Bookish Bakes: Lemon Meringue Cake

On Monday I posted a picture of a slice of this cake accompanying my Kindle featuring my then current read The Baron of Magister Valley by Steven Brust, so I thought I’d share my ratio recipe for the lemon meringue pie.

If you give me a choice between cake and pie, I’ll almost always pick cake. For whatever reason, pie is not one of my favorite things. Once in a while I crave a chocolate pie or, if it’s the fall, I’ll opt for one or two pumpkin pies. Very rarely will I pick a lemon meringue pie, though I would agree they’re quite tasty, especially if you like lemons. So, I was quite shocked when the idea of lemon meringue as cake popped into my head.

A lemon meringue pie is usually a lemon custard or pudding with a baked meringue topping. I love the sweet-tartiness of the lemon and the soft, barely there meringue. Now, my husband’s favorite frosting is an Italian meringue, so I thought “why not?” when I discovered I had three egg yolks sitting around, waiting to be made into a delicious lemon custard. Felt like the perfect time.

In lieu of the crust, I made a yellow cake. The lemon came into play as a lemon custard, not too sweet and not too tart, and just thick enough to not run off the bottom layer. The meringue, of course, was the Italian meringue frosting.

Here’s how I made it, using nothing by ratios.

The Yellow Cake

Ingredients

113 grams butter

226 grams granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

226 grams flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

100 grams milk

As a ratio baker, I used the high ratio cake ratio of 1:1:2:2:1, egg to fat to flour to sugar to liquid. This just means my egg, fat, and liquid all weigh about the same (hint: 2 eggs weigh about the same as a stick of butter) and that my sugar and flour likewise weighed the same, but twice as much as the egg. I used eggs, butter, flour, granulated sugar, and milk, though you can swap out any of them to match your preferences.

To mix the cake, cream the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and some vanilla extract. Add about a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour and then alternately add the flour and milk to the batter. Finally, divide the batter between 2 pans. I used two 8 inch round pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

The Lemon Custard

Ingredients

the weight of 5 egg yolks, approximately 150 grams

300 grams milk

zest of one lemon

1/4 cup granulated sugar

For the filling, I used the custard ratio of 2:1 dairy to eggs. My dairy was milk, and I weighed it out so it weighed twice as much as the egg yolks I had lying around plus two extra yolks (the whites of which went into the meringue frosting). I added both to a mixing bowl set over a pot of boiling water, as well as zest from one lemon and about a quarter cup of sugar.

It took probably about 10 minutes or so for my custard to become thick enough to make me happy. Some custards can be more on the liquid side, which doesn’t require as much cooking, but I needed something to withstand the weight of a cake, so I made mine as thick as I was patient for. All that means is I waited until I could gently slosh some against the side of the mixing bowl, draw a line in it using my wooden spoon, and wait a couple of seconds for it to close. Then I removed the bowl from the heat (careful, it’ll be hot!) and stirred in some lemon extract.

Unless you’re absolutely certain none of the egg could possibly have been cooked, I suggest straining the custard before placing plastic directly on top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. I can never be sure and do prefer as smooth of a custard as possible, so I always strain. Yes, you will lose the zest this way, but, as long as it was added early on, the flavor will have been imparted to the custard.

The Italian Meringue Frosting

Ingredients

the weight of 2 egg whites, approximately 45 grams

90 grams granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

This is supposed to be the most dangerous, yet most stable, meringue frosting. It requires boiling sugar with some water to the soft ball stage and then slowly adding it to whipped egg whites while still hot. I’ve made this so many times it doesn’t seem dangerous anymore, but I do order my kids out of the kitchen just to be safe.

Anyways, this uses the meringue ratio of 2:1 sugar to egg whites. That means the sugar should weigh about twice as much as the egg whites.

While the sugar is boiling with enough water to make it look like wet sand until it reaches the soft ball stage (no stirring required), whip the egg whites with a bit of lemon juice or cream of tarter to help stabilize it until it’s quite frothy and about doubled in volume. I usually look for the egg whites to start clumping together into the whisk attachment and the rest of it looking like fluffy clouds. Once the eggs and sugar are ready, while the mixer is on at a moderate speed, slowly add in the sugar and then whisk on high until the mixing bowl is completely cooled.

The meringue should look shiny and have stiff peaks. It’ll take some time for it to finish and it will look like there’s less than there should be, meaning there will likely be high sides of meringue and not much in the middle. You’ll also probably hear a funny sound kind of like paper or popcorn popping. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with the frosting. It’s entirely normal.

The Lemon Meringue Cake

Now that every component has been made, it’s time to put the cake together. As you can see, I placed paper towels under the cake so I could frost it and then remove the towels so my plate wouldn’t look messy. But that’s just me.

Start with the bottom layer and then spread the lemon custard over it, leaving about a half inch from the edge open. Then place the top layer on and frost the entire cake, or as much as you’d like, with the meringue frosting. The frosting is sticky and will be much easier to spread if you glop a lot of it on top before spreading it.

Lemon Meringue Cake with lemon custardlemon meringue cake with lemon custard filling and an Italian meringue frosting

And that’s it! Trust me, it didn’t feel like as much work as this makes it out to be. Put it in the fridge for a bit to let it all firm up and hold together better and then slice and enjoy. This cake also pairs well with a great book.

a slice of lemon meringue cake featuring a yellow cake, lemon custard filling, and Italian meringue frosting

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