Apricot Rose Ricotta Cake

It’s hard to find delicious apricots in Massachusetts–usually I’m limited to whatever the grocery store has shipped in from California, and while  plenty large these are often mealy  and flavorless.  Apricots are notoriously poor travelers, and much like strawberries, flavor gets sacrificed for sturdiness–and the ability to travel cross-country.

Apricot Rose Ricotta Cake (3 of 4)

So I go a little crazy during those few short weeks when the Red Jacket Orchard apricots from upstate New York come in at the grocery store, and even crazier when the farmer’s markets have apricots on display.  (It’s a good year for fruit!).  So it was that I bought about seven pounds of apricots and carried them home on the commuter rail–the majority dedicated to an apricot-cardamom jam.  True to their delicate nature, a few still remained for eating fresh out of hand, but the rest were bruised from their commute–feeling, perhaps, much as we all do after a long day?  No way could these be wasted, so little surprise what comes next:  I found myself baking!

Apricot Rose Ricotta Cake (2 of 4)

As you know, I love baking with ricotta–it adds a wonderful springiness as well as sturdiness to baked goods.  More prosaically, we were about to go on vacation and the expiry date on the tub was nigh.  There’s plenty of cheesecake-apricot recipes on the web, but I had the urge to make one of those snacking cakes that can acceptably be eaten at breakfast.  I found this recipe on the blog Seasonal Desserts, and made a few tweaks of my own, adding a bit of whole grain flour and a splash of rose water.

Apricot rose ricotta cake, assembled.

As you can see from my shoddily-lit instagram photo above, the cake looks rather flat and unsubstantial in batter form–be not dismayed, as you have ample proof it bakes up beautifully.  You can also see that no matter how unphotogenically you’ve arranged your apricot halves, the result is nonetheless stunning.  Don’t you love it when that happens?

I’ve provided Maria Teresa’s suggested amount of apricots (six to eight) but if you are using local fruits you might have a variety of sizes.  Just fit as many halves as you can over the surface, bake, and enjoy.

Apricot Rose Ricotta Cake (1 of 4)

 

Apricot Rose Ricotta Cake
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons, divided
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 250 grams ricotta []
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 6-8 apricots, washed, divided in half and stone removed
Instructions
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a 9-inch round cake or springform pan and place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Place the eggs, zests and the sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  4. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and thick, about 3 minutes.
  5. Set the mixer to its lowest speed and beat in the ricotta.
  6. Add the sifted dry ingredients, beating only until they are incorporated.
  7. Pour about the batter into the prepared pan. Place as many apricots as you can fit on top of the batter and sprinkle them with the extra sugar.
  8. Bake the cake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack for 15 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove the sides of the springform pan and let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

Apricot Rose Ricotta Cake (4 of 4)

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake

As I’ve told you, one of my very favorite recipes of all time is Rhubarb Crisp (though Karen likes it with strawberries thrown in).  The tartness of the rhubarb set off against a crunchy, buttery brown sugar topping?  It’s a dessert I can eat way past the point when I know I’ve definitively overindulged.  Then I’ll call Karen or Marie and tell them how I ate enough to make myself ‘sick’ and they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  (What are sisters for if not to share the mundane as well as the lofty with?)

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake (4 of 5)

Because it’s in essence just rhubarb, sugar, and butter, it’s delicious, but it’s not exactly something I can get away with eating for breakfast.  Well, not legitimately anyway (i.e. I’m not saying I haven’t done it).  But–sprinkled on top of a cake?  Why, it’s just as appropriate as a muffin or a pancake.  (I mean, we can question how wholesome an idea it is to be eating muffins and pancakes for breakfast with any regularity, but at least if you must overindulge, doing so at breakfast appears to be the least damaging to your waistline).

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake (1 of 5)

Many recipes call for sour cream or buttermilk, but since I had ricotta on hand I figured that I’d give that a shot–and I’ve loved the result of ricotta in baked goods before–remember this old post?  (And if you’re still wondering, it’s Smitten Kitchen approved; need i say more?).  I wanted to use up some semolina flour so I threw that in as well.  Semolina is high in gluten (which is why it’s so great for making pasta) so it’s not always the ideal choice for more tender baked goods, but I thought it might add a nice rustic texture and that the acidity of the ricotta would tenderize it and work out any rough edges.  I was pleased with the result, but feel free to use regular all-purpose flour.

