This cake is a bit of a project, but it’s so worth it, especially if you’re a die-hard lemon lover. The base is a super-light Lemon-Poppy Seed Chiffon Cake, which is enveloped in a Cream Cheese Mousse and then topped off with a layer of lemon curd and dollops of meringue, which are lightly browned with a torch. When it’s all put together, each bite is a forkful of ethereal lemon fluff that you will find irresistible. Note that the lemon curd recipe makes more than you need – you can either put an extra dollop of it on top of each slice, or serve it in the next few days with a slice of pound cake or a croissant or a blueberry muffin. As far as timing goes, I like to make the cake and the lemon curd and assemble the cake the day before serving, then make the meringue and garnish the cake the day of serving.
Makes one 9-inch cake
Lemon-Poppy Seed Chiffon Cake
- 1 1/4 cups (125 grams) sifted cake flour
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large (150 grams) eggs, separated, at room temperature
- ¼ cup (60 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) water
- 1/4 cup (54 grams) safflower or other neutral vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 1 large (30 grams) egg white, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 tablespoons (18 grams) poppy seeds
Cream Cheese Mousse
- ¼ cup (59 grams) cold water
- 1 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
- 1 ½ cups (348 grams) heavy cream, divided
- 5 ounces (142 grams) white chocolate, chopped
- 1 pound (455 grams) cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks and at room temperature
- 2/3 cup (133 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 2 large (100 grams) eggs
- 2 large (37 grams) egg yolks (save the egg whites to use for the meringue)
- 1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup (80 grams) freshly squeezed strained lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened
- 2 large (60 grams) egg whites
- ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- Poppy seeds, for garnish
Make the chiffon cake:
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottom (but not the sides) of a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, 1/2 cup (100 grams) of the granulated sugar, the baking powder, and salt. Whisk until well blended and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, water, safflower oil, and lemon zest. Whisk in the flour mixture, one-third at a time, mixing just until blended.
- Place the 4 egg whites and the cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat, using the whisk attachment, at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar; increase the speed to high and beat until the whites are stiff, but not dry. Using a large rubber spatula, briskly fold about one-third of the whites into the cake batter. Sprinkle the poppy seeds on top of the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
- Bake the cake for 28 to 32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cool the cake, while in the pan, for 20 minutes.
- Invert the cake onto the wire rack and peel off the parchment paper. Cool the cake completely. Clean the springform pan.
- Using a long, serrated knife, cut the cake into two even layers. Place one of the cake layers, cut side up, in the bottom of the cleaned 9-inch springform pan, centering it.
Make the mousse filling:
- Place the cold water in a cup and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Set aside to soften for 5 minutes.
- Place ½ cup (116 grams) of the heavy cream a small saucepan and heat until it heated through and just begins to bubble around the edges. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin, stirring until completely dissolved. Add the white chocolate and stir until completely melted. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Place the remaining 1 cup (232 grams) of heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Clean the mixer bowl and place it back on the stand, fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the cream cheese to the bowl and beat at medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat at medium-high speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the white chocolate mixture and the vanilla, mixing until combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.
- Scrape half of the filling over the cake layer in the springform pan and smooth the top. Top with the remaining cake layer, cut side down, centering it so that the gap around the edge is evenly spaced. Scrape the remaining mousse on top of the cake layer, letting it fill the gap around the sides of the pan. Smooth the top. Refrigerate the cake until the filling is set, at least 6 hours (after 1 hour, loosely cover the top of the cake with a piece of plastic wrap).
Make the Lemon Curd:
- Fill a medium saucepan one-third of the way with water and heat the water until it is barely simmering. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and salt until blended. Place the bowl over the saucepan and heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until it is uniformly pale and thickened to the consistency of thin mayonnaise, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the saucepan of water and whisk in the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until each piece is incorporated before adding the next. Whisk in the lemon zest. Pour the curd into a shallow container (so that it can cool more quickly), place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, until chilled.
Make the meringue:
- Make the meringue right before you are ready to assemble the cake. Fill a medium saucepan one-third of the way with water and bring the water to a simmer.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over the simmering water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl, and whisk until the mixture heats to 160˚F.
- Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, whip at medium-high speed until glossy, stiff peaks form, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Finish the cake:
- Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the cake pan and then remove the side of the springform pan. If you want, transfer the cake from the bottom of the pan to a serving plate. Using an offset spatula dipped in hot water and then dried, smooth the sides of the cake.
- Spoon or pipe a generous amount of the Lemon Curd on top of the cake and smooth it into an even layer (you will have some left over). Place the meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain tip (such as Ateco #7). Pipe a row of dollops around the edge of the cake, then pipe another ring of dollops halfway to the center of the cake. Pipe a large dollop in the center. Using a small torch, lightly brown the meringue. Place the remaining curd in a small bowl and serve the cake with it, or refrigerate the cake and curd until ready to serve.