As far as birthday cakes go, this is a bit of a stunner. Pillowy meringues sit on top of layers of light, fluffy sponge, filled and iced with lemony mascarpone. The decoration is based entirely on a recipe and design from Fiona Cairn’s The Birthday Cake Book, but rather than risking a brand new recipe for my sister’s birthday centrepiece, I called upon some old favourites. I often take this Avengers Assemble approach for special occasion bakes and this time it was Hugh’s (Fearnley-Whittingstall) meringues and Jane’s (Asher) sponge that had my back.
for the meringues…
- 2 medium egg whites
- 100g caster sugar
for the sponge…
- 4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
- the weight of the 4 eggs in slightly salted, spreadable butter (I like Lurpack best)
- the weight of the 4 eggs in caster sugar
- the weight of the 4 eggs in premium, self-raising sponge flour (the secret weapon)
- zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
for the filling and decoration…
- 300g mascarpone
- 300g of lemon curd
- 100g flaked almonds
- finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
you will need – two 20cm sandwich tins
- First of all make the meringues which, thanks to Hugh, is a doddle. I made the meringues in the morning, the cake in the afternoon, but you can always make the meringues the day before too. Whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks, add half the sugar and whisk into the egg whites. Then add the rest of sugar, whisking until the egg whites are thick, shiny and holding stiff peaks. It would be rude not to tell you to turn the bowl upside over your head at this point, do it, it’s ridiculously satisfying. Now spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and pop them straight into an oven preheated to 120°C. Leave them in the oven for 2 hours until completely dry on the outside. Done.
- Sponge time. The thing I love about Jane’s sponge is the guaranteed monster rise and the texture is as light as air. This is because there’s a lot of beating involved so an electric hand-whisk or a food processor will make your life a lot easier at this point. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C (165°C for fan assisted ovens). Beat together the butter and sugar until it looks like whipped cream, seriously it will turn practically white when you’ve shown it who’s boss, and at this point begin to gradually add the beaten eggs, a tiny amount at a time. After the eggs I switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and fold in the flour and lemon zest in a couple of batches. Line your sandwich tins and then spoon the mixture into them both evenly before putting them into the oven for 25-35 mins. My oven is insane so I always check after 25mins with a sharp knife or cake tester, if it comes out clean, they’re done.
- When the meringues and cakes are completely cool it’s time to decorate. To make the filling and icing for the outside mix together the mascarpone and lemon curd, just enough to marble the two together. Sandwich the two cakes together with about a third of the mixture, then, using a palette knife smooth the rest over the top and around the side of the cake. I tend to cover the top first before working around the side, and start thinly so that the cake gets completely covered, you can always add more as you go along. Once the cake is iced, take handfuls of almonds and pat them gently around the sides, filling in any holes as you go. Finally arrange the meringues on top and scatter with grated lemon zest.
This is a real show-stopper of a cake, but yes, like any self-respecting diva, it does take a while to prepare for its close up, so allow yourself the day to get it all done. It’s worth it I promise and goes down great with a chilled glass of bubbly.