Triple Lemon Cake

In honor of my sweet husband’s birthday this year, I presented him with the “baking bible” as I like to call it; an enormous collection of my most cherished cake recipes to choose from.  It’s a treasured family tradition to select your favorite birthday dessert on your special day (even though we all get to indulge in it) and it’s actually quite an overwhelming task as I’ve made many delicious sweets over the past number of years.  I think he changed his mind 4 times before finally committing to his most beloved birthday cake…Triple Lemon Cake…couldn’t have chosen better myself!

There really is nothing better than lemon cake; so light and refreshing.  You forget for a moment that you’re actually consuming a pound or so of butter (but who’s counting?).  The lemon mousse filling is so irresistible, it’s tempting to eat it simply on its own…I just can’t imagine the cake without it.  For a lighter result, you can substitute the Swiss Buttercream for Whipped Cream, but for the love of all things sweet, PLEASE don’t substitute the lemon mousse!

I’ve made many variations of this lemon cake and it’s the most requested cake (next to chocolate) that I make.  I seem to modify a component of the cake every time that I make it and this combination is definitely THE ONE!  Actually, the truth is…in the mind of a baker, particularly a fanatical one, I don’t think a recipe is ever absolute.  Part of the challenge and enjoyment of baking comes with the gradual evolution of a simple recipe into something unforgettable.  Next time I make this cake I might try it with a traditional meringue (perhaps toasted) or a whipped cream frosting…we’ll see…

Triple Lemon Cake          {Print Recipe}

Making the lemon curd (for the lemon mousse):

Makes 2 ½ cups

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

1 cup minus 1 Tbsp sugar

¾ cup freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

Fill a large bowl approximately halfway with ice and water and set aside.  Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water at least 2 inches, but not full enough to touch the underside of the top double boiler and bring to a boil.

Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar into the top of the double boiler (off of the heat) and whisk until blended.  Add the lemon juice and mix well.  Reduce the heat to medium low until the water comes to a gentle boil.  Place the egg mixture over the water and heat, whisking constantly and scraping the edges frequently with a spatula (so that the eggs don’t scramble) until the curd is very thick, about 7 minutes.  The curd should coat the back of a spoon when ready or hold a distinct shape on the surface when the curd is lifted and falls back into the bowl.

Push the curd through a fine strainer with a spatula into a medium sized bowl.  Add the cold pieces of butter, letting it sit for a minute and then mixing until combined.  Once all of the butter is melted and incorporated, place the medium sized bowl over the large bowl filled with ice water and let sit until the curd is completely cool.  Once cooled, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight before preparing the mousse.

This recipe makes a little extra lemon curd, but I assure you it won’t go to waste!  Lemon curd is amazing with scones, fruit or simply enjoyed with a spoon.

Making the cake:

Yield: (3) 9” layers

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 eggs, room temperature

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder (-1/8 tsp for high altitude)

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 cups granulated sugar

2 Tbsp grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

1 cup buttermilk (+2 Tbsp for high altitude)

Grease and lightly flour (3) 9” cake pans.  After greasing the pans, I like to place a piece of parchment paper cut to size in each pan.  Then I grease the parchment and lightly flour the pan.  This really aids in the easy removal of the cake.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice and beat until combined.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour and buttermilk, alternately, starting and ending with the flour mixture.  Make sure to beat on low speed (unless you want to wear the flourJ) and beat until each addition is well combined.  Pour evenly into the prepared pans.  I use a scale for this step so that I can assure evenly sized cake layers.

Bake at 350 degrees F (325 degrees at high altitude) for about 25-27 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean) making sure to rotate the pans during baking for even browning.  As anxious as you may get, please don’t open the oven door before 20 minutes have passed.  I have been cursed with many a sinking cake out of pure impatience!  Remove from oven and let the cakes cool on a rack, in their pans for about 10 minutes.  Run a knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove from pan.  Let cool completely and refrigerate before filling and frosting.  Prior to refrigerating you can also brush the cakes with a simple syrup.  This step adds moisture to the cake and greatly enhances the flavor.

Making the simple syrup:

½ cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and vanilla.  Brush the warm mixture over the cooled cakes before filling.

Cake recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Making the lemon mousse:

Yield: 4 ½ cups mousse

1 ½ cups lemon curd  (see recipe above)

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream, cold

2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar

Whip the heavy whipping cream and sugar on high speed with a whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream until just combined.  Try not to eat the entire bowl of lemon mousse before filling the cake…it will take an immense amount of willpower…good luck.

Making the Lemon Swiss Buttercream:

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

5 egg whites (pasteurized)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

Combine the egg whites and sugar together in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.  Set mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.  Whisk mixture until sugar dissolves and a candy thermometer reads 160 degrees F.  Sources say that 160 degrees is a recommended temperature for egg safety.  Even so, I still like to use pasteurized eggs in buttercream just to be safe.  Once the egg mixture reaches temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and attach to the stand mixer and mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool to the touch.  Add the butter a little at a time (about 8-10 additions) and then add in the vanilla and lemon juice.  The buttercream will be beautifully smooth and shiny.

Assembling the Cake:

Place one of the cake layers on a cake plate.  Spread half (or as much as desired) of the lemon mousse onto the cake.  Place the second cake layer on top of the mousse and repeat with the third cake.  Frost the entire cake with the Swiss Buttercream.  Store the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoy for up to a week.  Before serving, remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes.  You’ll want the buttercream to soften to room temperature.

This cake is quite a labor of love and definitely a special occasion cake as it has many steps.  Fortunately you can make it over several days before assembling…AND…what better way to express your love to someone close to your heart??  Enjoy!


3 thoughts on “Triple Lemon Cake

  1. Mmmmmm – now that I know how much effort goes into this cake, I’ll enjoy it even more when I order it for my book party! I looooooovvvvvvve this dessert


    1. Hi Linda-
      Thanks for your question! The recipe makes (3) 9″ round cakes which is approximately 15 cups of batter. A 12 x 15 sheet pan is more like 18 cups of batter. I would increase the recipe by 1/3 (6 cups) and that should give you a little more than what you need. I hope you enjoy the cake as much as I did!


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