My husband recently had a birthday. He wasn't happy about it. It was one of those with a zero attached and he was vacillating between checking out Ferrari dealerships and retirement communities. Although, to be honest, the draw of the retirement community was that no kids are allowed. Since we can't afford a Ferrari and we still have an 8 year old at home, we settled on cake.
The tradition in our family is that the birthday boy or girl gets to pick their own cake and I make it for them. This year we had several contestants on So You Think You Can Be A Birthday Cake. When the elimination rounds were over, the final cake left standing was the Lemon Icebox Cake featured in the Fine Cooking that had just come in the mail. Lemon, creamy, and Rose Levy Berenbaum - what's not to love?
Well, what's not to love is how long it takes. Not having thoroughly read the recipe, I plunged right in making the angel food cake. After that came out of the oven, it was too late to make the filling, so I left that for the next day. Which ended up being two days later. And then I realized that the filling was not a one-step deal. It was make a custard, make a meringue, fold the custard into the meringue, whip cream, and fold that into the lemon cream. So it was late at night that I was slicing and layering the cake (maybe that's why my layers were so uneven), and then the cake sat in the refrigerator another two days because we were sick and no one felt like eating it.
When we finally got to the cake, I wasn't having warm fuzzy thoughts about it. More like, "eat the stupid cake and clear out the space in the refrigerator, already!" But that all evaporated with the first bite. Oh wow! Smooth, cool, luscious, tart and tangy, sweet, but not too sweet. My husband said it tasted like a lighter version of a lemon meringue pie. A crustless, melt-in-your-mouth version.
Oh, hooray, my work was not in vain! My husband was happy, and that's what counts. That and staying out of Ferrari debtor's prison.
Lemon Icebox Cake
- adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe in Fine Cooking
For the lemon filling
1-1/2 Tbs. firmly packed finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
3/4 cup egg yolks (from 11 to 12 large eggs)
6 Tbs. granulated sugar
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
Pinch table salt
1-1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
For the meringue
2 tsp. powdered unflavored gelatin
1 cup plus 3 Tbs. granulated sugar
3/4 cup egg whites (from 5 to 6 large eggs)
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
To finish the dessert
1 10-inch Angel Food Cake (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil, for the pan
1- Make and cool the Angel Food Cake, following the directions below.
2- For the lemon filling, put the lemon zest in a 4-quart or larger bowl and set a medium-mesh sieve on top. In a heavy-duty 4-quart saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Add the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon but still pourable, 4 to 5 minutes. (Don’t boil or it will curdle.) Pass the thickened curd through the sieve and mix in the zest. Cool, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.
3- When the lemon curd is cool, beat the cream with an electric mixer on medium speed just until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. With a large balloon whisk or silicone spatula, fold in the lemon curd. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
4- In a small, microwaveable bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 3 Tbs. water; let soften for at least 5 minutes. Microwave on high to melt the gelatin, 15 to 30 seconds.
5- In a heavy-duty nonstick 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1 cup of the sugar and 6 Tbs. water and stir constantly until the syrup is bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
6- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy, 45 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form, 30 seconds. Gradually beat in the remaining 3 Tbs. sugar until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.
7- Have ready a 2-cup or larger heatproof liquid measure. Return the pan of syrup to medium-high heat and boil until a candy thermometer registers 248°F (firm ball stage). Pour the syrup into the measure to stop the cooking and then immediately pour a small amount of syrup over the whites with the mixer off. Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. Lower the speed to medium, add the gelatin mixture, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Decrease the speed to low and continue beating until the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm to the touch, about 10 minutes.
8-Use a large balloon whisk or silicone spatula to fold one-third of the meringue into the lemon cream. Repeat twice more until all of the meringue is folded into the lemon cream.
9- Spread two 3-foot-long pieces of parchment or waxed paper on the counter. Position the cake so the top is facing up. Using a long serrated knife, remove and discard the brown top crust. Turn the cake bottom up and split it into 4 even layers. After cutting each layer, use two spatulas to lift a layer off the cake and put it on the parchment or waxed paper. Arrange the layers in the order you cut them so it’s easy to assemble the cake.
10-Lightly oil the inside of a clean 10-inch (16-cup) 2-piece metal tube pan. (EDIT - do NOT grease the pan. Your cake will not rise nicely. Sorry for the bad information here!)
11- Spread one-quarter of the filling on the bottom of the pan. Place the smallest cake ring on top of the filling. Spread about one-third of the remaining lemon filling on top. Top with the next cake layer. Spread on half of the remaining filling. Repeat with the third cake layer and remaining filling. Top with the last cake layer and lightly press it down. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.
12- To unmold, wet a kitchen towel under very hot water and wring out the excess. Wipe the sides and bottom of the pan to help release the cake smoothly.
13- Set the pan on top of a canister that’s smaller than the pan’s removable bottom and higher than the pan’s sides, and gently press down on the sides of the pan. If it doesn’t slide down easily, apply more heat to the sides.
14-Run a long offset spatula between the bottom of the cake and the pan. Run a wire cake tester or wooden skewer around the inner tube. Invert the cake onto a serving plate and remove the tube portion of the pan. Slice and serve the cake.
Classic Angel Food Cake
Vegetable oil for the pan
1-1/2 cups superfine sugar
3-3/4 oz. (1 cup) sifted cake flour
1/4 tsp. table salt
2 cups egg whites (from about 16 large eggs), at room temperature
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. cream of tartar
4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil the inside of a 10-inch (16- cup) 2-piece metal tube pan.
2- In a small bowl, whisk 3/4 cup of the sugar, the flour, and salt until evenly combined. Sift the remaining 3/4 cup sugar onto a piece of waxed paper.
3- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Turn off the mixer and add the lemon juice and cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the sifted sugar and continue beating on medium-high speed until very stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
4- One-quarter at a time, sift the flour mixture over the whites and, with a large balloon whisk, fold it in quickly but gently. It’s not necessary to incorporate every speck until the last addition of the flour.
5- Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of the cake batter onto the sides of the prepared pan to ensure smooth sides. Pour the remaining batter into the pan. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate air bubbles and smooth the surface.
6- Bake until golden-brown, a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cake springs back when lightly pressed, 30 to 40 minutes. (A wooden skewer will still have a few moist crumbs clinging to it.) During baking, the center will rise about 2 inches above the pan but will sink to almost level with the pan when done. The surface will have deep cracks, like a soufflé.
7- Immediately invert the cake: If your pan has feet, simply invert it onto the feet. Otherwise, invert the pan onto a long-necked soda or wine bottle, or a large inverted metal funnel that fits into the tube opening to suspend it well above the counter (if using a soda or wine bottle, fill it with sugar, salt, or marbles to keep it from tipping). Cool the cake completely in the pan, about 1-1/2 hours.
8- Loosen the sides of the cake with a long metal spatula and remove the cake (still on the tube section) from the sides of the pan. Loosen the cake from the bottom and tube with the spatula or a thin, sharp knife. (A wire cake tester works well around the tube. To keep the sides attractive, press the spatula firmly against the sides of the pan, moving the spatula up and down as you go around.) Invert the cake onto a flat plate or work surface covered with plastic wrap.