lemon cream cheese layer cake

 I loooove lemon, especially in desserts.  Monday was my turn to bring birthday treats to the office, and I've wanted to try a lemon layer cake for a while now, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity.  So I realize that this project may look a little daunting, but you can take it in steps, and spread it out over a few days.  On Saturday I baked the cake and made the lemon curd.  Because I needed all of the cake, Trevor and I couldn't really taste it...but when I trimmed the tops to make the cakes level we got a little taste test.  The cake is moist and tasty, and it tasted exactly like bakery cake.  That was kind-of a plus and a minus in my mind; I mean, it was really good, but I still wanted it to taste home-made.  The lemon curd was good too, it had a nice, tangy lemon flavour - perfect to celebrate birthdays!  On Sunday I made the cream cheese filling, stacked the layers and iced the cake.  I decided to add in a cream cheese filling as well as the lemon to increase the visual 'wow' factor and because I love the way cream cheese and lemon go together.  I was a little concerned that all the filling would squeeze out as I was stacking the layers, but it ended up okay.  The layers were beautiful, and delicate looking and so pretty with the yellow of the lemon curd.  It tasted great, a tart and sweet filling in soft white cake with fluffy icing....ah, the taste of spring.  (now if only the snow would finish melting)

White Cake

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 6 large egg whites (use the yolks for the lemon curd)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups (9 oz.) flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 oz.) sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter (6 oz.) cut into approximately 3cm x 3cm cubes then softened

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease two 9" round cake pans and cut circles of parchment paper to fit the bottoms.

Whisk together the milk, egg whites and vanilla.  Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in the bowl of the stand mixer.  Turn the mixer on low and add one piece of butter at a time.  The mixture will look fine and crumbly once all the butter is incorporated.  Keep the mixer running on low and add about 3/4 of the milk mixture.  Turn the mixer up to medium speed and mix for about 1 1/2 minutes until the batter looks smooth and creamy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining 1/4 of the milk mixture and turn the mixer on to medium.  Beat the batter for about 1 more minute.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.  Tap each pan on the counter a few times to get rid of air bubbles.

Bake the cakes on a middle rack for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick test in the center comes out clean.  Allow the cakes to cool on a rack for about 10 minutes.  Loosen the edges with a knife the invert the cakes onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper.  Turn the cakes right side up and allow them to fully cool.  If you aren't assembling the cake the same day, you can wrap up each cake in plastic wrap to keep it moist. 

Lemon Curd Filling

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
  • 1 1/2 tsp gelatin powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (10 1/2 oz.)
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 egg yolks (left over from cake)
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes, then frozen

Put one tablespoon of the lemon juice into a small bowl, then sprinkle the gelatin powder on top.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolks together in a large bowl.  Combine the remaining lemon juice, sugar and salt in a saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is hot but not boiling.

Pour the lemon juice mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly.  Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, while stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula.  Cook until the mixture is thickened and the spatula leaves a trail when stirring or an instant-read thermometer reads 170F.

Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until dissolved.  Add the butter one piece at a time while stirring, until fully incorporated.  Pour the curd into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  (Make sure the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the curd so it doesn't get the weird skin on it.)  Cool the curd in the fridge for at least four hours before using it in the cake.  You can prepare the lemon curd the day before you plan to assemble the cake. 

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups icing sugar (or to desired consistency)

Using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until soft.  Add the vanilla and gradually add the icing sugar on low speed.  Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat until the filling is smooth and creamy.

Fluffy Icing

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup (7 oz.) sugar
  • 1 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in a double boiler, or a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan with simmering water.  Maker sure the water isn't touching the bottom of the top pan or bowl.  Cook until the mixture is 160F, stirring constantly.  Pour the mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes (you should see soft peaks begining to form).  Turn up the speed to medium-high and beat for about 5 more minutes and stiff peaks have formed (the icing will stay in a peak when the whisk is pulled out).  

We're almost there...

Putting it all together:

Slice each cake, horizontally, into 2 even layers with a bread knife (or long serrated knife).  I find that marking the cake with a few toothpicks at the level I want to cut at helps me to make straight cuts.  This will give you 4 layers.

Prepare your cake plate by placing four strips of parchment around the plate (a great way to keep the plate clean, and free of icing smears!).  Put the first later onto the plate.  Spread about 1 cup of the lemon curd onto the cake, leaving about a 3cm border all the way around, to give the fillings room to move.  Spread about 1/2 cup of the cream cheese filling on top of the lemon filling.  Put the next layer of cake on top and repeat.  And repeat one more time.  Once you have added the fourth layer of cake, place about three bamboo skewers through the cake, to help stabilize it.  Allow the cake to set up in the fridge, for at least one hour.

Make the frosting after the cake has been assembled, and once it's cooled spread the frosting all over the cake.  After I had got all the icing onto the cake with a spatula I swirled the icing with the back of a spoon.  Gently pull out the strips of parchment from under the cake.  Voila!  Clean plate!

The cake should be kept in the fridge, then allowed to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. 

Recipe adapted from More Best Recipes by America's Test Kitchen