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake (2 of 5)

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake (3 of 5)

Now despite my paean to rhubarb here, I think this cake is a perfect base for any fruit you’d like–rhubarb for spring, peaches or nectarines for fall?  The cake itself is mild in flavor and well-structured and thus will happily pair with whatever seasonal bounty you have on hand.  In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the rhubarb while it lasts.

If you’re looking for more ideas for rhubarb, check out one of my favorite blogs, Relishing It.  Laurie has got tons of great ideas (and taught me that you can freeze rhubarb to enjoy it year round).  There’s also our rhubarb-rose ice cream here and our pinterest page with rhubarb ideas here.

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake
Ingredients
  • Cake
  • 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces along the diagonal
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour (substitute an additional cup of flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • Crumb
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (I used muscovado with a bit of white)
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Instructions
  1. Make the cake: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with butter or a nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper, extending the lengths up two sides. (It will look like a sling). Stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and 2/3 cup sugar and set aside. Beat butter, remaining sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at at time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon table salt together in a small bowl. Add one-third of this mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue, adding half the ricotta, the second third of the flour mixture, the remaining ricotta, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.
  2. Dollop batter over prepared pan, then use a spatula — offset, if you have one, makes this easiest — to spread the cake into an even, thin layer. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake, spreading it into an even layer (most pieces should fit in a tight, single layer).
  3. Stir together the crumb mixture, first whisking the flour, brown sugar, table salt and cinnamon together, then stirring in the melted butter with a spoon or fork. Scatter evenly over rhubarb layer. Bake cake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake is done when a tester comes out free of the wet cake batter below. It will be golden on top. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.
  4. Cut the two exposed sides of the cake free of the pan, if needed, then use the parchment “sling” to remove the cake from the pan. Cut into 2-inch squares and go ahead and eat the first one standing up. (If it’s written into the recipe, it’s not “sneaking” a piece but, in fact, following orders, right?) Share the rest with friends. Cake keeps at room temperature for a few days, but I didn’t mind it at all from the fridge, where I kept it covered tightly.

Rhubarb Ricotta Cake (5 of 5)

Sugar Plum Walnut Butter Cake

When I was little I wanted the birthday cake with the snow-white frosting from the bakery, stiff ruffled piped edges (with a little leaf here or there), and lots of roses (which I got first dibs on, it being my birthday).  As my mother explained it, that frosting was little more than sugar and Crisco mixed together.  (Yes, friends, I was one of those precocious foodie kids).  Post-cake, as I looked at the blue cans of Crisco in our pantry, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around this.  So if I just mix sugar into that cylindrical tub, I’ll have frosting?   The thought of it was confusing and more than a bit offputting so I never ventured further.  Not offputting enough that I stopped eating frosting-heavy pieces of cake though.

Nor was it offputting to anyone in our family.  There was always an excuse for cake or its ilk.  Since birthdays weren’t frequent enough, in 1990 my father ordered a cake to celebrate Germany’s reunification.  The excuse was that our dachshund, as a German breed (and the only one in the house with putative German ancestry), would want to celebrate the occasion.  It’s ridiculous, I’ll admit, and we knew it at the time, but we got to eat a (black, red and yellow) cake.

Perhaps I’ve grown more refined with age (or so I like to think), and while birthday cakes are still a must, it’s no longer all about the icing.  I still love the stuff, but I don’t miss that slightly ill feeling of overindulgence afterwards.

Sugar Plum Walnut Butter Cake (3 of 7)

To forgo frosting, however, requires a cake that can stand on its own.  Perhaps one loaded with juicy plums that bake down intense and syrupy, melting into a rich walnut-inflected crumb?

Yes, that will do.

Especially when it’s from the cookbook of one of Boston’s most acclaimed chefs, Jody Adams of Rialto and more recently Trade, In the Hands of a Chef.   With her husband Ken Rivard, they also are behind one of my favorite blogs, The Garum Factory.  They’re all about bold ingredients (the namesake says it all) and elegant flavor combinations.

