Summer Lemon Cake
The delicate sting of sunshine falling on bare skin. The rhythmic cackle of faraway cicadas singing in the treetops. Swaying white and yellow flowers poking up through the greens and tans of a desolate field.
I adore summer. I smile under the sweltering heat. I bask in the sounds of a million summer insects. And I hunt through fields and parries, woods and dry creek beds, and radiant streets for others in love with summer as much as me.
In the south, most of us enjoy the heat. We’ve spent our lives in towns and cities with more days above 80 than below it, where summers poke into triple digit heat on a regular basis, and we’re not planning on leaving anytime soon. We wipe sweaty brows and fan ourselves with the loose bits of paper we carry with us. We tough it up in jeans, though we sometimes admit defeat with shorts and sandals. We pour tall glasses of lemonade and water, always filled to the brim with ice. And our air conditioners buzz away constantly; yet, we spend most of our time outdoors always.
We cook our meals over hot grills and warm BBQs. We brunch on sunny patios and shop on small town Texas main streets. And when we get hot, we read our books on shady porches or under old oaks. We fill our glasses with more ice and lemonade. And sometimes, we sneak into the ice box for a cool summer dessert.
This lemony cake is exactly that: sweet, tart lemon on top of more delicious lemon. The lemon chiffon cake is light, airy, and still moist with the sweet, floral notes only lemon can deliver. The lemon curd adds a tart citrusy bite. And the vanilla swiss buttercream wraps it all in a sweet, creamy, pillowy blanket. It’s not too rich, just tart enough, and plenty sweet to make this a perfect summer cake.
- ¾ cup oil
- 8 egg yolks
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup water
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- 4 lemons, zested
- 14 oz. cake flour
- 14 oz. sugar
- 1½ tbsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 8 egg whites
- 2 cups lemon curd filling, recipe below
- 1 qt. buttercream frosting, recipe below
- Yellow food coloring
- Preheat an oven to 375°F. Butter and flour the bottoms (but not the sides) of the two cake pans
- Sift together the flour, 4 oz. of the sugar (reserve the other 10 oz. for later), baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Mix together the oil and egg yolks until evenly blended.
- Add the lemon juice, water, vanilla, and lemon zest. Mix in well.
- Add the dry ingredient mixture and mix in until evenly distributed. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed for a minute. Set the batter aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until a foam forms. Slowly add the 10 oz of the remaining sugar. Whip at high speed until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
- Carefully fold the meringue, in three additions, into the cake batter.
- Evenly distribute the batter into the prepared cake pans.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back when pressed lightly.
- Set out to cool. In the meantime prepare the curd and the buttercream frosting.
- Separate 1 cup of the buttercream frosting and mix a little yellow food coloring into it to create a bright yellow color. Set aside.
- Once the cake layers have completely cooled, slice each into 3 separate layers, each about 1″ tall.
- Place the first layer on a cake round or cake plate. Spread a fifth of the lemon curd over the top layer.
- Repeat this four more times, topping with the last layer of cake. You should have a 6-tiered cake, with lemon curd between each layer but not on top.
- Spread a very thin layer of uncolored buttercream frosting on the top and sides of the assembled cake. You should still be able to see the cake through the thin layer of icing, but no crumbs or cake should be visible. This is called dirty icing and makes the final icing much easier as it keeps the cake or crumbs from getting mixed into the frosting. Place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes until the frosting has hardened.
- Once the dirty icing layer has hardened, remove the cake from the fridge and spread the uncolored buttercream frosting on the top and side of the cake. Using a large offset spatula, smooth the top of the icing with one gentle movement. Clean the spatula off and now run it along the side of the cake in one fluid movement to smooth the side of the cake.
- Using a small icing spatula, apply small dabs of yellow frosting to the side and top of the cake. Using the small spatula, create small horizontal streaks and stripes with the yellow frosting.
- Using a clean large offset frosting spatula, run it along the top of the cake in a smooth motion to even out and dissipate the yellow stripes. Clean the spatula and repeat on the side of the cake to reduce the intensity of the stripes and to blend them into the white frosting.
- 4 lemons, zested
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- 12 oz. sugar
- ½ oz. cornstarch
- 4 eggs
- 6 oz. unsalted butter
- Zest and juice the lemons. Set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is even.
- Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter. Heat the mixture over low and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
- Cook over boiling for a few seconds until it thickens.
- Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- Once at room temperature, move to the refrigerator to chill completely.
Swiss Buttercream: What most americans call buttercream is a farcry from the true buttercream frostings and fillings that fill pastry kitchens, bakeries, cake decorating shops. Not only is the process much different (and unfortunately for the quick-cake enthusiast, much more time consuming) but the flavors are miles apart. Here I’ve made a swiss buttercream, which relies on a swiss meringue as a base before the butter is added. The result is a delightfully airy, sweet and buttery buttercream frosting that knocks any powdered sugar and butter mixture out of the water. Is it worth the extra work? Yes. One taste and you’ll understand.
- 1 lb 6 oz. sugar
- 1½ cups egg whites (about 8 egg whites)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 lb 4 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Add the sugar, egg whites, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over gently simmering water and heat until the meringue has reached 140°F. Be sure to whisk constantly to keep any part of the eggs from cooking.
- Once the egg mixture has reached 140°F, remove the bowl and place it on the stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whip the mixture on high speed until the meringue has been whipped to stiff peaks and the meringue is around room temperature.
- Reduce the speed on the mixer, add the vanilla, and then add the butter, a little at a time, allowing it to be mixed in completely. Once all the butter is added, gently whip the mixture until it everything is evenly distributed.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is mixed in. If the mixture is too soft or runny, refrigerate to harden it, up to an hour or more.
What’s your favorite lemon dessert?