It's our 22nd wedding anniversary and I'm planning our cake again. It's a tradition in my family that all special occasions are always accompanied with a cake or dessert made just for the occasion. It gives me a wonderful excuse to do what I love, plus it's a fantastic way to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations.
So what cake to make and design for this anniversary? I thought about it for a few weeks, and finally decided on a lemon meringue cake. A lemon meringue pie would be delicious, but that's just not festive enough for an anniversary, so lemon meringue cake it is.
Meringue is a light topping, and should be paired with a light and airy cake. So instead of a lemon butter or sponge cake, which was my original idea, I narrowed it down to chiffon or steam cake, and finally decided on a steamed lemon cake. Flavourful steamed lemon cake filled with sweet and tangy lemon curd, and iced with light, fluffy meringue. Oh yes, that would be the perfect combination for the perfect anniversary cake!
Making the Steamed Lemon Cake
The recipe for the steamed lemon cake is pretty straightforward. If you don't have a steamer, a wok works well. Pay special attention to the beating of the egg and sugar. Beating the egg and sugar mixture traps air in the mixture and enables the cake to rise well, so make sure you don't get impatient here.
This is how the mixture should look before folding in the dry and wet ingredients. The mixture should be light, thick and creamy.
If you use a wok to steam the cake, like me, cover the cake pan with aluminium foil, then cover the wok.
Once the cake is baked, leave it in the pan and let it cool on a cooling grid for at least 20 minutes. While still in the pan, brush some lemon syrup on the surface of the cake, paying special attention to the edges of the cake.
Use a thin, sharp knife to gently insert around the edges of the cake to loosen the cake from the pan. Invert the pan to release the cake and leave it to cool completely on the cooling grid.
The cake will be about 2 1/4 inches high, which is great for a cake for tea. As this will be a celebration cake, I wanted it higher, so I baked another 1/2 recipe.
Making The Syrup
This is seriously the best secret to making moist cakes , and it works for me every time. Even if a cake comes out dry, don't fret because you can "save" it. It's all in the syrup and how you use it.
It's really easy to make the syrup. You just heat up equal amount of sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved. You can also add a few drops of flavouring or essence if you prefer. Then put aside to cool. You can use it straightaway. For stronger flavour, you can substitute the water with juice.
For my cake, I heated a combination of 100gm sugar and 100gm lemon juice.
Using The Syrup
When the cake is still warm from the oven, leave it to cool for about 10 minutes. While still in the cake pan, brush some syrup on top of the cake. I usually wait until the first brushing has been absorbed into the cake, then I brush it on again. After that, I release the cake from the pan and cool on the cooling grid.
If you feel that the cake still needs a little more moistening, then you can drizzle the syrup into the cake. After torting the cake into separate cake layers, poke the cake layer all over and right through with a toothpick, wiggling it a little a little so the holes are slightly larger, then drizzle the syrup into the holes. Pipe the meringue around the perimeter of the cake layer and spread the filling on the cake layer.
When using the syrup, it's important to allow it to get absorbed into the cake before reapplying. You need to keep checking to gauge if it's enough. Don't feel that you need to use up all the syrup. You want your cake to be moist, not soggy.
Making the Lemon Curd
Lemon curd mixture starts out very liquid, but as you continue whisking, it will thicken. Remember to whisk it over low heat. To test when it's done, lay the back of a spoon lightly on the surface of the curd. If the curd is thick enough to coat it, it is ready. The texture is similar to thick jam.
If you don't wish to use it immediately, let it cool completely, then pour it into an air-tight container and refrigerate. It will keep well for about a week.
Making the Meringue
Making meringue is quite straightforward. Take note of these pointers for a successful meringue:
Make sure your eggs are properly separated. Your egg whites must be completely free from egg yoke. Eggs separate easier when they are cold, but they whip better at room temperature. So it's best to separate eggs when it's taken straight out from the refrigerator, then leave the egg whites at room temperature for about an hour before whipping them.
Everything that touches the meringue must be grease-free. It will deflate at the slightest touch of oil and grease. To ensure all utensils, bowls and whisks are grease free, wipe with kitchen towel dampened with lemon juice.