Sugar Plum Walnut Butter Cake (1 of 7)

I’ve had this cookbook for a while, and have been waiting for plum season just to make this cake (and more jam and more galettes).  When, a few days before my birthday, I got sugar plums at the farmer’s market–petite, purple, which that characteristic waxy bloom–their future was clear.  While smaller than Italian prune plums, they come into season a bit earlier, and substituted wonderfully.

This post incubated for a while, and plum season is by now finishing up.  The good news is that Italian prune plums, which the recipe calls for, are a later season variety.  Furthermore this plum cake couldn’t be easier to make–I whipped it up on a weeknight with no more advance prep than buying the plums.  It’s moist from the fruit and rich from the nuts, and is therefore plenty indulgent, frosting or no.

Sugar Plum Walnut Butter Cake (2 of 7)

And it has a little brandy–and we all know that alcohol always helps a bit on birthdays.

Yes, my birthday was exactly a month ago but I’ve only finally gotten around to posting now.  We’ve had a server switch, followed by a switch to a Mac after my PC started malfunctioning.  Here’s hoping that we’ll be on a more regular posting schedule soon.  Enough housekeeping and on to the recipe!

If you want more Garum Factory cakes (you do!) check out this spring’s Rhubarb Rose Upside-Down Cake (which inspired my ice cream post) and today’s post, Coconut Yogurt Cake with Roasted Peaches.

 

Sugar Plum Walnut Butter Cake (6 of 7)

Sugar Plum Walnut Butter Cake

Author: adapted very slightly from In the Hands of a Chef by Jody Adams and Ken Rivard
Ingredients
  • 9T unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1c + 1T unbleached AP flour
  • 1 1/4 c sugar (divided)
  • 16 sugar plums (or 12 prune plums) cut in half
  • 1/4c brandy
  • 1t lemon zest
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1/2t kosher salt
  • 2 extra large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/4c ground toasted walnuts (I measured 1/3c walnuts)
Instructions
  1. To toast the walnuts, toss in a dry skillet over medium for a few minutes until toasted. (Watch carefully, they can burn easily). Immediately remove to a plate and grind in the food processor when cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan with 1T of the butter and dust with 1T of the flour.
  3. Toss the plums with 2T of sugar and the brandy, set aside.
  4. Stir together the remaining cup of flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
  5. In a large bowl, cream the remaining 8T of butter into the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Sift in the flour mixture.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs just until they start to foam. (Do not overbeat). Fold the eggs and the ground walnuts into the flour-butter mixture and mix well.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the plum halves, cut side down, in concentric circles over the batter. (The batter will rise up around the plums as is bakes, so don’t kill yourself trying to make sure it looks perfect). Pour any remaining brandy syrup on top. Sprinkle with the remaining 2T of sugar. Slide onto a cookie sheet to catch any spills.
  8. Bake one hour, or until the plum cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. (Be careful not to test through a plum!). Cool 10 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan and serving.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake

When I saw this beautiful post on Jammy Chicken last (ahem) February, it was nothing less than a sign.  This winter I made marmalade for the first time, and in perhaps too much awe at my achievement, got a little carried away–come August and my pantry is still stuffed with the results of my snowy-evening activities, and in only a few months it will be citrus season again.  The oddest thing is that I’ve never really liked marmalade, or eaten it much before this venture, but fortunately I’ve found that I liked my homemade versions.  Even so.  I’ve been needing ideas more creative than thickly layering it on toast.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake (1 of 8)

Again, since this was a sign, I didn’t balk at ordering the recommended 6-inch by 3-inch cake pan required by the recipe.  While it wasn’t expensive, I did hesitate a bit as my baking drawers are already overstuffed, for better or for worse.  (For better or for worse indeed–it turns out 6 x 3 is the standard size pan for the top tier of a wedding cake).  I realize, however, that you might wisely prefer to use a pan you already have on hand, so I’ve also tested this with an 8-inch cake pan, and I’m happy to report it worked just fine.  How did I figure this out?  Pardon the reference to high school algebra, but simply multiply the area of the circle (πr2, r being equal to half the diameter) by the height of your pan.  While not perfect, the 8-inch pan was the closest match.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake (2 of 8)

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake (3 of 8)

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake (4 of 8)

Enough of that though:  Let’s eat cake!

