ridiculous lemon meringue cake

by Stacy

It’s ridiculous on several levels. It takes a ridiculous amount of time, a ridiculous amount of pans and dishes, and it is ridiculously good.

lemon meringue birthday cake

And while I realize that I have posted the link approximately twelve million times, it bears repeating that I would not have neither seen nor made this cake without first reading about it on The Way the Cookie Crumbles.

In retrospect, I was so excited about this cake that I didn’t realize how ambitious it really is. A chiffon cake is split and soaked with a lemon syrup, then layered with both caramel sauce and a lemon cream filling, chilled, and swirled with a Swiss meringue before being torched. All of those elements, in addition to requiring copious amounts of eggs, can be easily ruined. It’s also fairly time-consuming and has to be left to chill for at least 4 hours. So be warned, it’s a serious project cake.

lemon meringue birthday cake

I was very happy with the outcome. The tartness of the lemon nicely offset the sweetness of the caramel which added some depth of flavor to the chiffon-lemon cream-fluffy meringue combo. It’s still extremely rich. More important, it was pretty! Several people came over to help eat the cake (some of them even drove 2 hours to do so), so their opinions may be different than mine.

lemon meringue birthday cake

Luckily, I have made caramel and pudding (lemon cream) before, so I wasn’t too worried. The chiffon cake was a new adventure, though not unfamiliar, and I have only made meringue once before.

I did leave an entire stick of butter out of the lemon cream, and it turned out fine. I also made a little less lemon syrup than the recipe called for, because I ran out of sugar. Oops.

lemon meringue birthday cake

If I was ever allowed to buy any more kitchen items ever again (read: over my husband’s dead body) I would add to my list smaller cake pans. The two 9-inch cake pans I used are the only size I have (other than a 10″ springform pan, muffin pans, and a bundt pan, all still in Minnesota), and I think halving the recipe and making the cake smaller would be excellent. Even after five people having seconds, only half the cake is gone. So if you’re in SoCal, please come over for cake. I can make coffee!

lemon meringue birthday cake

The cake stayed in the fridge, wrapped in plastic, until after dinner (Jake’s in Del Mar). Then I made the meringue and frosted it right before serving so we could all witness the torching. My new butane chef’s torch took the meringue-swathed cake from fluffy to fabulous. Not only did it add some dramatic flair to the presentation, it was really fun!

I promise this will be the last post on this cake. Apologies for my obsession. Now that I will be eating this cake for the next week, I won’t need to make it again. I will need to start working out.

Lemon Meringue Cake

(adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth Pruett and Chad Robertson)

Makes a 9-inch round cake

Chiffon Cake:
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar, divided
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
½ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
10 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper, no greasing needed.

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl (this will be important later). Add 1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, pour in the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes until very smooth.

In another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Add a third of the egg whites to the yolk mixture and fold gently to lighten, then fold in the remaining whites until just combined.

Pour the batter equally into the pans, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto the wire rack or a plate and peel off the parchment.

⅔ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cup (8.5 ounces) sugar
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pour the cream and vanilla extract into a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and salt over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar until the mixture boils. Continue heating without stirring until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

To prevent the caramel from burning, have cream ready. Very carefully add the cream to the sugar syrup, being careful to avoid spattering caramel. The caramel will bubble up vigorously. When the mixture simmers down, whisk until smooth. Add lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the caramel gradually, whisking constantly after each addition. Whisk the caramel periodically as it cools.

Lemon Cream:
½ cup + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
¾ cup (6 ounces) sugar
pinch salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter (It originally called for 2 sticks of butter. I left one out on purpose.)

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water in the pan) and add the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt. Whisk until the mixture thickens or reaches 80°C (180°F) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and let it cool down until warm to touch (60°C or 140°F on a thermometer). Pour the lemon cream in a blender or food processor add the butter in small pieces while the blender is running. Allow lemon cream to cool to room temperature.

Lemon Syrup:
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup (2.5 ounces) sugar
⅓ cup lemon juice

In a nonreactive saucepan, stir together the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Transfer syrup to a bowl, let cool for a bit, then chill for half an hour. Stir in the lemon juice.

Split each chiffon cake horizontally into two equal layers (four total). Place one layer on your serving plate and moisten evenly with ¼ of the lemon syrup (place in a spray bottle for easy, even coverage). Gently spread ⅓ of the caramel over the cake, then top with ⅓ of the lemon cream. Repeat with 2 more layers, using up the remaining caramel and lemon cream. Top with the final cake layer and moisten with the remaining lemon syrup. Wrap the cake snugly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Swiss Meringue:
7 egg whites
1¾ cup (12.25 ounces) sugar
pinch of salt

In a heatproof bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the whites are hot to the touch, about 120F, about 5 minutes. Beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick and holds stiff, glossy peaks.

Unwrap the cake and spread a thin layer of the meringue all over as a crumb coat. Then add a generous coating of meringue and use a spatula or a spoon to create dramatic swirls. Use a propane torch to scorch the meringue for dramatic effect.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

CinnamonQuill October 1, 2009 at 7:17 am

It’s so gorgeous; I definitely think I’ll attempt this…It belongs in an art museum though. An incredible feat!


stacy October 1, 2009 at 10:11 am

Thank you! I admit that I did NOT take a process photo of the layers before it was frosted. It wasn’t bad, but that meringue definitely covers up any flaws. The swirling and torching was also lots of fun. =)

I popped by your site and that lattice crust photo should be in a magazine. Beautiful!


Shauna from Piece of Cake October 1, 2009 at 8:44 am

Your photo caught my eye on Tastespotting–I’ve taken on this cake, too! I think it was nearly two years ago, and I still remember all the work that went into it. I called it the Three Day Cake. It’s really a bear, isn’t it? Delicious, though. Nice work!


stacy October 1, 2009 at 9:52 am

Thanks for stopping by! I am pretty sure I just gained five pounds looking at your beautiful site, by the way. I will be sure to check back often. =)

As I said in the post, I’m glad I’d made most of the elements before or it would have been much harder. It was my first baking project after a whole month without a kitchen, so it wasn’t so bad despite the time involved. I was just happy I had a place to bake it!


Emma @ Poires au Chocolat July 25, 2010 at 9:07 am

This is stunning! I saw your comment on Tartelette and had to come and see in more detail. I love project cakes like this :)


Stacy July 25, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Thank you! “Project cakes” is right, and it was worth it. =)


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