If a dish has enough lemon to suit my taste, it is bound to oversour the taste of almost everyone else. I took ballet in elementary school with a girl who every week would peel a lemon and eat it by segment like an orange. I think we can all agree that that behavior is a little extreme, but I have to keep that image in mind as a cautionary tale when my propensity for acidity threatens to get out of control. Examples that do not get filed under “extreme” in my set of citrus guidelines include use of the juice of a whole lemon to season a single serving of sautéed kale or the tripling of the amount of lemon specified in a hummus recipe only to find myself saying “pretty good, needs more lemon.”
I can promise you that this cake does not need more lemon by anybody’s standards. All it needs is a decadent occasion and a cook with a flair for the dramatic. Full disclosure: you’ll need 10 eggs and nearly a pound of butter when all is said and done. In other words (to channel David Lynch), if you confront this cake with imperfect courage it will annihilate your kitchen. But I can also promise that it is worth pulling out all the stops- I think it’s the best thing I’ve baked in the last year.
The recipe is a riff on doberge torte which I hear is the favorite cake of New Orleans. I wouldn’t know because when I was there in December I was so busy trying to set a world record for beignet eating that I had not time for cake. It’s never too late to celebrate Mardi Gras and make this cake your weekend project.
With love and lemons,
Lemon Doberge Torte
adapted from Leita’s Culinaria and David Lebovitz
For the cake
2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons for the pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
For the lemon curd
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 c sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons butter, cubed
For the icing
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Make the lemon curd
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.
Add the butter cubes and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.
Increase the heat to moderate and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.
Make the cake batter
Heat the oven to 350°F Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Add the 2 tablespoons of flour and shake the pan to coat the bottom and sides. Tap out any excess flour. Wrap the outside of the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1 3/4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt.
In a different bowl, stir the vanilla into the 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons melted butter.
In a medium saucepan, bring enough water to reach one inch in the pan to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large heatproof bowl, place it over the hot water, and constantly whisk the mixture until it’s warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Use an electric or stand mixer to mix on high speed until cool and tripled in volume, about 3 minutes.
Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and mix on low speed. Use a whisk to gently fold in a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the milk. Repeat, ending with a third of the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to gently scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Bake the cake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean about 1 hour. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack. Unclasp and remove the sides of the pan and then carefully invert the cake so it’s right side up. Let the cake cool completely. (You can wrap the cake in plastic and keep it, unsliced, for up to 1 day at room temperature.)
Assemble and fill the Doberge cake
Remove the metal springform pan bottom from the cake. Using a long serrated knife, slice the cake horizontally into 4 layers. I promise that this is not as scary as it sounds. The cake is sturdy and not likely to crumble on you. Set the layers aside.
Wash and dry the springform pan, reassemble it, and coat the bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray. Drape two pieces of plastic wrap over the pan so the entire bottom and sides are covered, allowing the ends of the plastic wrap to hang over the sides of the pan.
Place 1 cake layer in the springform pan. Top it with 1/3 of the lemon curd and spread evenly over the cake layer and leaving a 1/2-inch border of bare cake around the edge. Repeat with the remaining cake layers and lemon curd.
Cover the top of the cake with the plastic wrap overhang and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Make the lemon icing and frost the cake
After the cake has chilled, make the icing. With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugar together on low speed until combined. Add the lemon juice and mix on low speed until moistened, then increase the speed to medium and beat until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, add 1 tablespoon of warm water, and beat until fully incorporated, about 1 minute longer.
Invert the cake onto a plate. Remove the sides and bottom of the pan and peel off the plastic wrap. Ice the cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The cake will keep up to 3 days in the fridge. Serve cold or let it sit one hour at room temp before serving.