lemon and labne celebration cake

As soon as I saw 
Verena Lochmuller make this cake on the Ottolenghi youtube site, I knew I had to make it, I just needed a reason to do so. To quote Verena, this is 
a beast of a cake and it has many, many steps so the recipe is long. I actually started the process back in May, when I made a batch of lemon and vanilla bean marmalade which is used in the filling. . 

Many of the elements can be bought but I decided to make the dehydrated lemon slices when I saw the price of a small packet at David Jones. 

After burning the lemon rind, preparing the labne and the browned butter, I ran out of puff and purchased a box of mini meringues to decorate the cake instead of making them. I also purchased a spice grinder to deal with the burnt lemon peel and a lazy Susan to decorate the cake, making this one expensive 17cm layer cake!

If you'd like to make this beast of a cake, here's the recipe for you which is also available on the Ottolenghi 
websiteFor all my recipes I use a 250ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon, unsalted butter and 60g eggs. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if your oven is fan forced you may need to reduce the oven temperature by 20°C.

Lemon and labne celebration cake – makes a 17cm layer cake
Lemon cake
145g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
190g caster sugar
190g plain flour, or cake flour
3 tsp baking powder (12g)
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs + 1 yolk (200g)
75g vegetable oil, or other neutral oil like sunflower
75ml whole milk
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
3 tsp lemon zest 

Lemon syrup
75ml lemon juice 
55g caster sugar

Labneh mascarpone icing
250g mascarpone
165g cream cheese
80g labneh, store-bought or homemade
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
1 tsp lemon juice
175g icing sugar

For assembly
100g lemon marmalade, or regular marmalade mixed with a tablespoon of lemon juice
Meringue kisses, store-bought or homemade
Dehydrated lemons
Burnt lemon powder 

Grease and line the base and sides of three, 17cm cake tins that have a removable base (springform cake tins will also work with baking paper). You can also do this with 2 tins, saving a third of the batter to bake again once one of the cakes has cooled. We wouldn’t recommend doing this 3 times with 1 tin though, as the butter in the batter might start to solidify by the third go.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Turn the heat down to medium and cook, whisking occasionally to prevent it from burning. It should start to foam, at which point it’s almost ready: keep whisking until browned and smelling nutty. Immediately pour into a heat proof bowl to stop it cooking further (you should have about 110g). Set aside to cool. You want it still liquid, so if it does solidify then melt it very gently once more and let cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 180°C conventional. In a large bowl whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined and there are no lumps.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour this into the flour bowl and use a whisk and a folding motion to gently incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry. Once the batter is smooth and there are no lumps, pour in the cooled melted butter and the lemon zest and whisk just to combine (don’t over mix). Divide the batter evenly between the 3 cake tins, or alternatively add a third of the batter to each of the two tins (and reserve a third for a second bake). Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

While the cakes are in the oven, make the lemon syrup by adding the lemon and sugar to a small saucepan and placing over a high heat. Stir gently to dissolve the sugar then remove from the heat.

Brush the tops of the still warm cakes with the warm lemon syrup (about 40ml per cake) then set aside to cool completely. If baking a third cake, set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes before gently releasing the cake from its tin. Repeat with the remaining batter so you have a total of 3 cakes.

While the cakes are cooling, make the mascarpone cream by adding all the ingredients to a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium speed until smooth and you have soft to medium peaks, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Be sure to keep an eye on this, as you don’t want to over-whip the icing.

When ready to assemble, place one of the cooled cakes on a cake stand. Using an off-set spatula or a palette knife, spread a little less than a third of the icing over the top of the cake. Evenly spoon over half the marmalade then crush a couple mini meringues with your hands and sprinkle this on top. Lastly, if using, sprinkle very lightly with some of the burnt lemon powder. Carefully place another cake on top. Repeat this process again before carefully topping with the last cake layer. Now spread the remaining icing on the top of the cake. Don’t worry about it being perfect, you can cover this up with the decorations! If getting ahead, refrigerate the cake at this point before decorating the top.

To decorate the cake, artfully arrange some of the meringue kisses on top along with the dehydrated lemons and a small sprinkling of the burnt lemon powder. Cut into thin slivers and serve.

Meringue kisses (makes over 100 kisses)
120g egg whites
1⁄2 tsp cream of tartar
240g caster sugar
3⁄4 tsp cornflour
1/8 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 110°C conventional. Line 2-3 large trays with baking paper.

Place the egg whites into a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment in place, and beat on medium-high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and whisk until the mixture begins to stiffen slightly and the bubbles tighten. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, cornflour and baking powder in a medium bowl. When ready, and with the mixer on medium-high speed, use a dinner spoon to add in the sugar mixture a spoonful at a time, whisking until glossy and you have medium to stiff peaks.

Transfer the meringue mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 13mm round nozzle (or a star shaped nozzle) and pipe small kisses, spaced a couple centimetres apart, onto the prepared trays. Bake for 90 minutes, or until nicely dried out, but not at all coloured. Set aside to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container for up to 2-3 weeks.

Dehydrated lemon slices
1 lemon, sliced into thin 1⁄4 cm rounds, pips removed

Preheat the oven to 100°C conventional. Place the rounds onto a large, parchment-lined baking tray, arranging them so they’re not overlapping. Dehydrate in the oven for 3 hours, or until visibly dried and no longer carrying any moisture. Leave to cool completely then store in an airtight container. Dehydrated lemons can last for a very long time (years!) if stored correctly, as long as they’re completely void of any moisture as even the smallest amount will cause them to spoil with time.

Burnt lemon powder
1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 240°C, conventional. Use a vegetable peeler or a small, sharp knife to remove the skin from the lemons, avoiding any pith. Place onto a small tray and bake on the top shelf of your oven for 15-20 minutes, or until very fragrant and completely charred and blackened. Set aside to cool then use a spice grinder or a small food processor to blitz into a fine powder. If using the latter, pass the powder through a sieve set over a bowl, to remove any larger pieces. Store in a jar in your cupboard and use to top sweet icings or creamy labneh.

This was an absolute hit with every-one who managed to snaffle a slice. I'm going to make a version of this cake again later in the year when the twinnies turn 4, however I'm planning to simplify the process a little - fewer layers, less complicated filling.

As this is a celebration cake, there has to be a reason to celebrate. I brought the cake into work to celebrate my last few days at work before taking 3 months leave. I'm taking time off to spend time with family and to go on a long overdue, much delayed holiday.

Meanwhile, I'll be back again next week with some more baking from my kitchen and there will be weekly baking posts until I head overseas in September.

See you all again soon.

Bye for now,


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