Liam Turns One: Lemon Buttercream Torte

My friend Dorothy's son Liam turned one year old a few days ago; Liam also happens to share a birthday with his grandmother. Yesterday I baked a cake for a dinner hosted by Liam's grandparents to celebrate both birthdays.

Since this was basically a dinner for adults, I thought I could go a little more upscale than I usually do for a child's birthday cake (I also make a birthday cake for Liam's older brother Alexander every year). I decided to try the "Lemon Buttercream Torte" from Ann Amernick's The Art of the Dessert. As I've noted before, this book is no joke. Many of the recipes are quite complicated and very time consuming.

This recipe is -- relatively speaking -- one of the easier ones. The components are yellow génoise cake, lemon curd, orange marmalade, and an egg-yolk buttercream. While I was writing up a shopping list, I couldn't help marveling that it requires 26 eggs (well, 11 eggs and 15 yolks). I decided that I could at least skip the step of making my own marmalade and I decided to go with store bought instead.

The cake is a pretty straightforward génoise sponge, with a little lemon zest added. I made the cake recipe, and it was a complete disaster. Although the batter looked airy and fine when it went in the oven, it sank during baking and came out like dense rubber. I couldn't figure out what I did wrong, so I tried it again. I got the same result. Having already wasted 16 eggs and several hours only to get cake that ended up in the garbage, I decided I had better find another cake recipe quick. I used the "plain génoise" recipe from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Cakes. I had to double it to get two cake layers (and I didn't bother adding any lemon zest), but 12 eggs later, I had two sponge cakes.

The lemon curd recipe is nothing particularly special; the most interesting component of the cake was the lemon buttercream. You beat a dozen egg yolks with a whisk attachment and slowly add in a water-sugar syrup that has been heated to 242 degrees. After whipping the mixture for about 15 minutes, you beat in a pound of softened butter. Then you fold in 2/3 cup of the lemon curd and 1/3 cup of lemon juice. The frosting had a beautiful natural yellow color (from the egg yolks) and was delightfully lemony.

To assemble the cake, you split each sponge cake to get four layers. You brush the first layer with lemon syrup (lemon juice, sugar, and water), followed up by a layer of the lemon buttercream and a layer of lemon curd. The second layer gets brushed with lemon syrup and then covered in orange marmalade. The third layer gets lemon syrup, buttercream, and lemon curd. My cake ended up with the layers slightly askew, because the lemon curd is slippery and it was hard to get the layers to stay in place. I also only had enough buttercream for a light coating around the entire cake -- there was not enough left for any decorative borders or piping around the edges. I was really not satisfied with the way the whole cake looked frosted -- you could tell it was a little lopsided and the frosting was visibly thin in a few spots. I was feeling mildly distressed about the cake's appearance until Tom brought me back to reality by pointing out, "You know, it's better than 99% of the cakes that most one-year olds are going to get on their birthday."

He had a point. And once the cake was sliced and served, it was just divine. The cake brushed with syrup was moist, and the lemon flavor in the buttercream and curd was bright and refreshing. This cake is a real treat for lemon lovers, and worthy to mark any special occasion.

Previous Posts:


anniea said…
Hi, I'm Ann and I'm sorry for your poor result on the Genoise. I do that recipe all the time with never a problem. Did you weigh the eggs in grams as I beg people to do. Years ago, I had the same problem you describe. When I weighed "large" eggs I was using. Each weighed closer to 56 grams instead of 50. When you use 8 or 10 eggs, You end up with more egg. The batter looks great, it rises and then suddenly falls in the middle. It's rubbery like an omelet. Too much egg.
Oh, that is a good point -- I very rarely weigh my eggs, but the few times I have, I have noticed a lot of variability. Maybe I need to revisit this recipe!