My current citrus obsession (see Lime Cookies, Limoncello Blueberry Hand Pies) actually started with this cake. A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon a lemon cake recipe from The Kitchn that happened to be gluten free. (It was published just before Passover.) I am all about gluten, but something about this recipe kind of sang to me, culminating into this Lemon Meringue Cake.
Evolution of this Lemon Meringue Cake
The original recipe for this cake is truly wonderful, and I made it several times. It renders a light, lemony cake that is perfect for spring or summer. I made just a few adaptations. I use a small amount of lemon juice when beating the egg whites. (Nerd alert: the acid helps maintain the stiff peaks.) I also add some of the sugar to the whites. (Nerd alert: the sugar helps to build the egg white structure.) Finally, I work the zest into some of the sugar to help release the lemon oils for a deeper flavor.
While you can certainly make a glaze to put on top or just dust some confectioner’s sugar, I thought, well, that’s all expected and kind of boring. No offense to you lazy bakers who do either of those. Ooooh, did I just say that? 😉
So, I put together a lemon meringue topping for the cake, which is downright delish and adds a beautiful contrast to the cake while maintaining the integrity of the zesty lemon flavor.
This is not a difficult cake to make by any means, but it does require good organizational skills. What does that mean? It means it is imperative that you do not measure out the ingredients as you go. Because you are working with beaten egg whites, time is not on your side. You need to get the cake in the oven as soon as possible after the first set of egg whites are beaten, which is why you need to be organized and move without interruption when preparing this cake.
Here are some tips when making this Lemon Meringue Cake:
As I said, measure/weigh out all your ingredients for both the cake and the meringue topping before you get started. Place each set of ingredients on different areas of your countertop so you do not confuse any of them. Have your sifter ready next to your cornstarch so you are not hunting for it when you are finishing the meringue topping. (Actually, this is how you should work when making any recipe!!!) Finally, use a springform pan. If you use a cake pan, you will not be able to remove the cake without destroying the meringue topping.
Beating Egg Whites
When beating the whites for both the cake batter and the meringue topping, do NOT just dump all the sugar in. Follow the instructions, slowly adding the sugar after the whites start to foam. For the cake batter, you want your whites to form stiff peaks. For the meringue topping, you want a smooth, glossy look, similar to marshmallow fluff.
When adding the meringue topping to the top of the cake batter in the pan, I like to add about ¼ of the topping first and gently marble it into the top of the cake batter. I found that this helps prevent the topping from separating from the cake once the cake has cooled.
While you can insert a toothpick to see if the cake is done, you will leave a hole in the topping. I have had no problems taking the cake out once the meringue topping is slightly browned.
To remove the cake from the pan, slide a metal spatula or knife around the edge of the pan before releasing the sides of the pan. Use a large spatula in between the parchment and the bottom of the cake to lift the cake from the pan to a cake plate. When slicing the cake, the top of the meringue will crack and the inside of the meringue topping may be slightly gooey. Don’t waste any of the cracked meringue – it’s delish!
Lemon Meringue Cake
- 100 g. sugar, divided (½ cup)
- Zest of 2 medium lemons
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 144 g. blanched almond flour (1½ cups)
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 large egg whites
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 110 g. sugar (1 cup plus 2½ tsp.)
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 8 g. cornstarch (1 tbsp.)
- Cake Batter. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease the bottoms and side of a 9 inch springform. For easier release, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and grease it.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix half the sugar (50 g. or ¼ cup) with the lemon zest, pressing the zest into the sugar with a rubber spatula or with your fingertips.
- Separate the eggs, placing the egg whites in the clean bowl of a stand mixer and the yolks into the large mixing bowl with the sugar and zest.
- Add the lemon juice to the egg whites. With your mixer’s whisk attachment, beat on medium-high until foamy. Slowly add the remaining sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.
- While the egg whites are beating, mix the yolks and sugar/zest mixture until well combined. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined so that the dry ingredients are just moistened. (It is ok if there are some clumps.)
- Once the egg whites reach stiff peaks, mix about 1/3 of the whites into the rest of the batter. The batter will become more hydrated and smoother. Gently pour the remaining egg whites on top of the batter. Do not fold them in yet and quickly move to step 7.
- Start Meringue Topping. With the same mixing bowl and whisk attachment (no need to clean them), beat the egg whites and lemon juice on medium-high until foamy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until the whites are smooth and glossy.
- Return to Cake Batter. While the egg whites for the topping are beating, return to the cake batter bowl and fold in the whites that are sitting on top of the batter until there are no streaks of egg whites remaining. The mixture will likely still have some clumps of batter, and that is ok, as you do not want to overmix. Pour batter into prepared pan.
- Return to Meringue Topping. Once the egg whites for the topping are smooth and glossy, add the zest and beat until combined. Stop the mixer and sift the cornstarch over the glossy mixture. Fold to combine. Pour approximately ¼ of the meringue topping over the batter and, with a metal spatula or a knife, massage it into the top of the batter. Pour the rest of the meringue topping over the cake batter in the prepared pan and spread evenly. If desired, you can use the end of a metal spatula to create a pretty design in the meringue.
- Bake 35-40 minutes, until the meringue topping is lightly browned.
- The key to success for this cake is organization. Have all of your ingredients for both the cake and the meringue topping measured/weighed out and set out in different areas on your countertop so you do not confuse them. Also have your sifter set out next to the cornstarch so you do not waste time looking for it when you need it! (I say that from experience.)
- To maintain the full effect of the aerated egg whites in the cake batter, you need to make the meringue topping quickly so that you do not lose too many air bubbles in the cake batter.
- The meringue topping will not form stiff peaks due to all the sugar. The mixture will be smooth and glossy and look more like marshmallow fluff.