Meringue can be browned in two ways. If using a handheld torch, make sure you hold it about 6 to 8 inches away. If using an oven, temperature should be between 200 to 250 deg celsius for 8 to 12 minutes. In this recipe, I used my oven to brown the meringue.
Making the Gumpaste Cut Out Topper
silicon mold (if using)
candy melts (or other adherents)
1. I wanted to make a cut out of a silhouette as the main topper for this cake. To do this, I just searched for one I liked, expanded it to the right size fot an 8 inch cake, printed it out and cut out the silhouette . This will be my template.
2. As the cut out needed to be stiff, I used gumpaste, which is dough-like, similar to fondant, except that it can be rolled very thin and dries hard. Although it is edible, it's not meant to be eaten as it has no taste, so it is only ever used to make toppers and decorations, like sugar flowers.
3. Colour gumpaste cornflower blue. Roll the gumpaste to about 2 to 3 mm thick as I need the silhouette to be fairly thick and sturdy. Place the silhouette template onto the rolled gumpaste and cut it out, using a sharp craft knife. Then gently smoothen and tamper down the cut edges with your finger while the gumpaste is still malleable.
4. Dust the silicon mold with cornstarch. Pull off an appropriate amount of gumpaste and mold into a ball to fit the mold. Press the gumpaste ball into the mold, making sure to fit every part of the mold. Then using the edge of a small spatula or a sharp knife, level the gumpaste with the mold and use finger to smoothen and push gumpaste further into the mold. Finally bend the mold to remove the molded gumpaste.
5. Using a quilting tool, run it closely along the edges of the silhouette gumpaste cut out.
6. Using a slightly darker blue shade of petal dust, brush from edge in give the silhouette better definition and dimension.
7. Using gold luster dust, paint gold onto the numbers 2 by adding a little water to the luster dust. Set aside to dry completely.
8. Use melted candy melts to stick wooden sticks to the back of the silhouette cut out. Candy melts are best as they adhere very well. If you don't have candy melts, you can also use melted fondant, or even hot glue gun (but if you do, please make sure no one eats the silhouette cut out). Set aside.
9. Attach the numbers to the silhouette cut out and set aside to dry and harden.
Assembling the Cake
1. Tort the cake by cutting it horizontally. My preferred tool is a cake leveler as it allows me to adjust the height of the cutter to cut through the cake easily and uniformly. This can also be done using a long serrated knife. The drawback of using the knife is you have to constantly check the height of the layer to ensure uniformity.
2. Lift the torted layer using a cake lifter and set aside.
3. Put a cake layer on a plate (make sure it is oven friendly). This will be the bottom layer.
4. Brush or poke some holes all around the cake layer and drizzle lemon syrup into the cake layer (put a little more at the edges).
5. Put some meringue in a piping bag. Pipe a border around the perimeter of the cake layer. This will act as a wall to prevent the filling from seeping through.
6. Spoon in lemon curd filling up to the meringue "wall".
7. Carefully lift and place the next cake layer on top, then repeat until the final cake layer has been added.
8. Using an icing spatula, spread meringue on the sides of the cake, then at the top. Use the spatula to make swirls or peaks.
9. Brown the meringue either by handheld torch or in an oven at 200 to 250 deg Celsius for about 8 to 12 minutes.
When using meringue, it is best to ice and brown your cake just before serving (or if you plan to decorate, make sure all your decorations are ready so it only takes you a few minutes to decorate it).
If time does not permit and you have to ice and brown your cake with meringue the day before you plan to serve your cake, then cover and refrigerate it. Meringue will absorb water from the air, so you may find little golden-coloured crystal droplets all over the cake when you take it out of the refrigerator the next day. Don't worry if this happens. Take a tissue or cotton and gently touch the droplets so they will be "lifted" out of the meringue. This was what happened with my cake and what I did. It worked well and only took about 15 minutes.
Decorating the Cake
When using fresh flowers, try to get organic ones (without pesticides). I know it's hard to find those, so if you're not sure, you need to make sure the flowers are cleaned and do not touch the cake.
1. Put flowers under running water to wash them the day before you plan to use them. When ready to use, dampen some cotton or tissue and individually wipe and clean the petals and stems.
