What can be lovelier than layers of sponge cake, heaps of fluffy meringue, rich pastry cream, all scented with lemon? Not much, honestly. This cake is pretty tops. It’s inspired by the classic Cipriani cake, which is a bit on a New York institution (and Martha Stewart’s favorite slice, allegedly). It’s like biting into a cloud, which is a problem when you realize you’re halfway through your third slice. Because of how simple this cake is, you can add whatever flavors you like: fresh fruit, compote, curd, anything fresh and bright is wonderful in this cake.
INGREDIENTS (SPONGE CAKE)
For two 9 inch round cake pans
1 1/3 cups cake flour, sifted then measured
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, packed
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 350 F. Adjust rack in the lower third of oven.
Grease or spray 2 nonstick 9 inch pans and line the bottom with wax paper. Grease the paper as well. Sift flour, half of the sugar (1 cup and 2 tablespoons) and salt into a bowl; set aside.
Whisk egg whites in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer just until frothy. Add cream of tartar; whisk until soft peaks form. Add 3/4 cups sugar in a steady stream, whisking until thicker, stiffer, glossy peaks form – about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Scoop whites into a VERY large bowl (trust me, you’ll need it) and set aside.
In the same bowl you used for the whites, beat the egg yolks with remaining sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes. Add water and beat until thickened, about 4 minutes. It should be very thick and pale. Pour yolk mixture over whites and gently fold together with a rubber spatula.
Sprinkle a third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture; fold to combine. Repeat two more times just until ingredients are incorporated. Gently pour batter into the pans and level tops with a spatula.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until top springs back slightly when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean. Invert pan onto a cooling rack, and cool for about 45 minutes.
To remove cake from pan, slip a butter knife down one side of pan and slowly trace perimeter to release the cake. When sides are free, cover cake with a rack and invert. Remove cake pan and the wax paper. Let the cakes cool completely.
To assemble, slice each layer of cake in half, crossways. Place the first layer on a cake plate, and top with a third of the pastry cream, then add another layer of cake, top with more pastry cream, and continue until the cake is complete. Cover in meringue, and using the back of a spoon, pick up the meringue to create little peaks. If making ahead of time, refridgerate now, and torch just before serving. Use a butane torch to toast the entire thing.
2 cups sugar
8 large egg whites (1 cup)
3 lemons, juiced
Combine the sugar, egg whites and lemon juice in the bowl of an electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Transfer bowl to the mixer stand fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for 10 minutes. Increase to high speed and beat until stiff glossy peaks form, 10 to 15 minutes more.
INGREDIENTS (PASTRY CREAM)
1 vanilla bean
2 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons flour (preferably rice flour for lightness)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream, softly whipped
Make the pastry cream: Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean. In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and 1/2 cup sugar. Scald the mixture and immediately remove from heat.
Beat egg yolks with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until thick. Sprinkle in flour and cornstarch and continue beating until mixed.
Beat half of the hot milk into yolk mixture. Return this to the remaining hot milk and bring to a boil quickly, whisking very fast to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl to cool. Stir in butter. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely. Immediately before using, gently fold in softly whipped cream with a spatula.