I’ve called this a meyer lemon marmalade cake, but you could make it with any citrusy derivation–I’ve also tried it with my blood orange marmalade, and you’ll see the original recipe (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking) uses Seville orange marmalade, the variety that is considered to make the best preserves.  I can’t say, because I’ve never managed to find these bitter oranges, but there’s always next year.  Point is, though, that the recipe is versatile.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake (6 of 8)

My husband pronounced that this cake tastes a bit like a brioche, which obviously solidified its place in the pantheon for me.  In part, because it seems to justify eating cake for breakfast.  Although therefore welcome, it was an unexpected comparison, as this cake is neither kneaded or yeasted (albeit lots of butter).  But while the recipe is decidedly not one for a brioche, it’s also an unusual method as far as your typical cake recipes go.  Rather than creaming in the butter with the sugar, you cut in the cold butter, much like making a scone or even a pie crust.  (This leads me to believe the initial step could be performed in your food processor, though I admit I haven’t tested that).  Maybe that’s what makes it so good first thing in the morning as late afternoon.  It’s like a giant (buttery moist) scone!

I still have a real clutch of jars from last winter’s activities, so I’ll be continuing to make this cake, and slathering it with more marmalade, probably with increasing frequency as the citrus season approaches.  Because I know full well I’ll be getting myself in the same marmalade-laden boat next winter.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake (7 of 8)

 

More Darina Allen on Three Clever Sisters:

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Cake
adapted from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking
Ingredients
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 10T butter (about 2/3 cup) plus more for buttering the cake pan
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 1 level tablespoon+ 1 generous teaspoonful of baking powder (note that a tablespoon equals three teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 generous pinch of kosher salt
  • heaping 1/4c marmalade–chopped into small bits if needed, or whizzed in the food processor.
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • powdered sugar for serving (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease the tin (or use cooking spray).
  2. Rub the butter into the flour and salt until the butter is incorporated and the mixture is crumbly and sandy with some pea-sized pieces, then stir in the sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and marmalade until combined, then stir in the milk. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. The batter will be very thick and spoonable rather than pourable.
  4. Scrape into the cake tin, smooth out the top, and bake in the oven for 75 minutes until the top is browned and a cake tester comes out with only a few crumbs. (If you use a different-sized pan, the time may need to be adjusted).
  5. Leave to cool on a wire tray, and dust with powdered sugar to serve. Put out your jar of marmalade alongside as well.

Rose Cake (Guest Post)

A little while ago I posted an amazing-looking cake on my facebook page.  Kathy, my “aunt-in-law” (or whatever one calls one’s husband’s aunt), noticed this post–and soon began posting pictures of her own takes on this cake to her facebook page.  When I saw what an amazing array of rose cakes she was turning out, I asked if she could explain how she does it, and she wrote Three Clever Sisters’ very first guest post!

Thanks Kathy–this is the next best thing to having a slice myself!  

Every once in a while, you see  something and you just have to try it. That’s how I felt when Three Clever Sisters posted a photo of the gorgeous Neapolitan Rose Cake from i am baker.  It turns out Rose Cakes are easy to make. All you need are some 1M (very large star) decorating tips (you only need one tip if you want all your roses to be the same color) and a batch of buttercream. If you would like to make a basket of roses, such as the one pictured above, you will also need a number 47 tip. And it helps to have a turntable to set your cake on and a small step stool to set your turntable on, so that when you pipe your roses, the cake is raised about a foot off the table. You can cover a cake with roses in ten minutes.  If you have a more time (30 minutes or so) and would like your cake to be a little less icing- intense, pipe a basket weave onto the sides of it and just pipe roses on top.

Any layer cake recipe will work.  I made a chocolate cake and filled it with chocolate ganache, but of course, you just ice your center layer with buttercream and save even more time.

Here is a great recipe for buttercream that pipes well.  Change the flavor by replacing vanilla with other extracts (it usually takes a little more extract for other flavors to come through, for instance, orange buttercream takes 3 – 4 T of orange extract to taste orangey).    If you want to make chocolate buttercream (which is also nice for a basket weave pattern), replace a cup of sugar with a cup of cocoa (Hershey’s is fine) and increase the salt to ¾ tsp.

