Is there anything more awkward than celebrating your birthday at work? You’re ushered into the boardroom in front of a huge candle-lit cake and your whole office sings the worst rendition of happy birthday that you’ve ever heard in your life. And then there’s the HR-approved discussion skirting around how old you are now (unless you’re my politically incorrect boss, who will wonder out loud why you don’t have a boyfriend/ girlfriend/ fiancé/ husband/ wife/ baby/ mistress). I’ve also observed during my working career that the accounts department always mimes the singing but they eat the most cake.
Anyway. Being a total cake whore, how could I be expected to commit to one birthday cake when there’s a whole world full of delightful cakes and flavours and textures out there? Making myself two cakes seemed like a completely reasonable idea, even though I was baking cakes at midnight on a Saturday night and maniacally wondering what kind of 28 year old* person I had become.
*I am playing the Asians Look Younger Than They Really Are card and choosing to go with my appearance age in this particular case.
Cake No. 1 was the Chocolate Roulade which you can see here because it looked exactly like that. Cake No. 2 was this incredible Lemon Layer Cake. From the bottom up, this cake comprises lemon cake, vanilla mascarpone, lemon curd, lemon cake, vanilla mascarpone, lemon curd, lemon cake, vanilla mascarpone, white chocolate ganache, milk crumbs and raspberries. It’s amazing – vanilla creaminess, lemony fluffy cake, tangy lemon curd and sweet texture from the milk crumbs – however I needed 10 lemons to make it and for some reason lemons are $2 each right now. This is what you get for living in the eastern suburbs.
Obviously I did not eat these cakes all on my own because I’d have diabetes right now. I had an amazing birthday picnic where other people kindly ate them, and instead I had some of the cake that my lovely friend Rachel brought for me because she knows I’m obsessed with Lorraine’s Patisserie cheesecake. I did share it with everyone even though I was fighting every part of my being to hide the cheesecake under some dead leaves and sneak it home to eat alone in a dark room.
Admittedly there are a lot of elements in this cake, so a degree of organisation needs to happen here, like a choreographed dance. Don’t do too much at the same time or your lemon curd will curdle while your cake is burning and your milk crumbs are a hot mess. Consider making the lemon curd and milk crumbs in advance. From personal experience I can highly advise you to avoid being distracted by Channing Tatum movies or randomly investigating what the hell is taking up all the room in your freezer.
Lemon Mascarpone Layer Cake
For the Cake
6 large eggs, separated
170g sugar, divided use
170g sifted cake flour
Zest of one lemon
For the Lemon Syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
For the Lemon Curd
5 large eggs
5 egg yolks
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup + 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
130g cold unsalted butter, cubed
For the Mascarpone Filling
2.5 cups 500ml heavy whipping cream
85g granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two 9″ cake pans with parchment paper, but do not grease them in any way.
Whip the egg yolks with half of the sugar (3 oz, or 7 tbsp) in the bowl of a large stand mixer on high speed for 5 minutes, until they are very thick and light in color. Transfer the yolks to a separate bowl and wash the mixing bowl and whisk very well.
Whip the egg whites in the cleaned mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 3 oz/7 tbsp sugar a spoonful at a time, while mixing on high speed, until the egg whites hold firm peaks.
Fold one-third of the egg whites into the yolks with a spatula, then sift half of the cake flour on top and gently fold it in. Fold a second third of the egg whites into the yolks, sift the remaining cake flour on top, then fold that in. Finally, add the last of the egg whites, and when they’re almost incorporated, add the lemon zest and fold until everything is mixed together.
Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until the tops are golden, firm, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack to cool completely.
For the Syrup
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Allow to cool completely before use.
Fill the bottom of a double-boiler with 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer.
Place the eggs, yolks, and sugar in the top of the double boiler (off the heat) and whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and mix well.
Place the egg mixture over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the curd reaches 180 F on a candy thermometer. (If you don’t have a thermometer, it should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon.) Don’t let the curd boil, or you’ll have bits of scrambled egg in your curd.
Once cooked, strain the curd through a metal strainer into a bowl. Add the cold butter pieces to the curd, and whisk gently until the butter melts and the mixture is velvety-smooth. Press a layer of cling wrap on top of the curd and refrigerate it until it is cool, at least 3-4 hours or overnight.
Place the cream and sugar in the large bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until they form firm peaks, but do not over-beat or it will become grainy and curdled.
In a large bowl, combine the mascarpone and 1-1/2 cups of lemon curd, and stir until they’re well-mixed. It should be the consistency of pudding. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture, being careful not to overmix, or the mascarpone will look grainy and separated. If this happens, stir in a spoonful or two of heavy cream to smooth it out.
To Assemble the Cake
Unmold the cakes, and use a sharp serrated knife to cut each one in half, so you’re left with four thin cake rounds. Place one round on a cake cardboard and brush it with a quarter of the lemon syrup.
Spoon about 1/3 cup of the mascarpone filling on top of the cake round, and use a spatula to spread it evenly around. Top the mascarpone with about 1/3 cup of lemon curd, and spread it in a thin layer.
Place another cake round on top of the first, and brush this one with an equal amount of lemon syrup. Repeat the layer of cake rounds, lemon syrup, mascarpone, and lemon curd until you have added the final cake round to the top of the cake. Brush the top with the remaining lemon syrup.
Spread the remaining mascarpone mixture along the top and sides of the cake. Drizzle the white chocolate ganache over the top. Sprinkle with milk crumbs and add decorate with raspberries if desired.
This cake is best made a few hours–or even a day or two–in advance, so the flavors and textures have a chance to meld.
200g white chocolate, broken into small pieces
300ml pouring cream
Place white chocolate into a bowl. Heat cream until simmering in a small saucepan. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and leave for a few minutes to melt the chocolate. Stir together until smooth and combined. Leave to cool and thicken.
makes about 260 g (2 1/4 cups)
40 g (1/2 cup) milk powder
40 g (1/4 cup) flour
12 g (2 tbs) cornstarch
25 g (2 tbs) sugar
2 g (1/2 tsp) kosher salt
55 g (4 tbs) butter, melted
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder & 40 g (1/2 cup) milk powder
90 g (3 oz) white chocolate, melted
Heat the oven to 250°f.
Combine the 40 g (½ cup) milk powder, the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. toss with your hands to mix. add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.
Spread the clusters on a parchment- or silpat-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. the crumbs should be sandy at that point, and your kitchen should smell like buttery heaven. cool the crumbs completely.
Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than ½ inch in diameter, and put the crumbs in a medium bowl. add the 20 g (¼ cup) milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
Pour the white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed. then continue tossing them every 5 minutes until the white chocolate hardens and the clusters are no longer sticky. the crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.