The Mighty Whisk

AriCooks, cake, dessert, Tips and Tricks

Although it may not technically be summer yet, the heat has arrived here in Israel and one must adjust their cooking and baking style accordingly. This weekend is Jeff’s birthday and his cake request was for something “like a lemon-meringue pie, but a cake” —  a challenge (made even more so by the fact that I could not find my mixer’s beaters…more on that in a moment). What resulted was a cake that drew from two of my favorite baking books, whose recipes I find to be tasty, reliable, and — most importantly — very much like the pictures they provide!

The following is a how-to for this lemony meringue cake, in particular for those of you without an electric mixer. If you do have a mixer, well then by all means use it! Of course, if you want to feel accomplished, salt-of-the-earth and a little punk-rock, try it with just a whisk. It will only hurt a little.

Lemon Meringue Birthday Cake, with components from Nick Malgieri’s Modern Baker and Williams Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking

Special thanks to my friend Liz Steinberg for seeking out corn syrup in Tel Aviv!!  

Make the lemon chiffon cakes, makes two-9 inch round cakes

3 lemons

2 1/2 cups of cake flour (I could not find regular cake flour here in Jerusalem, so I used self-rising cake flour and left out the baking powder and salt)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (I used a little less, ~1 cup)

1 Tbs baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup water

6 large eggs separated when cold (it is much easier to separate cold eggs), used at room temperature

1/2 tsp cream of tartar (I did not have this, and really it is not necessary. Cream of tartar is an acid that helps your whites relax and whip up more easily — letting them come to room temp does the same thing.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325°F/165°C. Grate the zest from the lemons and set aside. Juice the lemons and strain the juice into a measuring pitcher. You should have 1/2 a cup of juice. Have 2-9 inch baking pans ready — leave them ungreased, since chiffon cakes need to cling to the sides of the pan to rise.

Sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the oil, water, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Using a whisk, beat until well-mixed. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until the batter is smooth.

In a large, clean bowl beat the egg whites and cream of tartar (if using) with a very clean balloon whisk (or whatever you’ve got). The bowl and whisk MUST BE COMPLETELY OIL/YOLK FREE to start! Beat until soft peaks form. You must not stop whisking once you have begun, until your whites have reached the desired stage. Good luck!!

Using a rubber spatula, GENTLY fold one-half of the whites into the batter until almost fully incorporated. Add the remaining whites into the batter until just combined. The batter should be smooth but a bit foamy. Divide the batter between the two ungreased pans and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks for 45 minutes, then run a knife around the sides, tap the bottoms, and remove from the pan.

If making these ahead, wrap tightly and freeze.

Make the lemon curd

Ari’s Note: The key with lemon curd it to not scramble your eggs — that means that you cannot stop whisking once your mixture is on the stove, that you should keep an eye on your burner (I turn mine up and down throughout), and that it is a good idea to have a strainer and bowl ready (set over an ice bath is ideal) so that you can get the mixture out of the hot pot as soon as it has thickened. 

Zest of 2 lemons

Juice of 2 lemons, strained

6 Tbs sugar

2 large whole eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks (save those whites, you’ll need them for the frosting)

1/4 cup (2 oz/4 tbs) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces

In a small pot, combine the lemon zest and juice, sugar, eggs and yolks, and put on a medium flame. Whisk steadily and with vigor for a few minutes, then add the butter as you continue whisking. Whisk until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (it may take a few minutes) and then immediately pour through the strainer, into the bowl. NEVER ALLOW THE CURD TO BOIL.

Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap (so a skin does not form), poke a few holes, and allow it to cool. You can refrigerate the cooled curd for up to 5 days. If you are using it that day the curd must be completely chilled (3 hours in fridge).

Makes about 3/4 cup, enough to fill your cake, plus some to serve on the side. 

Make the fluffy white icing

Ari’s Note: Without going into too much scientific detail, the use of corn syrup in meringue frostings is very intentional. Corn syrup is an invert sugar that makes for creamy confections because its sugars have been molecularly altered to never return to crystal-form. I know that these days there is a lot of controversy over corn syrup because it is used in so many foods that don’t really need to be sweetened to begin with. You are welcome to use another frosting recipe if you so choose, but really, how often do you eat a lemon meringue birthday cake? 

4 large eggs

large pinch of salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup (do not use the oiling-the-measuring cup trick to get the syrup out, or your egg whites will have oil in them and will not whip up)

Fill a saucepan 1/3 full with water and bring to a boil. In a heat-proof bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Place the bowl over the gently simmering water (you should be regulating the temp so that you just have a simmer going), whisk continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has reached 130°F/55°C. Then take it off the heat and continue to whisk vigorously until it has cooled and become white and very fluffy.

Assembling the Cake

Place one cake layer on a cutting board and, if it is very domed, even out the top with a long serrated knife, slicing horizontally across the top of the cake to make it flat so the next layer will sit nicely on top. Spread a layer of lemon curd on the cake and place the other cake-round on top. Frost with the fluffy icing and serve with lemon curd on the side. The cake is even better one day after it is made. Store in the fridge.

Breaking my own rule -- it's really best to do the sides first, but I was not sure how drippy my hand-whipped frosting would be!

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