So. BKBF loves Lemon Merigue Pie.
It is a bit of a pain to make because there are so many components: Pie crust, lemon curd, and meringue. Each of the component comes with a variety of things you can mess up. The crust could be too thin, too thick, not baked properly so it’d rise in weird spots, shrinking pastry or generally not tasty. You can easily overcook your lemon curd and made lemon scramble eggs. Meringue, oh, I think there are books written about meringue failures, it is a 3 unit course all by itself!
Naturally I have attempted to make it for BKBF’s birthday.
**Disclaimer: these are from previous years, I did not make 5 versions of lemon meringue things.
My first attempt was lemon meringue tarts. I thought, smaller means easier right? Ha ha. I was such an idiot. It was a good lesson though, I learnt that I hate making pastry, and I hate crusts. All the failed things I have listed above I think I have learnt in this experience.
My next attempt was a lemon meringue cheesecake. I thought maybe I didn’t have to make the crust it’d be better. It went quite well actually. You top a lemon cheesecake with a layer of curd, then you are supposed to decorate the top with merigue. Except I ended up smearing a crap tonne more meringue on top because there just wasn’t enough meringue in my opinion.
I decided to continued with the no crust tradition, and go with a cake!
A few questions that needs answering in the planning stage.
a. The meringue CANNOT weep. It will ruin the cake if it does. In the traditional lemon meringue pie, you should have your lemon curd piping hot so when you pile the meringue on it’ll “cook” the meringue and minimize weeping. Note: minimize. Well, this cake will be completely cooled before the meringue goes on because you don’t work with a hot cake. (Unless you mean like, hot cake as in pancake in Japanese… hah hah…I am so funny…. *ahem* Moving on…) What to do what to do? Luckily, I have spent a summer reading about meringue and making and failing different meringues. The answer to this question is a Swiss Meringue, which is a “cooked” and stable meringue. To make a Swiss meringue, you starts off with a sugar and egg white mixture, heat it till it becomes syrupy and then whip it like there is no tomorrow! Let’s not go into the science details for now but the resulting meringue is stable, very dense, much heavier and it is so glossy it looks like white acrylic paint. The best thing is you can make it in advance and it will keep stable in the fridge for a few days!
b. The second is that I want a cake that is sturdy enough to support the curd and meringue on top and not get soggy. I can go for a butter based sponge I know will support the cake but I can’t say it’s my favourite. The lemon curd is mostly yolk and butter so I want something lighter will go with it. I was considering making a chiffon cake after seeing pictures of layered chiffon with whipped cream filling so that should work.
With that in mind, I randomly stumbled across this thing call a “Cotton cake”. It is very similar to a chiffon, except the oil is heated up first and mixed with the flour to form a kinda… roux? And it affects the gluten (?) somehow…(?? I have no idea, I am just telling you what I have read). You also bake it in a water bath like a cheesecake, it is also as easy to crack on top like a cheesecake. I have no idea how it works, but it ended up being a denser, spongier cake and I really liked it. It is probably going to become my cake of choice if I want to do layered cakes with fillings. The only thing is that the cake is very eggy without additional flavours so I wouldn’t make the cake just by itself to eat.
For this recipe I made a meyer lemon curd instead of regular lemon curd. I have heard of these elusive lemons, they are supposed to be milder and sweeter so non lemon-lovers would also like them. I read somewhere they are a hybrid of lemon and tangerine, their zest sure smell more tangerine-y than lemon. I like them! If you are a die-hard lemonhead like BKBF, you might want to stick with regular lemons, or adjust the amount of sugar in the curd recipe. Keep in mind your meringue is going to be quite sweet(and you can’t use less sugar because science of meringue) and it will compensate for any tartness in the curd.
I think BKBF enjoyed his birthday cake. Earlier in the year we took a cake decorating class together and one of the things I struggled with and he didn’t was having nice, clean layers in the cakes and neat frosting on the outside of the cake. Mine is always a bit lopsided and uneven layers and really sloppy sides. So he was particularly impressed my layers came out clean this time. Meringue are supposed to be messy so my technique was just right for this look. :>
Now what am I going to do for next year? What other lemon meringue non-pie should I attempt? Send ideas!
And now for the very long instructions!
For the Cotton Sponge:
Makes 1 x 6″ cake
80g Cake Flour
3 Eggs, separated
1/2 Tsp of extract of your choice (in this cake, I used Lemon)
For the Meyer Lemon Curd:
95g Lemon Juice (from about 5 of my tiny lemons)
Zest from 2 Lemons (more if you are a lemonhead)
113g Granulated Sugar
113g Butter, cubed
For the Swiss Meringue: (recipe from The Tough Cookie)
95g Egg White (from about ~3 Eggs)
A little bit of Lemon juice or White Vinegar, to wipe your implements
To make the cotton sponge cake
1. Heat oven to 170°c/338°f. Line a cake tin with parchment paper on just the bottom. I recommend using a one piece tin, but if you are using a springform, make sure you wrap the tin tightly with foil.
