Thursday, 21 January 2010

Light as a feather Layered Lemon Cake

lemon layer 2
I walk alongside a park on my way to work and today, I walked into the most incredible cloud of blossom scent. For a fleeting second I could almost imagine it was spring. It's not, of course - the UK doesn't normally get the coldest snap of the winter until February. But with the recent snow having finally subsided and the air starting to warm, it feels odd that spring is actually such a long way off. I'm growing a little tired of hearty stews and I'm craving fresh, bright flavours and al fresco dining.

With the latter definitely not being possible for the foreseeable future, I shall have to console myself with this cake. Last week, a dear friend dropped by a jar of homemade lemon curd. If you’ve never made lemon curd, I demand you rush out and buy lemons, eggs, butter and sugar instantly and have a go. It’s so simple and versatile – whether it be the filling for a deeply rich, zesty lemon tart, thickly spread on hot buttered toast or simply eaten straight from the jar with a teaspoon (ahem, which I do more times than I care to confess to!) it’s a beautiful thing. Once I had my mitts on this jar of curd, I couldn’t help but imagine a cake, lighter than air, sandwiched with the intense yellow curd and creamy, sweet icing. A couple of hours later, this beauty was sitting on my counter top.

lemon layer 1
And oh, what a beauty she was! The cake I chose, after much too-ing and fro-ing, was an angel food cake. Having never made one before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it was exactly what this cake needed. It’s so light it’s barely there, but the springy, almost weightless texture perfectly complements the richer cream cheese icing and the sharp citrus hit of the lemon curd. I’m already imaging how many variations on this there could be – maybe coconut and lime? Or orange blossom and blueberries… Whatever you choose, the secret is having several layers of cake (I went for four) with thin layers of icing between, so every bite is packed with flavour but not overwhelmingly rich.

Lemon Angel Food Cake

Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe

400g Caster sugar (or superfine sugar) divided into 300g and 100g portions
165g Plain flour (or cake flour if you can get it)
1½ cups egg whites – I used large eggs and it came out as 10 egg whites
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 large lemons (1½ tsp)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Lightly grease and line 2 9” cake pans.

Mix 100g portion of sugar with the flour and sift together at least 4 times. You’re trying to get as much air into the cake as possible as no raising agents are used. So don’t skip on this step!

Place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk (with the whisk attachment) on high until the whites for medium-firm peaks. With the mixer on medium, add the 300g portion of sugar, gently sprinkling it over the whites. Whisk for a few minutes until thick and glossy. Whisk in the vanilla and lemon zest and whisk for about 1 more minute until very thick.

Sift about ¼ of the flour mix over the egg whites and fold in with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour in the same way until it has all been added and incorporated.

Divide between the two prepared tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 35-40 mins until the tops are golden brown and when pressed, springs back. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tins, then run a knife carefully around the edge and invert onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely before icing.

Be very careful to try and avoid drafts in the kitchen when you’re removing the cakes from the oven and leaving them to cool as they might sink.

Cream Cheese Icing

225g unsalted butter at room temperature.
375g full fat cream cheese
600g Icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice half lemon
Zest of 2 lemons

Beat the butter, then add the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, a good few minutes. Then add the lemon zest and juice. I did this gradually to ensure that I got as much lemon flavour as I wanted without it being too overpowering, but add slowly and keep tasting until you get the flavour you like.

I’m not sure what recipe my friend used, but here’s my go-to lemon curd recipe.

To ice the cake: Take a large, sharp knife and carefully cut the two cakes in half horizontally. Take some squares of parchment paper and place on the cake plate, then place the first layer on top. These parchment squares will be gently removed once you’ve iced the cake and a lovely clean cake board will be left! So make sure they’re just underneath the cake.

Spread a thin layer of lemon curd on the first layer, then a slightly thicker (but don’t be too heavy handed) layer of icing on top. Pop the next layer of cake, followed by curd, then icing. When you get to the last layer, only cover with icing and, if you like (or in my case if the cake needs it) ice the sides as well. This recipe should give you masses of icing. Gently pull away the parchment squares and voila! You’re done.

I think we could have done with popping the cake in the fridge to set, but we had to dash off and transport the cake to Peterborough. There was some sliding of layers issues which you can probably spot on the slice of cake picture!

Rosy xx


  1. Wow, that looks so drool-worthy. I love the idea of doing a version with coconut and lime, perhaps with mango too? Aw, I want to go home and bake now!

  2. I'm with you! Bring on Spring!!!! Great looking cake, sounds devine ;0)