Preheat oven to 350. Butter and lightly flour three 8″ round pans. Line with parchment paper circles.
Sift together 3 cups cake flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine milk and lemon juice. Stir to combine and set aside for milk to curdle. This is similar to making homemade buttermilk!
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high using the paddle attachment. Beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
With the mixer on low, add eggs one at a time. Mix well after each egg.
Add vanilla extract and lemon extract. Mix to combine.
Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over mix. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and mixing blade.
Divide batter evenly between the three 8″ round pans.
Bake for 28-30 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
Let cool in pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove to wire rack to finish cooling.
Make the Strawberry Reduction:
Combine strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a sauté pan over medium heat.
Cook 25 minutes until the juices are bubbly and the berries are soft enough to smash with the back of a spoon.
Press the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl to remove the seeds. Use the back of your wooden spoon to really press as much pulp through as you can. Scrape the underside of the strainer to get all of the accumulated strawberry pulp. Discard seeds and return strained puree back to the pan.
Cook on medium-low, stirring with a wooden spoon, until reduced to only ¼ cup remains, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Pour into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pushing the plastic down to touch the strawberry reduction so that a skin does not form. Allow to cool.
Make the Strawberry Buttercream:
In bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and salt until creamy.
Add vanilla extract and cooled strawberry reduction. Mix well.
Gradually add confectioner’s sugar 1 cup at a time, mix and scrape down sides of bowl as necessary.
Whip on medium-high for several minutes until smooth and fluffy.
Remove ½ cup of frosting from the mixing bowl and reserve for decoration.
Assemble the Cake:
Place one layer of cake onto serving plate or cake stand and top with ½ cup of strawberry frosting. Arrange a layer of strawberry slices on top of the frosting, leaving some space between each slice so that the slices are not touching. Spread another ½ cup of strawberry frosting on top, using your spatula to push the frosting down around the strawberry slices, so they are completely enclosed in frosting.
Repeat with second cake layer, more frosting, strawberries and frosting. Top with the last layer of cake. Crumb coat and frost cake with remaining frosting.
Pipe 6 swirls of frosting onto the cake using a French star pastry tip. Refrigerate cake for 5 minutes for the swirls to set. Decorate with lemon slices, whole strawberries and paper straws, if desired.
Store in refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.
You may bake this as two full-sized 8″ round cake layers. Alternatively, I baked it as three intentionally shorter 8″ round layers – this saves time and effort because the shorter layers do not need to be torted.
If frosting loses air or becomes sparse while assembling the cake, whip it again to add air back in and increase volume.
It is important to remove excess liquid from the strawberry slices used between the cake layers. Do this by slicing them and laying them out on a baking sheet between two layers of paper towels. Refrigerate overnight. Carefully remove strawberry slices from paper towels when ready to assemble your cake.
For an even thicker or sweeter frosting, add additional confectioners’ sugar as desired.