Good Cookie, The Cake Book and Flavorful. Co-writing credits include Payard Desserts and the Grand Finales series of books.

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