It was my birthday last weekend so I did what any totally sane newly 36 year old with a 10.5 month and a 6-going-on-16 year old would do – took on a multi-day, four component layer cake baking project for my birthday cake!
And even better than that, I chose the cake that *I* wanted, which – in case you couldn’t tell – was basically the lemoniest lemon cake that I could find. Never mind that Remy only likes chocolate, my brother claims to hate anything that’s not vanilla, and my husband has some sort of PTSD from a lemon cake his mother foisted upon him when he was little (he was expecting chocolate and it very much was not). I was getting my lemon cake, even if it meant I would have to eat the whole thing myself.
The good news is that this cake was universally loved by the lemon lovers (me), the lemon skeptics, and the lemon averse.
The bad news is that because everyone loved the cake so much I did not, in fact, get to eat the whole thing myself.
You win some, you lose some, and then you eat cake.
One of my biggest pet peeves with lemon cakes is that most of them don’t actually taste all that lemony. However, this lemon raspberry cake is absolutely bursting with lemon flavor from all angles.
The cake layers are infused with a bit of lemon zest and then brushed with a gloriously tart lemon sugar syrup that infuses bright flavor into every bite. Then, the layers are filled with a combination of lemon curd as well as lemon buttercream. It is a lemon EXPLOSION.
Raspberries are also included in-between each layer for added fruity sweet-tart glory.
Let’s dive into the specifics here. I’ll start off by stating the obvious (especially if you’ve skimmed down to the actual recipe and, on seeing how long it is, had a panic attack): THIS IS A PROJECT. A fun, delicious, totally worth it project, but a project nonetheless.
There are four components to this cake: the actual cake itself, lemon curd, buttercream, and lemon syrup. The cake is a cross between a typical butter cake and an angel food cake, with a whopping six egg whites being whipped and folded in just before baking. The resulting cake is really light and soft, with enough porosity to soak up the lemon syrup. One word of caution is to make sure that the mixing bowl being used to whip the egg whites is completely clean before whipping. If it has even a trace of fat on it, the eggs won’t whip properly, which will affect the structural integrity of your cake.
The lemon curd is fairly standard as far as lemon curds go. Lemon juice, butter, and heavy cream are heated in a skillet and then slowly mixed into an egg yolk and sugar mixture to temper the eggs. This mixture is then cooked on the stovetop until thickened. It needs to be stirred constantly to prevent overcooking of the eggs (no one wants scrambled egg curd) and it is best to strain it afterwards to ensure that you end up with a completely smooth curd. The curd will thicken and set up as it chills, so keep this in mind if it still seems a bit loose after cooking.
I recommend making the cake and the lemon curd the night before you intend to assemble and eat the cake. This ensures that both of these components cool completely, which is critical to the cake’s success. Trying to frost too-warm cake is a recipe for disaster (pun intended) and the lemon curd really needs to be quite cold in order to set adequately and be mixed into the frosting with no issues.
The frosting for the cake is a variation of French buttercream, which uses a technique similar to Swiss meringue buttercream but replaces egg whites with egg yolks. The yolks add a lovely richness to the frosting that can’t be achieved with egg whites alone. Lemon curd is added to about half of the buttercream for the filling, while the remaining half is left plain and used to frost the outside of the cake. The most common pitfall when making this kind of frosting is using butter that is either too warm or too cold. If you suspect the problem is that the frosting is too cold, then you can melt a bit of it in the microwave and then add it back into the frosting to raise the temperature of the entire batch. If it is too warm and soupy, then try re-whipping it after refrigerating it for 15-20 minutes.
The lemon syrup is probably the easiest part of this cake. It is literally just a mixture of sugar, lemon juice and water that has been heated on the stove until the sugar melts and completely dissolves in the liquid. It thickens into a syrup as it cools. This gets brushed onto the top of each of the cake layers to ensure that there is lemon flavor (literally) oozing out of every bite.
Once all of the components are made, the assembly is fairly standard and straightforward. So, yes, making the cake is a bit of a journey but you’ll get there. And at the end you’ll have cake.