2. Cut parchment paper in the approximate shape and size of the flowers.
3. Place the parchment paper on the cake.
4. Lay the flowers on the parchment paper. You can trim any parts of the parchment paper that is uncovered by the flowers.
5. Finally, push the silhouette cut outs into the middle of the cake.
Happy Anniversary to Us!
Lemon Meringue Cake
Wok or electric steamer
Steam rack and wok lid/cover (if using wok)
Ingredients Group A:
Plain Flour 200gm
Cornstarch 15gm (2 Tbsp)
Baking Powder ½ tsp
Ingredients Group B:
Lemon Zest of 1 lemon
Lemon Juice of 1 lemon (around 4 Tbsp)
Vegetable Oil 60gm
4 Eggs, regular sized
Caster Sugar 125gm
Prepare and heat steamer.
Grease and line one 8 inch cake pan.
Sift together ingredients group A and set aside.
Combine ingredients group B and set aside.
Beat eggs in a mixer with a balloon whisk, at low speed.
Add sugar a quarter at a time while beating well in between additions, to ensure sugar is well incorporated.
Increase speed of mixer to medium and continue to beat until mixture becomes thick, light coloured and creamy. (unfortunately I didn't take note of how long I beat the mixer at this point. My estimate would be around 10 to 12 minutes. Just beat until you think it's ready, then wait 1 or 2 minutes to check if the mixture becomes lighter in colour. If it does, you need to beat a little longer. If it doesn't, it should be done). It is important that you not underbeat, as the height of the cake depends on the air that is built up and trapped in the egg-sugar mixture.
Reduce speed of mixer to low and continue to beat for a further 3 minutes.
Fold in groups A and B alternately, starting and ending with group A (flour mixture). Fold gently so as not to deflate the airy mixture. Do not overfold. Once there are no more lumps from the flour, stop immediately.
Gently pour into the greased and lined pan, then place pan in the steamer. Cover pan loosely with aluminium foil, then cover steamer. Steam for about 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.
Take cake pan out of steamer and place on to a cooling grid. Brush some lemon syrup on it. Allow the cake to cool in the pan.
Once cooled, gently insert a thin sharp knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake.
Cover the cake with cling film and refrigerate the cake until ready to tort (cut it horizontally) into layers, fill and assemble the cake.
100gm caster sugar
100gm lemon juice
Combine sugar and juice in a saucepan and heat until sugar completely dissolves.
Set aside to cool before using.
Refrigerate any leftover syrup in a closed container up to 2 weeks.
(adapted from epicurious.com)
Heavy bottom saucepan or double boiler
Bowl or jar
120ml fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
100gm castor sugar
3 large eggs
85gm unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Whisk together all ingredients in a heavy saucepan, over low heat. You can also use the double boil method.
Curd is ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about about 6 minutes.
Pour lemon curd to a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Refrigerate for at least an hour before using. Curd can be kept chilled in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
(adapted from Betty Crocker)
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Using a balloon whisk, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixer at high speed until it is light and foamy.
Add in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating in between each addition, then continue to beat until it is stiff and glossy.
Add in vanilla (optional), and continue beating until completely incorporated.
Assemble Lemon Meringue Cake
Steamed lemon cake
Tort the cake into layers by using a cake leveler or serrated knife. Lift and separate the torted layers using a cake lifter.
Place the bottom cake layer on a plate. Poke the cake layer all over with a toothpick and drizzle lemon syrup into the holes.
Put some meringue into a piping bag and pipe around the perimeter of the cake layer. This will act as a wall to prevent the filling from seeping out.
Spread lemon curd within the meringue “wall”.
Lay the next layer on top and continue the same way until the top layer is placed.
Heat oven to 250 deg Celsius. If your oven does not allow you to reach this temperature, heat it to the highest possible.
Using a large icing spatula, ice the cake with meringue. There is no need to ice neatly. Ice with visible swipes and swirls. These will be highlighted very prettily once meringue is browned.
Place cake into the oven for about 8 to 12 minutes (depending on temperature), until meringue is browned to your preference. Make sure the plate your cake is placed is oven friendly.
Cool cake completely (around 2 hours) in a draft-free room at room temperature.
Cake is ready to serve. If making this ahead of time, cover cake with cling film, then chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.