a persuasive cake

Here we are at the end of March. Spring has claimed her space and unpacked her bags, kicked off her shoes and accepted a glass of lemony iced tea. She’s fully settled in and ready to chat for awhile, her pony-tail bobbing enthusiastically as she shows you what’s in store for the next few months.

There are predictions of 83* sunny days in Charlottesville this weekend…83*! That is shorts weather, my friends, and tank tops and strappy sandals and [eek!] swim suits weather. It was all very exciting until I pulled out a pair of those shorts last night and realized that this month coming to an end, the month full of birthdays and cake and cocktails, has done a number on certain, *ahem*, areas. Those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions set in January were shaken with the arrival of Brian’s birthday 29 days ago, and continued to slowly slip away as we celebrated our way through March.

This last weekend was the culmination of all of that good cheer. With my Daddy in town for four days spoiling us rotten, there were indulgent meals shared at favorite restaurants and bottles of wine Brian and I could never justify buying ourselves. As a “thank you!” for all of that generosity we had a little barbeque Saturday afternoon, complete with Double H Farm baby back ribs smoked on the Big Green Egg, the best baked beans I’ve ever had, salad with a hearty base of [local!] emerald green spinach and a delightfully moist lemon mousse cake. Although the air was a crisp 50*, we had a cloudless Caribbean-blue sky and a brilliantly radiant sun to warm our skin and confirm the departure of [old man] Winter.

And now today, with all of those birthdays behind us and the very last of that lemon mousse cake tossed away in the trash (but not before a bite or two passed my lips to verify its staleness) it is time to think of April, the second to last month before the water flowing steadily through our surrounding rivers warms to a point that justifies the loading up of kayaks and the donning of swim suits. It’s time to welcome the farmers back to downtown Charlottesville, to our Saturday morning City Market that starts this weekend(!), and to embrace the first gifts of Spring. It’s time to lighten up and brighten up, to take a break from all the sugary-sweet goodness of March and indulge in the green that comes with April.

But first, I want to give you more cake.

With a buoyant crumb that bounces back at the poke of a finger and an airy, lemon-tinted mousse so cool and refreshing you’ll have to fight yourself not to finish the entire bowl in one sitting, this cake seems to be the perfect welcome for Spring. It’s a persuasive cake, the kind that you want to always have under a dome on your counter, ready to share with important guests while sitting on the front porch drinking a tall glass of iced tea. It seems that, when being offered a cake like this one, it would be impossible for those guests to leave.

That’s my hope anyway, as I embrace Spring and ask her to stick around for awhile.

This is a very long recipe, but is actually very simple.  Especially if you divide the tasks between two days – the cake and lemon curd on the first, the mousse, frosting and assembly on the second.

Lemon Mousse Cake

from the greyston bakery cookbook, pg. 46

serves 8 to 10


for the cake

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, seeds discarded

for the lemon curd

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 medium lemons)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

for the lemon mousse

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd

for the lemon buttercream frosting

  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1-1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon extract


make the cake (up to one day ahead)

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350*.  Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans and line the pan bottoms with parchment rounds.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, butter, milk and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt to blend.  Add the egg yolk mixture and stir until well combined.  Set aside.
  4. In a clean dry bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks.  Lower the mixer speed to medium and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating the whites until they hold stiff peaks.  Stir about one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten.  Gently fold the remaining whites into the batter, in two batches, to blend thoroughly.
  5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, filling them equally.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes begin to pull away slightly from the pans and a wooden skewer inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Set the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool.  Turn the cakes out onto the rack and carefully remove the parchment.  Reinvert the cakes and allow them to cool completely on wire racks.
  7. If making the cakes the night before (as I did), wrap them tightly with plastic wrap once entirely cool and keep at room temperature.

make the lemon curd (up to one week ahead)

  1. In a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, whisk the eggs and egg yolk with the sugar, lemon juice and salt.  Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 10 minutes or until thickened.
  2. Remove the curd from the heat and add the butter, stirring until melted.  Strain the mixture through a mesh sieve into a small bowl.  Stir in the lemon zest.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly on the entire surface of the lemon curd to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill the curd in the refrigerator until firm.