- 6 tbsp (86 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 6 tbsp (75 g) neutral oil
- 1⅓ cups (270 g) sugar, divided
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- zest of 1 lemon
- 3 cups (360 g) cake flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup (240 g) milk, room temperature
- 6 large egg whites
- 1 cup (240 g) fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup (56 g) unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1½ cups (300 g) sugar
- ¾ cup (180 g) water
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3 cups (681 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch chunks
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup (120 g) fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup (120 g) water
- ¾ cup (150 g) sugar
- 1 pint (260 g) raspberries
- Heat oven to 350F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, oil, and 1 cup of the sugar (200 g) for 2-3 minutes or until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the vanilla and lemon zest. Beat again for 1-2 minutes, or until combined.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer running on low, add about a third of the flour mixture to the bowl. Once combined, add half of the milk and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the rest of the milk. Scrape down the bowl again. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Transfer the batter to a large bowl.
- If you have a second mixer bowl, then use it here. If not, thoroughly clean the mixer bowl that you just used to mix the batter. No batter should remain on the bowl as the fat will inhibit the eggs from whipping.
- Place the egg whites in the clean mixer bowl and mix with the whip attachment on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until they form soft peaks. With the mixer running, slowly add in the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar. Whip again for 1-2 minutes or until the whites form glossy, stiff peaks.
- Use a rubber spatula to fold a third of the egg whites into the batter. Add the remaining egg whites and gently but thoroughly fold them in. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared baking pans.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until each cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and it springs back in the center when poked. Allow to cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then turn the cakes out of the pans and allow to cool completely.
- Combine the lemon juice, butter, and heavy cream in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil.
- Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Gradually whisk the hot lemon juice mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
- Once all of the hot liquid has been added, pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan. Over medium heat cook, stirring constantly to scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon, for 5-8 minutes or until the mixture thickens significantly and coats the back of a spoon.
- Remove from the heat and pour through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any cooked egg pieces. Whisk in the salt and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.
- Stir together the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 238F.
- Meanwhile, fit the stand mixer with the whisk attachment and beat the eggs and egg yolks for 3-4 minutes or until pale.
- Once the syrup has come to temperature remove it from the heat and, with the mixer running on low, slowly add it to the eggs. Once it has all been added increase the mixer speed to medium and whip for 6-8 minutes or until the mixture has cooled to room temperature.
- With the mixer running on low, add in the butter a few chunks at a time. Once it has all been added, increase the mixer speed to medium and whip until it comes together, about 3-4 minutes. It may look curdled at first, but keep whipping and it will come together.
- Add the salt and whip until combined.
- In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stir until the sugar dissolves, and then remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Scoop 3 cups of the buttercream into a medium bowl. To this, add ½ cup of the lemon curd and whisk until combined. Set aside the remaining buttercream. Set aside ⅓ cup of lemon curd for decorating the top of the cake.
- If your cakes have domed, trim the top to level them. Place a spoonful of buttercream in the center of a 9-inch cardboard cake round. Top with one of the cake layers. Brush with a third of the lemon syrup.
- Top the cake with 1 cup of the curd-buttercream mixture and spread to the edges of the cake in an even layer using an offset spatula. Spoon ½ cup of the curd-buttercream mixture into a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch tip. Use this to pipe a layer of frosting around the perimeter of the cake to form a flood layer. Spread half of the lemon curd on top of the buttercream. Sprinkle half of the raspberries on top of the curd.
- Top with a second cake layer and press down lightly. Brush with half of the remaining lemon syrup. Spoon on a cup of the curd-buttercream mixture and spread to the edges of the cake using an offset spatula. Repeat the flood layer and then spread the rest of the curd on top. Set aside about 5 raspberries for the top of the cake. Sprinkle the remaining raspberries over the lemon curd.
- Place the third cake layer on top, top-side down. Brush with the remaining lemon syrup. Place in the refrigerator to firm up for at least 1 hour.
- Spoon 1 cup of the plain buttercream over the cake. Spread it on top and down the sides of the cake in a thin layer. This will be the crumb coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Spread 1½ cups of the remaining buttercream on top of the cake and frost the top and sides as desired. Spread the reserved ⅓ cup of lemon curd on top of the cake in a thin layer. Use any remaining buttercream to decorate the top and/or sides of the cake. Garnish with the remaining reserved raspberries.