Tangy sweet and irresistibly light and airy, this lemon layer cake is bursting with zesty lemon through and through! Light sponge cake layers infused with lemon syrup and homemade lemon curd, and then filled with velvety smooth lemon Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.
Who needs a sunshine today?
This beautiful lemon layer cake will sure brighten everyone’s day no matter how gloomy it looks outside. Seriously, how can you not smile when you look at this beauty, right?
This lemon cake is every citrus-lover’s dream!!
Confession. I’m not much of a cake decorator. I’m actually pretty bad at it.
I try to keep it simple when it comes to decorating a cake, because if I try harder I just make a mess. That’s why I set a little challenge for myself for 2019 – to bake more show-stopping cakes with beautiful decorations. Yep, I’m going to learn to decorate cakes. For starters, I need to learn to properly frost cakes. Like starting with crumb coating and finishing with super smooth beautiful frosting finish. We’ll get there, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.
But for now, “naked” cakes will do. It looks rustic and chic, doesn’t it?
Last week, I shared a fool-proof super simple sponge cake recipe. And today we’re going to use it in our lemon layer cake. We’ll add a few more ingredients in the sponge cake batter to add a hint of citrus.
The best part about this cake is that you can make this cake in advance. In stages, if you want. Actually, it’s BEST if you bake the cake a day or two in advance (or even a month ahead, the sponge cake freezes well!)
Since I already shared the detailed step-by-step instructions on how to make the sponge cake here, let’s dive right into assembling the cake.
TIP: It’s easier to slice the cake into thin layers when the cake has been fully chilled, preferably overnight. Fresh cake tends to crumble easily. Also this cake slicing kit helps A TON!!! (But here’s a cheaper version.)
How to make moist and tender sponge cake?
Sponge cake tends to be a bit dry and bland on its own. And it’s important to infuse the cake layers with simple syrup. Don’t even think about skipping this step to cut down on calories. We’re eating a cake, might as well make it worth it, right?
So for this lemon cake, we’re making lemon simple syrup. It’s easy. Boil some water, add sugar and lemon juice and voila! Generously brush it on each cake layer to add flavor and make it moist and tender. If you don’t have a pastry brush, just use a regular spoon, but be careful not to overdo on syrup in some places.
So what makes this lemon cake so spectacular?
A layer of lemon curd adds a burst of sunshine in every bite! Homemade lemon curd is so easy to make and way more delicious than store-bought one. Plus, you can make it ahead as well.
And the frosting. Light and airy sponge cake deserves light and fluffy frosting too! Velvety smooth lemon Swiss meringue buttercream, to be exact. Yes, it’s a bit more finicky than regular buttercream, but trust me, it’s SO worth it!!!
So to summarize, our lemon layer cake consists of light and airy sponge cake layers infused with lemon simple syrup + lemon curd + lemon Swiss meringue buttercream. A dreamy kind of cake for sure!
And why stop there? Let’s top it with lemon macarons!!! Because, again, I’m not much of a cake decorator, so I overcompensate with what I can. 😉
You may think this cake is an overkill with lemon everything. But for a true citrus-lover, it’s a dream! Now, let’s make a lemon tea. Just kidding.
But a cup of nice strong black tea would hit the spot just right! You in?
Lemon Layer Cake
Lemon sponge cake:
- 6 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup 200gr sugar, divided
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar optional
- 1 ½ cups 180gr plain cake flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
Lemon Swiss Buttercream:
- 6 egg whites
- 1 ½ cups 300gr sugar
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups 340gr unsalted butter, softened and cubed
Lemon Simple Syrup:
- ¾ cup 150gr sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup homemade lemon curd
- To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line bottom of 1 9-inch springform pan (at least 3 inches tall) with parchment paper. No need to grease the pan.
- Separate egg whites and yolks, making sure not even a little bit of egg yolk gets into the whites. (Tip: It’s easier to separate the egg when they’re cold right out of the fridge.)
- In a mixing bowl with whisk attachment, whisk together egg yolks, ½ cup of sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest until pale and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, sift flour and salt.
- In another mixing bowl with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium low speed until foamy.
- Stir in cream of tartar, if using.
- Add remaining ½ cup of sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to whisk until stiff peaks, gradually increasing the speed to medium high, 7-10 minutes.
- Using a spatula, add 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and gently fold until mostly smooth. Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until smooth.
- Add sifted flour into the batter in 3 stages, whisking the batter well after each addition.
- Pour the batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.
- Bake the cake until inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Don’t open the oven for at least the first 30 minutes!
- Let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Then run a knife around the edges and invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Once cooled, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate, preferably overnight. It’ll be easier to slice it when the cake is thoroughly chilled.
- To make the Swiss meringue buttercream, in a small saucepan, whisk together egg whites, sugar and lemon juice and cook the mixture until sugar melts and it reaches 160°F (70°C) stirring continuously, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture into clean, fat-free mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Whisk on low speed for a minute, then slowly increase the speed to medium high and beat until stiff peaks form and the mixture is cool to touch, about 10 minutes.
- Switch to a paddle attachment.
- Slowly add butter one cube at a time. Make sure the butter is fully incorporated before adding the next one. The mixture might curdle, but don’t panic. Continue to beat the mixture until smooth, 5-10 minutes. (When the frosting reaches the right consistency, you will start hearing slapping sound.)
- Transfer the buttercream into a large frosting bag. You can use a round piping tip, if you have it, but it's not necessary.
- To make the lemon simple syrup, in a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water, sugar and lemon juice. Bring it to a boil and simmer until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
- Place the bottom cake layer on a serving platter. (TIP: Place 3 strips of parchment or wax paper on the bottom to keep the serving platter clean.) Brush on 1/3 of chilled lemon syrup evenly on the cake. Pipe the buttercream around the edges, creating a border. Fill the inside with 1/3 cup of lemon curd. Pipe some buttercream over the curd and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Place the next cake layer and repeat.
- Place the top cake layer upside down so that the top of the cake is nice and flat. Coat the entire cake with frosting and smooth it with an offset spatula.
- Decorate the cake with the remaining lemon curd, lemon slices and/or lemon macarons.
Tips & Notes:
- Cake can be made and frozen up to a month in advance, or refrigerated for up to a week. Thaw frozen cake in the fridge overnight.
- Swiss meringue buttercream can also be made and frozen for up to 3 months, or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Thaw the frozen buttercream on the counter overnight. Whip it before using.
- Lemon syrup can also be made a week in advance. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Lemon curd can be frozen for up to 2 months, or refrigerated for up o 2 weeks.