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Lemon chiffon layer cake

October 12, 2011

I had no idea what chiffon means, but I think it means light and fluffy. This cake is very light, very fluffy, and very lemony. Its a little bit challenging given that it’s a “whisking method” cake. These sorts of cakes are airy, given that they contain hardly any butter/oil – and instead rely on beaten egg whites to hold the “rise” in the bake. The key tricky bit therefore is to make sure that the mixture is properly combined (no streaks) when folding in the egg white mixture, yet not overmixed so that you lose all the air out of it. Be courageous though, young Jedis, the result is worth it. May the meringue force be with you.

Adapted from Sky high: I skipped making my own lemon curd (sorry, cheating I know) which also meant I adjusted the frosting recipe too. This cake is for 3 x 9 inch layers; it was too difficult to scale the recipe down, so I just made 2 layers and a few lemon chiffon cupcakes.


  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or other flavourless oil (not olive)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp lemon zest (zest of 2 lemons, juice of one ish)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (next to the baking powder in the supermarket)
  • 1 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup cake flour (1 cup cake flour = 7/8 plain, 1/8 corn flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • lemon curd, for filling and frosting


  • 4 tbsp lemon curd
  • 300 ml double cream
  • 4 tbsp castor sugar

So you need lots of big bowls for this recipe. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 180 oC. Line 2 (or 3) 9″ cake pans with wax paper but don’t grease them. Take the first big bowl and whisk together the egg yolks, oil, lemon juice and zest and water. In the second big bowl, whip the egg whites with cream of tartar until they begin to froth. Add in 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until a soft meringue forms (don’t overbeat). In a third big bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and the rest of the sugar, and mix. Make a hole in the middle and pour in the egg yolk mixture, and mix to make a smooth paste. Now, take 1/4 of the egg whites and mix in. This loosens the paste, and makes folding the rest of the egg white easier. Finally, fold in the rest of the egg whites in 2-3 additions. Use a metal spoon and very gently create cutting motions to mix in the whites with minimum deflation. At the end you should have an even mixture which is hopefully still airy! Pour into the pans and bake for 16 mins (mine took about 25, but we know my oven is awful). The cakes should be springy and a toothpick inserted come out clean. If you take the cakes out too soon they will sink. Leave to cool on wire racks.

To fill, sandwich the layers together with lemon curd spread evenly over the surface. For the frosting, whip the cream with the sugar in a large, cool bowl. Don’t overwhip the cream, it needs to be a bit soft, and will stiffen when you add the lemon curd. Fold in the lemon curd and then frost the cake liberally on top and sides, using a palette knife to create a decorative pattern. Finally, garnish with a few sugar flours if you like, or use some extra frosting to pipe a pattern around your cake.

No birthday excuse? This recipe also makes quite good cupcakes. I make around 6 with the leftover mix instead of one layer. When cool, I scopped out the centre of each cupcake, filled with a dollop of lemon curd, replaced the ‘lid’ and frosted with the same cupcake. Lemon surprise ahoy!

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