2. Whisk to combine egg yolk + egg with milk and extract if using.
3. Heat the oil up in a small sauce pan till about 85°c/185°f. It isn’t a lot of oil so it might a bit tricky to use a thermometer. If you look at the bottom of the pan and see a faint pattern on the bottom, it is hot enough to use. Oil heats up really quickly so use it as soon as you see the pattern, don’t overheat your oil! You are not deep-frying anything. I wasn’t able to get this in a photo, so watch this youtube video if you need a visual aid.
4. Sift your flour. Then pour the hot oil over the flour, mix immediately. A bit of sizzling is normal, mix till you get a nice flour roux. Whisk in the egg mixture till smooth, set aside.
5. In a clean bowl, whip your egg white till foamy. Add in sugar and whip till firm peaks. Like making chiffon cake, take care not to overwhip to stiff peaks.
6. Mix 1/3 of the meringue mixture into your yolk batter, once combined, mix the next 1/3, repeat till all mixtures combined. Take care to be gentle and make sure you scrape the bottom of the bowl when mixing.
7. Pour batter into cake tin. Knock it on the counter gently a few times, and put it into a water bath to bake for 20-30 minutes. Once the cake browns and grown, turn oven down to 145°c/293°f and bake for another 20 minutes. Let the cake sit inside the warm oven for another 10~ minutes before taking it out. Oven temperature varies from oven to oven, you will have to keep an eye on it.
8. Let cool on a cooling rack. It should shrink from the edges whilst cooling. You can use a small knife to loosen it from the edges and remove from tin. Let cool completely and store it in a container in the fridge if not using immediately.
To make the Lemon curd
1. Lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter into a bowl over simmering water, make sure bowl isn’t touching water. Stir the mixture until the butter is melted.
2. Whisk the eggs into the lemon mixture. Make sure you do not stop whisking or else you might get sweet scramble eggs. I know some people say you can let it cook for a bit, but I will not stop stirring gently the whole time just in case. Especially because this recipe calls for whole eggs. I ended up with a little bit of cooked egg bits in mine. However, since you have to strain it to get rid of the zest anyway, you can strain out those cooked bits as well. My point is be very careful!
3. It should thicken up enough to coat the back of a spoon. The mixture will get thicker once cooled. Use this immediately, or store in an airtight container. Bring it back to room temperature next time when you want to use it.
To make the Swiss Meringue:
1. Combine Egg white and sugar in a clean, oil free metal bowl. I cannot stress this enough, it needs to be squeaky clean! Wipe everything down with some lemon juice or white vinegar. VERY CLEAN! I used the stand mixer’s mixing bowl for this. Set it in over a pan of simmering water and let it heat up slowly. Whisking from time to time.
2. You can test to see if the sugar has been completely dissolved by rubbing it between your fingers. If it feels completely smooth, the sugar has dissolved and you can start to whip the meringue.
3. If you want to pasteurize the egg white, then continue heating till it reaches 71°c/159°f. You will have to use a thermometer for this, there is no way around it, sorry.
4. Once the egg white syrup is ready. Put it on your stand mixer (or hand mixer) and start whipping away. You would want this to whip to a minimum of firm peaks. If you want to pipe this, whip to stiff peaks. It is going to take a while because of the mixture is very heavy, but it should whip up with time!
5.Use immediately or, store it in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for at least 2 days. (probably longer, but meringue usually don’t live this long in my home)
To assemble the cake:
1. Slice the cake horizontally into however many layers you want. Three is generally a good number.
2. Spread the lemon curd onto each layer of the cake. Save about 2cm of space around the edges at least or you will be moping up lemon curd from the side with your fingers, then you eat them. Okay maybe leave no space. (no, seriously, leave a little bit of space) OR, if you want, you can pipe a ring of meringue on the edge to stop the curd from spilling out.
3. If you want, you can also spread some meringue on top of the lemon curd before setting down the next layer of cake. If you do this though, then I wouldn’t recommend covering the whole cake outside with meringue. Or if you just love meringue, hey, go for it.
4. I want to tell you there are techniques, but really just cover the whole cake with a THICK layer of meringue. If you think there are too much meringue, trust me, you want more. It is a lot lighter than your buttercream and it provides the sweet balance to this cake, so really, pile it on, especially on the sides.
5. You meringue doesn’t have to be smooth on top. In fact, try to create as many craggy surface as possible. Use a spatula, a fork, whichever you like to create some interesting texture. Because…
6. You are going to torch it! You will need a kitchen torch for this. I am not sure it is a good idea to put the cake back into an oven to be honest with ya. So just torch the surface of the cake and brown as much of the surface as you can. Be careful not to stay on one spot for too long. You want it to brown, not burn.
7. Enjoy the cake. Show it to your friends. They will be impressed.