Vanilla Buttercream   (Yes, this makes a lot, and yes, you need a lot!)

  • 2 cups of butter (room temperature)
  • 6 – 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 T vanilla
  • 4 T heavy cream or more

Beat butter with paddle on medium speed.  Add 6 cups of sugar and mix on low speed so it doesn’t blow all over the place.  Increase speed of mixer and add vanilla and cream.  Test consistency (icing should hold its shape – kind of like the “stiff peaks” stage of beating egg whites) and keep adding sugar or cream until you get there.

To ice the cake:

First, spread a crumb coat. Cover the entire cake with a thin coat of icing.  This both provides a nice background color for your decorating and helps the piped roses adhere.

Next, pipe on your basket. (Skip this step if you would like to cover the entire cake with roses, a simpler techniques that brings very beautiful results.) This is not nearly as difficult as it might seem; you just need to keep your wits about you as you pipe.   Using a coupler, fit a number 47 tip onto your pastry bag and fill the bag with about half your frosting.  If you have never worked with a pastry bag before, fear not.  Just snip the tip off the bottom of the bag, push the coupler through the hole in the bag, and fasten the tip on.  Then fold over the sides of the bag, fill it with frosting, squeeze it down and twist the bag to make sure it is nice and tight.

First, pipe a straight vertical line from the top to the bottom of side of your cake. (step 1)  Then pipe three parallel horizontal lines across the vertical line, so that the vertical line bisects each line.  (step 2) Then pipe another vertical line so that the right edge of each horizontal line is covered (step 3) Then, filling in the square spaces created by the intersection of the second vertical line with the horizontal lines, pipe horizontal lines across the second vertical line, so that that vertical line bisects the horizontal lines (step 4).  Repeat process until the side of the cake is covered.  If you like, you can pipe a straight line along the bottom edge of your cake to finish off your basket weave.  I have done a simple shell pattern line here, but a basic line will do just fine.

Finally, pipe your roses!   You can make roses all one color or split your buttercream into several bowls and add a few drops of food coloring to each for a multi-color bouquet.    You don’t need a coupler for the large 1M tip; just cut ¾ inch off the tip of your pastry bag and push the 1M tip through. Fill your bag with icing and push it all the way to the tip, again, twisting together the top of the bag and applying pressure so there are no air holes.  If you are covering the entire cake with roses, begin on the sides, at the bottom. Apply gentle pressure until you make a little blob of icing (step 1) and then just rotate your tip around the blob one (step 2) or two (step 3)complete rotations (depending on how big you want your rose to be).  Voila! A rose has blossomed.

Pipe another rose next to the first one and continue around the cake.  Then pipe a row of roses above the bottom one, spacing them so that you cover the side of the cake.  Don’t worry, if you have any noticeable spaces between your roses, just pipe a little blobby swirl in any gap and no one will notice.

To cover the top of your cake with roses, begin at the outside edge (covering your basket edge) and work toward the center, using the technique described above.

Whether you just pipe roses

Or, you pipe the basket too…


Your cake will be pretty!  Happy piping!

 

Tartine’s Lemon Meringue Cake

This past little while has been a swirl of citrus and sugar. Kumquats–spiced and in marmalades.  Blood orange marmalades too, and blood orange cakes.  Candied pomelo peels, and a few birthdays.  When I think about how many 5lb bags of sugar I’ve gone through lately I can only shudder.

And the crowning glory, or perhaps the nadir, of this sugar spate, was this cake.

Tartine Lemon Meringue Cake

When I got the Tartine Bakery cookbook for Christmas (yes, the companion to one of my other favorites) my husband immediately zeroed in on this recipe. And though I was hesitant, you can’t not honor birthday requests, can you?

Making this cake is definitely a birthday-level undertaking.  And it’s as spectacular as it looks: layers of chiffon cake, moistened with lemon syrup, sandwiched together with lemon cream, burnt caramel, all enrobed in fluffy, sticky meringue, blowtorched into submission.

