Yet another birthday has come and gone. And while last year I was rebellious and decided to celebrate with and overdose of nutella in my birthday party dessert, (as is proper in any birthday party, anywhere, ever) this year I indulged instead in a mile high cake. Because I’m piling on the years, I figured it’s only fitting to pile on the size of the cake. This cake, with it’s polished and big look, has many steps to it, but it’s actually very easy and quick to make, (compared to other -cup- cakes I’ve made) so it was a great choice for a hectic day, in which I ran all across the city since morning and only started to prepare a full make your own grilled cheese bar about 1 hour before the guests arrived. My lateness, and the unpredictable may weather, resulted in what looked very much like an english tea party, instead of lunch. But who’s complaining? You can hardly beat a late lunch with rainy weather, flowers and cake. And gin and tonics instead of tea, of course! Tempted to do the same? Read more for the recipe!
For the cake
1 cup butter, at room temperature (soft)
1 1/3 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated (refrigerate the egg whites while you measure out the rest)
2 2/3 cups flour
Zest of 6 med. lemons or 6 large ones
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
For the meringue
4 egg whites, chilled
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1.- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour (or line with parchment paper) a 12 inch round cake pan.
2.- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and poppy seeds. Add the zest and mix thoroughly.
3.- In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together the butter and sugar on high speed until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 mins. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4.- Mix the lemon juice and vanilla.
5.- Add the flour mix in batches to the butter and sugar, alternating with the sour cream and lemon juice and mixing until you get a smooth batter. Transfer the batter to a large bowl.
6.- Beat the egg whites on high speed using the whisk attachment, until stiff peak forms. Add a little, about a spatula-full, of the stiffened whites to the cake batter and mix it in until the batter is a bit “softer” (this step loosens up the batter so you can better fold in the rest of the whites). Add the remaining whites and using a large spatula, fold them into the batter. Trasnfer to the cake pan and bake until evenly golden, and until a toothpick inserted in the middle come out clean. Trasnfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Make the meringue
1.- Once your cake is cooled or you are ready to serve, place the egg whites on the bowl of your mixer and set aside.
2.- In a medium pan with high sides, place the sugar and cover with water. Let sit for a couple minutes (to let the sugar fully absorb the water, this way you prevent sugar crystals from forming) and then cook on med until you get a soft ball stage syrup, or a candy thermometer reads 224ºF (118ºC).*
*(HANDY TIP: I like placing a bowl of water with ice next to my pot and once the sugar is boiling, you’ll see the bubbles start taking longer to burst, when this happens, using a teaspoon, drop a little bit of syrup into the iced water. If your syrup is ready, a round squishy blob that holds it’s shape will form at the bottom. If it’s not ready, the syrup will dissolve, and if you have overcooked it, the syrup will harden. I like using this technique because you don’t need thermometer, which can sometimes lie, and you eventually develop a feel for syrup stages without the need to check) ,
3.- Before your syrup is ready (when your thermometer raises above 170º, for example, or when the sugar is past a simmer), start beating the egg whites. If you time it right, your syrup will be ready at the same time the egg whites start to stiffen. At this point, slowly but steadily pour the syrup into the whites, aiming between the whisk and the side of the bowl as the you keep whisking on high speed. When you’re done with the syrup, beat for another minute or so. You should now have a smooth, stiff meringue. (hot!)
Extra tip: Making italian meringue is actually much easier than it sounds, here’s a handy video explaining it in under 3 minutes: https://youtu.be/nSFv5NyUxas
4.- Top your cake with the meringue, and using a rubber or metal spatula, shape the meringue into many small peaks. If you have a torch, finish the cake by glazing with it. Serve right away. (Tip: The meringue will start to lose it’s shape and glossiness after a few hours, but while not recommended, it can hold out in a cool spot, even overnight.)