Spring is here. Finally. If the slightly warmer temperatures and rainy weather did not signal an end to this rather rough winter, the fact that my winter coat has been hanging, untouched, on a hook for the past week confirms my suspicions. Sunny bunches of daffodils greet me each morning, as I resist the urge to collect each one into a large, beautiful bouquet.
Amidst the changing seasons, Mike's lovely grandmother, Mary, celebrated her birthday last week. The family gathered over Sunday brunch and I was more than happy to not only provide the cake, but also to have been given full authority in selecting the flavors. While normally I would fret over such a decision, waning back-and-forth between ideas, I immediately knew what flavors I wanted this special cake to offer: a sunny freshness, a light creaminess, and a unmistakable, loving richness.
Lemon Meringue Cake
adapted from Tartine by Elizabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson
makes one 10-inch layer cake
Elizabeth describes this cake as one of the most popular choices at Tartine. With just one bite, you will know why: fresh, light, sweet, creamy. All of the flavors and textures melt together seamlessly. As your last taste fades away and you quietly think, "I couldn't possibly have another bite", you will be startled to find your fork seeking out every last crumb of your treasured slice of this delicious cake.
Basic Chiffon Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 (scant 1/2 cup) large egg yolks
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons lemon zest, grated
10 (about 1 1/3 cups) large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch table salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
7 (scant 1 cup) large egg whites
1 3/4 cups sugar
Pinch table salt
Basic Chiffon Cake
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with 3-inch sides with parchment paper cut to fix exactly. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes, until very smooth and lump-free.
Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Using a rubber spatula, scoop about one-third of the whites onto the yolk mixture and fold in gently to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool in the pan (the sides of the pan will help hold the structure of the cake as it cools) on a wire rack. To unmold, run a small, thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake and then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment. Note: the cake will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Pour the cream into a small heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Place 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, salt, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool. Measure out 1 cup of the caramel to be used in filling the cake. Reserve the remaining 1/2 cup for another use.
Note: the caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches in a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt in a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the saucepan over, not touching, the water. Whisk the ingredients together. (Note: Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the sugar will "cook" the yolks and turn them granular.) Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180°F on a thermometer. This will take 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool to 140°F, stirring from time to time to release the heat.
Meanwhile, cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. When the cream is ready, leave it in the bowl if using an immersion blender, or pour it into a counter top blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and opaque and quite thick.
Note: you can use the cream immediately, or pour it into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days. To use after refrigeration, gently heat in a stainless-steel bowl set over simmering water until it has softened.
Combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and then chill until cool to the touch, about 30 minutes. Whisk the lemon juice into the syrup.
Split the cake into layers: the easiest way to divide the cake into layers is to use a long, thin serrated knife. Place the cake on a flat surface and mark 4 layers of equal thickness. Working from the top to the bottom of the cake, hold the knife parallel to the work surface and using a sawing motion, cut through the cake, checking that the tip end and handle end of the knife are level and slicing where you marked. Take off the first layer and set it aside before you begin to cut the next layer.
Fill the layers: fit a 10-inch cake board into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Fit 1 cake layer onto the cake board. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer evenly with one-fourth of the lemon syrup. Using an offset spatula, spread one-third of the caramel over the cake, and then spread with one-third of the lemon cream. Repeat with 2 more layers, using up the remaining caramel and lemon cream. Top with the fourth cake layer and moisten with the remaining lemon syrup. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Make the Italian Meringue: pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the stainless-steel bowl of a stand mixer that will rest securely in the rim of the saucepan over, not touching, the water. Whisk together and then place over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the whites are hot to the touch (120°F), about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the water and place on the mixer stand. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment and mix on high speed until the mixture is very thick and holds glossy, stiff peaks when you lift the beater.
Cover the cake: release and lift off the pan sides. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cake to a serving plate, if using, or place on cake turntable, if boxing. Using the offset spatula, immediately frost the top of the cake with the meringue, followed by the sides, creating swoops and peaks. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the meringue, and then lightly blacken some of the tips of the peaks. The cake can be served immediately or kept cold in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It will keep for up to 1 week.