It’s not actually that difficult of a cake, if you break it down into pieces.   It’s more the sheer quantity:  really five sub-recipes, with the main set of instructions being more of an assembly guide.  I knew if I tried to do it all at once, I would be so frustrated by the end of the process that I couldn’t bear to eat one bite.  (I’m exaggerating, obviously, but you get my point).   So I strategized.  Making this one cake was like organizing a dinner party:  What can I do ahead of time?  What piece is the trickiest (and might be wise to try and try again)?  What stands up well to freezing?  What must be done the day of ?  How much special equipment do I have to buy?  How can I keep from going insane?

Cake was made in advance (twice, in fact, given its propensity to collapse on me) and frozen, cut into layers so I didn’t have to stress about shredding the cake into crumbs on the big day.  Caramel sauce was made a week ahead–why not, since it keeps a month in the fridge?  Lemon cream–a silky, smooth, genius twist on lemon curd–two nights early.  Lemon syrup, meringue, and done.  (If you follow our Facebook page or my instagram feed at sarabclever, none of this is news to you as I posted each step).

IMG_3554

I wasn’t sure if I was going to think all that work was worth it but, of course it was.  How could there be any question?  The clouds of meringue released an aroma of campfire marshmallows as the blue flame of the kitchen blowtorch waved across.   The intense sweet of the cake was tempered by the tart, bright citrus.  And most surprisingly, the burnt caramel sauce also proved essential: to cut the sugar, and to ensure the cake was balanced rather than cloying.  (I’ll only note in passing the absurdity of this that caramel, made from sugar, prevented the cake from being saccharine).

Lemon Meringue Cake

There’s no way I could really give you my version of this recipe.  Making the cake was enough of an enterprise for me.  If no birthday is coming up, pick up the book from your local library (though I warn you, overdue charges may start to accrue so you might cut your losses and just get your own copy from the outset).   Or check out these folks who have braved the challenge and lived to blog the tale here, here and here.

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And while I am far from mastering this cake (chiffon cakes and I are still having problems), as is the case with all worthy opponents, I learned.  Here’s my collected wit and wisdom.

(1)  Do things ahead of time if you can.  When drenched in syrup, slathered with creams, and covered in icing, it doesn’t matter if the cake had a stint in the freezer.

(2)  If you need meringue and are afraid of using raw whites (say, because you have small children), do NOT use pasteurized egg whites.  Buy the powder.  I had no problem using pasteurized whites to make buttercream, but they just won’t cut it when the body of true meringue is called for.  I actually made a first attempt with pasteurized whites, and started to feel about as deflated as the meringue looked when I realized in horror that I was about to repeat the errors  Marie’s birthday cake.  Ye who do not learn from history.  Disaster was averted when I remembered I had meringue powder on hand from Christmas cookies, and victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat.   It’s nothing but counterintuitive that a powder works so beautifully while seemingly “fresher” refrigerated egg whites do not, but mine is not to question why.

(3)  Chiffon cakes are temperamental.  So many things can go wrong; in my case I think my oven was too cold.  But there’s no need to get too obsessed with chasing perfection (or so I decided after my second cake glumly sunk upon removal from the oven).  Rather than tear my hair out, I just made the best of it.  I meant to make a three layer rather than four layer cake, OK?  So what if it’s a bit denser than desired?  The thing is going to be painted with lemon syrup and slathered with lemon cream and caramel, not to mention that meringue.  Really, is anyone going to notice?  (But I admit I bought my third oven thermometer for the next time–hopefully I won’t break it this time).

(4) Equipment–Besides the kitchen torch, a new 10″ x 3″ springform pan was acquired.  (Oh right, and another oven thermometer.  It’s a problem).  The cake rises well above the rim, so it’s no good when it turns out the advertised depth is shallower if you use the base.  Besides (ahem, instead of) sending nasty messages to amazon, you can place just the ring directly onto a sheet of parchment paper laid out on a baking sheet.  You get a few extra portions of an inch, it really doesn’t leak out, and the cake won’t get stuck to the bottom of the pan.  And you can feel like a professional–bakers use cake rings rather than cake pans all the time!

(5)  Kitchen blowtorches aren’t quite as scary as they sound.  (But I’m still a little scared).

(6) Invite people to help you eat this cake.  It’s huge.

With all this, I hope you’ll understand (and forgive) the lackluster photography.  After all that effort and anticipation, when the cake was served, I was as ready to dig in as the birthday boy.

I am afraid of what he’ll request next year.