make the lemon mousse

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer set on medium-high speed, beat the cream until it holds soft peaks.  Working in three batches, gently fold the cream into the lemon curd.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

make the lemon buttercream frosting

  1. In a clean bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, cream, vanilla and lemon extract.  Mix on medium-low speed until well combined.

assemble the cake

  1. With a long serrated knife, trim the rounded top off each cake layer to create a flat surface.
  2. Squeeze half of the juice from the lemon over the cut side of one layer of cake.  Place that layer, cut side up, on a serving plate. Spread the lemon mousse evenly on top.
  3. Carefully place the next layer, cut side down, on top of the first layer.  Squeeze the rest of the juice from the lemon on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the lemon buttercream frosting.  Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour to set.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.


18 responses to “a persuasive cake

  1. This looks like the absolute perfect Spring cake. Thanks for posting the recipe – I’m looking forward to trying it!

  2. I’m so jealous of your market starting up this weekend (and yes, this weather is amazing!!). Down her in Roanoke, while we have a year-round market downtown, the neighborhood one won’t start up till May. I’ll live vicariously through you. 🙂

    And that cake is gorgeous! What a perfect way to end a great month!

  3. You sound absolutely giddy about the season, and your attitude is contagious! What wonderful weather to look forward to in Virginia — I’ll be in Richmond this (long) weekend, enjoying every moment of it.

    I’ve been in a layer cake frenzy recently, and since this one is spring personified, I’ll have to put it on my must-baked list!

  4. I love lemon cakes and desserts – zinginess is so brilliant, in savoury and sweet, but it just tempers sweet things so well! And while those Resolutions are all well and good in their own way… I think it’s just as nice to think of one’s slightly-closer-fitting clothes as proof of love, happiness, and friendship. 🙂

  5. healthydealsnsteals

    Thanks for posting this recipe! Traci http://www.burntapple.com

  6. This cake screams spring!

  7. I LOVE your personification of spring. Absolutely perfect! And the same goes for these photos!

    And as for the cake? Yum!

  8. That cake looks amazing!!
    Here’s to fitting into our shorts and eating our cake too 🙂

  9. For me Lemon cakes are yummy dessert and also perfect while I’m having tea or coffee. Thanks for this recipe. 🙂

  10. Woah! That is a long recipe! The cake is absolutely gorgeous and appears to be worth the work, though!

    I love how you described Spring! I’m bookmarking this recipe.

  11. The internet’s such a strange place–I got to this post via FoodGawker (my fave), but also live in Charlottesville! I, too, am extremely excited about the return of the Market tomorrow.

    Thanks for the post–this cake looks heavenly and answers the question as to what I’m going to make for my Easter cake! Great stuff!

  12. I just made this cake tonight. Next time I am definitely going to divide the process into two days. I did it all in one night and am beat from making it. It was definitely worth the effort. I’m a big fan of lemon desserts, so this is definitely going to be a great go-to when I need it! I’m hoping there is still some left by Easter…but I doubt it!
    Thank you so much for posting this!!

  13. Just made this cake for our Easter brunch/ dinner and everyone loved it! Very light and lemony! I ended up with extra lemon mousse, so we used a spoonful on the side. I baked the cake and made the curd last night, so this morning it did not take that long to assemble. I used more lemon (the last step) than in the recipe.
    Do not be intimidated- it’s not that hard to male and totally worth the effort!
    Thank you for the recipe!!!

  14. Katherine: What About Summer?

    Like pictures from a magazine! I’m impressed; no matter what you say, I’m intimidated!

  15. I made this on the weekend for Easter dinner. It didnt look as pretty as yours but it sure was tasty!

  16. This looks like such a delicious recipe. I love anything lemony… and this looks sweet, cheerful, and perfect for spring!

  17. Wow, thanks for the inspiration– feeling a baking session coming on…

    hope you’re taking care ❤

  18. Pingback: celebrate with citrus cupcakes | bella eats

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