Sometimes you need someone else to come up with a bright idea — especially the ones that are so obvious in hindsight — so you can simply partake in its glory. That's how we feel about this confection that brings the flavors and gooey textures of lemon meringue pie to a towering layer cake. We're just happy someone dreamt it up so we can make it at home! To demystify some of the magic, start by watching this video. It will show you how to turn three glorious layers of buttery lemon cake, homemade lemon curd, and meringue frosting into this citrus-lover's dream cake.
A Word of Advice: Take It Step by Step
Baking a cake of this magnitude has a wonderful way of making you slow down; it's how to make this project feasible and enjoy the process of it all. So make the cakes one day — they can even be stashed in the freezer for up to a week — and then make the curd and frosting the next. Store-bought curd can work here, but nothing truly compares to the fresh homemade stuff.
While it might be nice to have someone around when you get to the part of torching the meringue frosting to witness just how cool a trick it is, we don't consider it necessary. You'll impress yourself with your cake-baking finesse. And those friends of yours? They'll be smitten with this delicious — and gorgeous — creation you were able to whip up.
Well done, you!
Lemon Meringue Layer Cake
Makes 1 (8- or 9-inch) layer cake, serves 12 to 18
For the cake:
1/2 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for coating the pans
For the lemon curd:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 medium lemons)
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
Pinch kosher salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the meringue topping:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
For decoration (optional):
Fresh or dried lemon slices
Citrus tree leaves and blossoms
Make the cake: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat 2 (8- or 9-inch) round cake pans with butter, then line the bottom of each with a parchment paper round; set aside.
Whisk the milk, eggs, and vanilla together in a medium bowl; set aside.
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat to combine.
Add the butter and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add 1/2 of the milk mixture and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the remaining milk mixture. The batter will look slightly curdled.
Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake until the top bounces back when you gently press it, or a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Place the pans on a wire rack and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake to loosen, flip the cakes out, remove the parchment paper, then place right-side up back on the rack to cool completely before filling and frosting. Meanwhile, make the lemon curd.
Make the lemon curd: Place the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, yolk, and salt in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Place over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and reaches a temperature of 150°F. It will take a while, but do not turn up the heat or you risk curdling the eggs. It is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and leaves a trail when you move a whisk or spoon through it.
Pour the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Add the butter to the warm curd and stir until completely melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.
Make the meringue: Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer over low heat. Place the egg whites and sugar in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large heatproof bowl.)
Place the bowl on the saucepan and stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is the temperature of a hot bath.
Fit the bowl onto the mixer and fit with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer the meringue to a piping bag.
Assemble and decorate the cake: If the cakes are not level, use a serrated knife to trim the tops. Cut each cake in half horizontally so that you now have 4 layers.
Place 1 of the cakes on a cake or serving plate. Pipe a ring of meringue around the edge of the cake as a border. Dollop 1/3 of the lemon curd onto the middle of the cake and spread into an even layer. Top with a second cake layer and repeat with piping the meringue and filling the center with lemon curd. Top with a third cake layer and repeat with piping the meringue and filling the center with lemon curd. Top with the fourth and final cake layer.
Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining meringue. Use an offset spatula to create swirls and peaks in the meringue.
Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue, being careful not to stay in one place for too long to minimize the risk of burning. Decorate with the lemon slices and citrus blossoms if using.
- Make ahead: The lemon curd can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The cake layers can also be baked ahead. Do not level or split the cakes. Wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for 1 day, or in the freezer for up to 1 week. Defrost before using.
- Storage: The assembled cake can be covered in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Credits: Emily Petrick is a West Coast-based baker and food stylist. She is a Cordon Bleu graduate and worked at several prestigious Los Angeles bakeries before starting her own business. She is happiest when she is experimenting and making a mess in her kitchen. You can see more of her work on her website.