Yellow Torte with Lemon Syrup, Whipped Cream, and Lemon Curd

An ode to lemon desserts! This cake rocks, I promise you. It's moist and packed with friendliness!

An ode to lemon desserts! One of the best lemon desserts I’ve ever had, this cake rocks, I promise you. It’s moist and packed with friendliness!

I’m really excited about this cake, because as a rule lemon desserts aren’t my favourite, and yet this cake is nothing short of divine. The yellow cake layers, plenty moist already, are moistened further with a sweet lemon syrup that is poured over the layers as they are cooling. Sweetened whipped cream is spread thickly between each layer, and lemon curd (which, if you’ve never had it, is sweet, tart, creamy, and slightly thicker and stiffer than pudding) is spread on top and allowed to ooze a little down the sides. The finished product resembles a Boston cream pie, citrus style.

Moist, lemon-soaked cake layers peeping through snowy whipped cream. I think the lemon curd on top looks smug, don't you?

Moist, lemon-soaked cake layers peeping through snowy whipped cream. I think the lemon curd on top looks smug, don’t you?

Each component is pretty exciting by itself. This is the first yellow cake recipe I’ve encountered that has produced a moist, flavourful crumb; all the others turned out blandly sweet and disgustingly dry, and I’d nearly given up on making yellow cake from scratch until I made this one. This one is so damn good, I’ll never use a box again. The lemon syrup is equal parts sweetness and citrus tang. The lemon curd is easy to make and comes together very quickly, and it is tart but not overly so, lemony but not too lemony, sweet but not cloying – you get it, it’s very balanced in terms of flavor. I highly recommend this curd recipe, as it requires a minimum of ingredients with no zesting of any lemons, and takes mere minutes to make. It can be adapted to virtually any citrus fruit you care to use (I adapted it from a recipe for key lime curd, cutting the sugar as lemons need less sugar than do key limes in order to cut their tartness). The sweetened whipped cream is a lovely clean note amidst all the lemon flavour, and its creamy texture is just dreamy with the moist cake and the thick lemon curd.

Here is a previous batch of lemon curd spread atop a cake. As you can see, its consistency is on the thin side - just slightly thicker than pudding.

Here is a previous batch of lemon curd spread atop a cake. As you can see, its consistency is on the thin side – just slightly thicker than pudding.

My only issue with this cake recipe is that it yields a lot of batter! The first time I baked it, I used a 9×13″ dish and put all the batter into it. Big mistake! The outside edges burned and the center remained underdone, because a 9×13″ dish is just too small for the amount of batter made by the recipe. For this particular cake, I used two 9×3″ round cake pans and torted each layer into two layers, but this barely worked because there was still too much batter in each pan. This recipe should be divided between three 9″ cake pans, though I think it would also work divided between three 8″ cake pans.

Make this for the lemon lover in your life! You’ll be surprised at how delicious and light and refreshing it is, and you’ll come to love it, too. You’ll write it little love poems on your lunch break. You’ll sit staring out at the moon at night, dreaming of this beautiful cake. And if it still – through some weird space-time continuum fluke – doesn’t ring your bell, then make a key lime version instead. 🙂

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Yellow Torte with Lemon Syrup, Whipped Cream, and Lemon Curd

Yield: One three-layered 8″ or 9″ cake


For the lemon curd:
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

For the cake:
1 cup sour cream
1 generous tsp buttermilk
1 generous TBS vanilla extract
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 TBS baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs plus 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

For the lemon syrup:
6 TBS lemon juice
6 TBS sugar

For the sweetened whipped cream:
3 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold
3 cups powdered sugar


For the lemon curd:
Note: The lemon curd can be made up to two weeks in advance. I highly advise making this at least the day before it is needed, as it requires several hours in the refrigerator to firm up enough to use.

In a non-reactive saucepan, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well blended. Whisk in the lemon juice. Place pan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is warmed through. Be sure to heat the mixture slowly to avoid curdling the eggs. Whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, allowing each piece to completely incorporate into the lemon mixture before adding the next piece. Keep cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and the whisk leaves a path through the mixture when drawn through it. Do not allow mixture to rise in temperature above 175˚F, or the eggs will curdle. Immediately remove pan from heat and transfer the contents to a heatproof bowl. Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap (make sure the plastic wrap is actually touching the curd’s surface) in order to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight or up to two weeks.

For the lemon syrup:
Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat, cooking just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Make syrup just after the cakes come out of the oven; the syrup should still be warm when poured over the warm cakes (see instructions for cakes below).

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Spray three three 8″ or 9″ pans with nonstick cooking spray, line each pan with a parchment paper circle, and spray pans again.

In a small bowl, blend sour cream, buttermilk, and vanilla. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Blend in eggs and yolks one at a time, scraping sides of bowl after each addition. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and beating each addition only until just blended. Do not overbeat batter.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake 25 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer cakes to cooling racks. It would be best to have each cake over a cooling rack so that when the lemon syrup is poured over it, the excess syrup can drip away from the cake; however, if you don’t have a rack of some kind, then large, flat plates will do fine.

While the cakes are still warm, place a large piece of aluminum foil under each cooling rack to catch drips from the lemon syrup. (If using plates, you don’t need the foil. Just proceed with the rest of the instructions.) Using a fork or a skewer, poke the surface of each cake all over. You want lots of holes in each cake! Pour an equal amount of syrup evenly over the surface of each cake. Pour slowly and try to cover the entire surface of each cake layer. Use all of the lemon syrup. Allow cake layers to cool completely.

While the soaked cake layers are cooling, make the sweetened whipped cream.

For the sweetened whipped cream:
Place cold heavy cream and powdered sugar in a bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat, as the whipped cream will become grainy and lose its smooth texture. Use immediately.

Once cake layers are cooled, place one cake layer, top side down, on a serving platter. Spread 1/3 of the whipped cream on this layer and place a second cake layer, top side up, atop the whipped cream. Spread half of the remaining whipped cream on this layer and place final cake layer on top, top side facing down. Spread remaining whipped cream atop this layer.

Carefully spread the lemon curd evenly on the top, allowing it to ooze a little down the sides. Refrigerate cake for at least two hours to allow it to set. Serve with small squares of dark chocolate.

Sources: Lemon curd adapted from Annie’s Eats; yellow cake slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats; lemon syrup heavily adapted from Local Foods; overall concept mine



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