Lemon Layer Cake

Lemons are magical, aren’t they? They are Jacks of all trades, Masters of all, and infinitely adaptable chameleons in the kitchen. Their juice goes onto fish, into salad dressings and marinades, over pasta, into soups, and in a fit of kitchen chemistry, becomes hollandaise (the most perfect sauce of all time). Their zest is added to everything from savory sauces to fruit crumbles. They are always the strong supporting actress, but rarely the lead. When they do win that coveted role though, they always come away with an Oscar.

My favorite way to showcase lemons is through lemon curd. It just doesnt.get.any.better. Pucker-inducing, butter laden lemon curd with little more than lightly sweetened whipped cream and a spoon…oh be still my heart. When I saw this lemon cake in Saveur a few months ago, I had a hunch it would be mine. When I saw that the frosting consists of lemon curd and butter ONLY, I knew it would be mine. Yes you heard me. Just lemon curd and butter.

This cake has 3 lemony components: zest-flavored lemon cake, lemon simple syrup and lemon curd frosting. You might imagine that it calls for a LOT of the yellow fruits. The lemon curd itself calls for a cup of fresh juice and…wait for it…a full quarter cup of zest. I think I giggled wildly when I saw that measurement. A quarter cup of lemon zest is hilariously impossible. Unless, of course, you have every single lemon in the world and minions who will zest them for you. I settled for just zesting all the lemons I was juicing (~20 total) and calling it a day at that point, still not quite to that quarter cup. A word to the wise: try to remember that you need zest before you juice your lemons; juiced lemons are super difficult to zest, it turns out. I mean, not that I did that. Who, me? Never.

This finished cake is AMAZING. It’s like eating a slice of lemon curd, with maybe a little cake in there somewhere. It is pure summer, bright and tart and not too sweet. The lemon simple syrup keeps the cake moist and the icing, oh, the icing. I flat-out DARE you not to eat it with a spoon. Actually, I wouldn’t do that to you-it would just be too cruel. Go ahead and grab that spoon, I won’t tell.

Lemon Layer Cake

From Saveur.

The lemon curd needs to be completely cool before becoming icing, so I would suggest making it the day before you plan on assembling the cake. Buy 20 lemons to be safe and look for ones with thin skin-they tend to be more juicy

CAKE:
16 T unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 1/2 c cake flour, plus more for pans, sifted
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
1/2 c milk
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c sugar
1 t lemon zest (~1-2 lemons)
4 eggs

SYRUP:
1/4 c sugar
1/3 c fresh lemon juice

LEMON CURD:
1 1/2 c sugar
1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 c lemon zest (Just zest all the lemons that you’ll be juicing)
1 t kosher salt
10 egg yolks
1 c fresh lemon juice (~12-16 lemons)

FROSTING:
1 batch lemon curd (above)
1 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 t vanilla extract

Several hours or a day before you want to assemble, make the lemon curd:

  • In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, zest, and salt
  • Add the yolks,  whisking until smooth; stir in juice
  • Turn the heat on to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (I use a whisk). continue to cook until very thick (~3 min)
  • Transfer to a bowl and chill overnight or several hours, until totally cool

Make the Cakes:

  • Heat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla
  • In the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and zest until pale a fluffy (~3 min)
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, completely combining after each addition
  • On low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients (3 batches) and the wet ingredients (2 batches)
  • Beat on high until smooth (just a few seconds)
  • Pour evenly into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops with a spatula. Lightly drop the pans onto the counter to dislodge bubble (this is a sturdy batter, so you can drop them pretty vigorously- I was too cautious and did have bubbles)
  • Bake ~30 min or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean
  • Cool for 20 minutes in pan, then turn onto cooling rack
While the cake bakes, make the syrup:
  • In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the sugar and juice to a boil
  • Remove from heat

Make the frosting:

  •  In the large bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and 1/4 of the curd on medium speed, until fluffy
  • Add half of the remaining curd, beat until smooth, then add the last of the curd and the vanilla
  • Beat until pale and fluffy, ~3 min

Assemble the cake:

  • Using a serrated knife, cut each of the cake layers in half horizontally to make a total of 4 cake layers
  • Place one layer on you plate and drizzle with 2 T syrup, then spread with 3/4 c frosting
  • Repeat the process with the next 3 layers, drizzling with syrup and spreading with frosting each time
  • Evenly cover the tops and sides of the cake
  • Chill cake to firm frosting, but serve at room temp
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