Yesterday was Mr. Little Mama’s birthday, and as is my custom I made him a cake from scratch. Usually I make a chocolate cake, but earlier this year I picked up the Jan/Feb issue of Food Network Magazine, which had a birthday-cake-of-the-month feature.
The April cake, lemon meringue, just happens to be Mr. Little Mama’s favorite pie; he has repeatedly asked me to make it for Thanksgiving, and I have repeatedly refused because lemon meringue pie is NOT Thanksgiving pie. But for a late spring birthday? Perhaps the perfect cake. It was pretty funny to watch my kids pucker at the lemon filling – I kept telling them they needed to create the “perfect bite” of filling, cake, AND super-sweet meringue frosting.
I have to confess that the three foods I hate most in life are peas, lamb, and white birthday cake with white frosting. Perhaps it is too many store-bought “buttercreams” devoid of all butter, I don’t know, but I loathe it. (Cake-flavored vodka? Ohgodpleaseno.) However, the Food Network’s vanilla cake recipe, which is the base for the lemon meringue variation, redeems the vanilla birthday cake from my own personal cake hell. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try another of these themed cakes some time. For now we’ve got a lot more lemon meringue to finish off.
- 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
- 3 c. plus 6 T. cake flour
- 1 T. baking powder
- ½ t. salt
- 1¼ c. sugar
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 T. vanilla
- 1¼ c. whole milk
- ¾ c. sugar
- 6 egg yolks (save 4 of the whites for the meringue frosting)
- ⅓ c. fresh lemon juice
- 1 T. grated lemon zest
- 1 T. plus 1 t. cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 6 T. cold butter, cut into pieces
- 4 egg whites
- 1 c. sugar
- pinch of cream of tartar
- ½ t. vanilla extract
- For cake: preheat oven to 350. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together and set aside. In a stand mixer, beat 2 sticks of butter with the sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Meanwhile, line the bottom of two 9-inch cake pans with parchment, and use the wrappers from the butter to grease the pans, then flour lightly. When the butter is fluffy, reduce speed and beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk in three additions each until smooth. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans on rack 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely.
- For lemon curd: Whisk together all ingredients except butter in a small saucepan. Whisk occasionally over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves completely, and keep whisking continuously until mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Whisk in butter a piece at a time until melted, then strain through a strainer into a bowl. Press plastic wrap directly to surface of curd and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
- For frosting: Put a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let water touch bowl) and add egg whites and sugar to bowl. Whisk until sugar dissolves, about 4 minutes, then transfer mixture to a stand mixer fitted with balloon whisk attachment and add cream of tartar and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, 8-10 minutes.
- To assemble: spread one layer of cake with lemon curd to within ½ inch of edge of cake, and top with second layer, pressing down gently. Cover the cake with the meringue and use the back of a spoon to swirl and make peaks. Brown with a kitchen torch. Serve immediately or refrigerate.