This is a simple vanilla cake filled with lemon curd and dressed up with whipped cream frosting and lemon lime zest. I do this when I have special days or events on my calendar, and on every occasion, this vanilla cake never fails to get raves and lots of compliments, even from those who don’t ordinarily eat cake. I can’t say enough about it except that that this is one of those cakes that is a real labour of love, given the work you will have to do to put this together.
While I am an artistic person by nature, decorating a cake is always a challenging task for me. What the mind visualises is not usually how the cake turns out, so I’ve come to learn not to over-think the process and just have fun. Probably what I should have done right at the beginning, but it’s that perfectionist in me that tends to take things a little too seriously. Seriously. But, the great thing about vanilla cake is that it is so versatile as a base for almost any kind of filling and frosting, so just let your ideas flow and go with your favourite fillings and toppings.
Here, I decided on the candied lemon lime zest as a simple yet elegantly beautiful way to decorate the top of your cake, centering round a piped rosette of whipped cream frosting, while toasted nibbed almonds are used to dress the sides. Many, many thanks to the contributor of the original recipe with instructions posted on www.chow.com.
The game plan is to break up the task over two, or even three days. The lemon-lime curd and candied zest can be made up to three days in advance. Candied zest will keep up to a week if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. As with most things, this cake certainly gets easier to make with repetitive effort, but you will most definitely fall in love with its soft, fluffy, melt-in-the-mouth moist chiffon cake texture with an incredibly great zesty, citrus flavour!
This is essentially a 4-layer vanilla chiffon cake, filled with top and bottom layers of whipped vanilla cream frosting and a middle layer of lemon-lime curd. You would certainly have more than enough lemon curd to fill all the layers, but I opted to to do cream-filled layers to offset the sweetness of the lemon-lime curd.
I used a tried and tested vanilla chiffon cake recipe for the cake base and modified the filling and frosting proportions for a 7-inch layered cake.
Vanilla Celebration Cake
For the Cake:
- 1 vanilla chiffon cake, sliced into 2 layers
- 4 cups stabilised whipped cream frosting
- 1/2 cup nibbed almonds, toasted till golden brown
For the Lemon-Lime Curd:
- 6 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup fine caster sugar
- 4 - 5 tbsp finely grated lemon zest, from about 4 to 5 medium lemons
- 6 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, from about 3 to 4 medium lemons
- 2 tbsp finely grated lime zest, from about 2 to 3 medium limes
- 3 tbsp cup freshly squeezed lime juice, from about 2 medium limes
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 125 g unsalted butter, cut into 9 pieces, at room temperature
For the Candied Zest (Optional):
- 3 medium lemons
- 3 medium limes
- 2 cups caster sugar
- 3/4 cup water, or more as needed
For the Stabilised Whipped Cream:
- 2 cups whipping Cream
- 2 tsp gelatin, unflavoured
- 4 tbsp cold water
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 tbsp confectioner's sugar
To make the Lemon-Lime Curd:
- Fill a medium saucepan with 1 to 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer over high heat; reduce the heat to medium low and keep the water at a bare simmer.
- Place all of the ingredients except the butter in a large heatproof bowl and whisk to combine. Set the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and is the consistency of mayonnaise, about 13 to 15 minutes. (Periodically check to make sure the water isn’t boiling by removing the bowl from the saucepan using a potholder or dry towel. If the water is boiling, reduce the heat so the eggs don’t curdle.)
- Remove the bowl from the simmering water. Immediately whisk in the butter 1 piece at a time, waiting until each piece is completely melted and incorporated before adding the next.
- Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Strain the curd, pressing on the solids and scraping the extra curd clinging to the underside of the strainer into the bowl; discard the solids. Immediately press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until set and chilled, at least 3 hours. (The curd can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days ahead.) Meanwhile, make the candied zest, if using.
To make the Candied Zest (Optional):
- Using a vegetable peeler and being careful to avoid the white pith, remove the zest from the lemons and limes in large strips. Very thinly slice the strips lengthwise.
- Place the zest in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover it by 1 inch. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Drain through a strainer and set the zest aside in the strainer; reserve the saucepan (no need to wash it).
- Place 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the measured water in the reserved saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the reserved zest (reserve the strainer—no need to wash it) and stir to combine.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the zest is translucent, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place the reserved strainer over a medium heatproof bowl.
- Pour the mixture through the strainer (reserve the syrup for another use) and set the zest aside to cool slightly, about 3 minutes.
- Place the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a medium bowl. Working in small batches, toss the warm zest in the sugar, coating the strips thoroughly. Shake off the excess sugar, transfer the zest to a baking sheet, and spread it into a single layer. Let cool completely, about 10 minutes, and set aside. (Once cooled and dry, the candied zest can be covered with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.)
To make Stabilized Whipped Cream:
- Place the electric mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for at least half an hour before use. Keep cream cold in the refrigerator, taking out only when ready to whip.
- Pour the cold water into a glass bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the water. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, fill a saucepan with water up to 2 cm height. Bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Sit the bowl of gelatin over the rim of the saucepan, ensuring that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the surface of the water. Stir continuously until all the gelatin dissolves. Once dissolved, set aside and let mixture cool down to room temperature.
- Place cream, confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract into the mixer bowl and whisk on medium speed until the cream just starts to thicken, and you start to see the whisk lines faintly trailing in the cream as you whisk. Continue to whisk until soft peaks form. Then pour in the gelatin all at once, and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to over-whip as cream peaks go from soft to stiff very quickly - over-whipped cream will start to turn buttery. If not ready to use immediately, cover with cling wrap and place in refrigerator to let it chill.
Putting the Cake Together:
- Using a long serrated knife, slice across each of the two cake layers to make 4 layers.
- On a cake turntable or large, round flat dish, place one cake layer (bottom side facing down) and centre it on the turntable or dish. Place two to three dollops of whipped cream on the cake layer. Using an offset spatula, spread the cream into an even layer over the surface. Cover with the second cake layer on top of the cream, making sure that both layers align nicely all around the circumference of the cake.
- Re-whisk the lemon-lime curd until smooth. With another clean offset spatula, evenly spread the lemon-lime curd (about 3/4 cup) over the top of the second cake layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border of the cake circumference free of filling.
- Cover with the third cake layer, making sure that now, all three layers align nicely all around the circumference of the cake. Apply another two to three dollops of whipped cream and spread evenly on the third cake layer. Finally, place the last cake layer (bottom side facing up) on top of the cream, aligning nicely all around.
- Frost all around the sides and the top of the cake with whipped cream.
- Smooth the sides and top with a broad spatula.
- Decorate the sides with toasted, nibbed almonds, OR, if using, with candied zest all around the bottom one third of the cake.
- Use the remaining whipped cream to pipe stars around the top border, and a large rosette in the centre of the cake.
- Decorate with candied zest on top around the rosette. Let chill in the refrigerator till ready to serve.