I love it when people who know I have a blog try something I’ve made and say “this must go on the blog!” This cake elicited that sort of response when I brought the leftovers into the office. Ultra lemony with a lemon curd filling and lightly sweet and soft meringue frosting.
I bake less often than I cook. When I do bake I usually can find plenty inspiration on the blogs I follow. I then follow the recipe closely and usually have great success. I’ve made the mistake of deviating from recipes and have ended up with hard chocolate chip cookies, mushy fruit crisps, and fall apart cupcakes.
But Matt’s birthday was a couple weeks ago and I had in my head a lemon cake with the most intense lemon flavor. The frosting would be a swiss meringue, reminiscent of the most perfect wedding cakes, smooth and buttery but not too sweet. It would be garnished simply with sliced lemons and pistachios. But mostly it would be lemony and sweet like the ultimate lemon bar but in cake form.
My evaluation of recipes showed that few used more than 1-2 lemons. I knew that wouldn’t work but eventually I came across Ina Garten’s lemon cake. It called for 6-8 lemons, mostly using the zest, exactly what I was looking for. The recipe was more for a loaf snacking cake, not the frosted variety I had in mind. Luckily, baking is science and I knew if I paid attention to the details and studied the proportions in recipes I trusted I could figure this out. I decided the recipe could be tweaked for a pan with a couple modification.
One more note on how I bake. Generally I prefer measuring cups but I use a kitchen scale when I weigh out flour and other ingredients prone to mis-measurement. For that reason, those weights are included. If you don’t use a scale just carefully measure the flour (shift and level).
This cake baked up with a crisp, golden exterior that was absolutely beautiful unadorned with frosting. You could stop here and glaze or put a little powdered sugar on top. It should bake relatively flat but a serrated knife can even out the layers if needed. Use the leftover lemons to make a homemade salad dressing as I did. You won’t regret it!
Lemon Cake with Swiss Meringue Frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar (14 oz)
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour (13.5 oz)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (~ lemons)
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
For the Frosting:
5 large, fresh egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into cubes and take out of the refrigerator when starting the frosting
1 Tbsp lemon zest
pinch of salt
For Cake Assembly:
1/2 cup lemon curd
1 cup chopped pistachios (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired. I skipped this step because I planned to frost the cake and knew I could repair any damages then.
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5-10 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the lemon juice, the milk, and vanilla. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix on low or by hand to avoid overheating the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. The top will be golden brown and the sides will have slightly pulled away from the pan.
For the Frosting (modified from Sweetapolita):
Ensure the bowl of your stand mixer is completely clean, containing no traces of grease. This could cause the meringue to collapse. Add egg whites and sugar and place over a simmering pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160°F, or if you don’t have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
Return the bowl to your stand mixer and with whisk attachment begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). Don’t begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl is neutral to the touch.
Slowly, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture. It may curdle, look like soup, or take a while to come together. Keep beating on medium speed and it will eventually come together, don’t worry! Add lemon zest and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
Place a dollop of frosting on the center of a cake plate. Carefully remove the cakes from their pans once cool and place one centered on the cake plate (the frosting will help keep it in place). Spread the lemon curd and top with the second cake. Frost all over with the frosting. Don’t worry about how it looks at first, just worry about coverage then even out as needed. Using the palm of your hand, press the pistachios into all sides of the cake. Top with sliced lemons.
Special Equipment Needed: A stand mixer or electric mixer
Modified from Ina Garten’s Lemon Cake