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Lemon Icebox Cake

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Serves 10

  • by Rose Levy Beranbaum from Fine Cooking
    Issue 105

Early icebox cakes were festive chilled desserts made in molds with layers of cake (be it angel food, sponge cake, or ladyfingers) and custard or cream. Here, slices of angel food cake are layered with a luscious lemon mousse right in the cake pan.

For the lemon filling
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. firmly packed finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
  • 3/4 cup egg yolks (from 11 to 12 large eggs)
  • 6 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
  • Pinch table salt
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
For the meringue
  • 2 tsp. powdered unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup plus 3 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup egg whites (from 5 to 6 large eggs)
  • 3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
To finish the dessert
Make the lemon filling

Put the lemon zest in a 4-quart or larger bowl and set a medium-mesh sieve on top. In a heavy-duty 4-quart saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Add the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon but still pourable, 4 to 5 minutes. (Don’t boil or it will curdle.) Pass the thickened curd through the sieve and mix in the zest. Cool, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

When the lemon curd is cool, beat the cream with an electric mixer on medium speed just until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. With a large balloon whisk or silicone spatula, fold in the lemon curd. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Make the meringue

In a small, microwaveable bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 3 Tbs. water; let soften for at least 5 minutes. Microwave on high to melt the gelatin, 15 to 30 seconds.

In a heavy-duty nonstick 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1 cup of the sugar and 6 Tbs. water and stir constantly until the syrup is bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy, 45 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form, 30 seconds. Gradually beat in the remaining 3 Tbs. sugar until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.

Have ready a 2-cup or larger heatproof liquid measure. Return the pan of syrup to medium-high heat and boil until a candy thermometer registers 248°F (firm ball stage). Pour the syrup into the measure to stop the cooking and then immediately pour a small amount of syrup over the whites with the mixer off. Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. Lower the speed to medium, add the gelatin mixture, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Decrease the speed to low and continue beating until the bottom of the bowl is no longer warm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

Use a large balloon whisk or silicone spatula to fold one-third of the meringue into the lemon cream. Repeat twice more until all of the meringue is folded into the lemon cream.

Split the cake

Unmold the cake according to the recipe at right. Spread two 3-foot-long pieces of parchment or waxed paper on the counter. Position the cake so the top is facing up. Using a long serrated knife, remove and discard the brown top crust. Turn the cake bottom up and split it into 4 even layers. After cutting each layer, use two spatulas to lift a layer off the cake and put it on the parchment or waxed paper. Arrange the layers in the order you cut them so it’s easy to assemble the cake.

Assemble the cake

Lightly oil the inside of a clean 10-inch (16-cup) 2-piece metal tube pan.

Spread one-quarter of the filling on the bottom of the pan. Place the smallest cake ring on top of the filling. Spread about one-third of the remaining lemon filling on top. Top with the next cake layer. Spread on half of the remaining filling. Repeat with the third cake layer and remaining filling. Top with the last cake layer and lightly press it down. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight.

To unmold, wet a kitchen towel under very hot water and wring out the excess. Wipe the sides and bottom of the pan to help release the cake smoothly.

Set the pan on top of a canister that’s smaller than the pan’s removable bottom and higher than the pan’s sides, and gently press down on the sides of the pan. If it doesn’t slide down easily, apply more heat to the sides.

Run a long offset spatula between the bottom of the cake and the pan. Run a wire cake tester or wooden skewer around the inner tube. Invert the cake onto a serving plate and remove the tube portion of the pan. Slice and serve the cake.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 570; Fat (g): 26; Fat Calories (kcal): 230; Saturated Fat (g): 15; Protein (g): 12; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 8; Carbohydrates (g): 75; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2; Sodium (mg): 220; Cholesterol (mg): 295; Fiber (g): 0;

Photo: Scott Phillips

oh. my. god. I was a little grumpy initially because the recipe sounded kinda high maintenance. Once I got started though, I found it's really not that complicated. Making the cake one day and the lemon filling the next made the recipe super doable. And really, the results are fantastic. My husband and I were armed with spoons to scrape up the remaining lemon filling after assembling the cake. Apparently this cake is so good it'll turn you into a five year old. :)

Fabulous cake-- Please note that Fine Cooking needs to correct the reference regarding the Angel Food cake itself-- do not oil the cake pan before putting the batter in the pan for baking. Rose Levy Berenbaum made this comment on her own blog when the recipe was first published. Rose in reply to comment from chocfiend 05/07/2010 09:57 AM You oil the pan when using it to mold the components--not for baking the cake.

First, let me say that I'm biased toward liking lemon desserts. So, onto my comments on the recipe. I decided that I wanted to make the recipe; saw it was fairly complex; read through all of the instructions; verified that I had all of the ingredients; and picked up a plain angel food cake the next time I was at my grocery. And started on the recipe. Made the filling, sliced the cake, and went to assemble it -- and discovered that I apparently lost my angel food _pan_ over the decades (and who, really, needs 4 bundt pans -- which I still have). Well drat. I looked at the assembled parts, broke the angelfood cake into smaller bits and made a trifle-like dessert. And it was yummy. It makes a huge amount of trifle. However, I think that the main part of the recipe (the lemony meringue icing/filling) is extraordinary. I see many possibilities for it. So for my husband's birthday, I took the ingredients that would normally go into a blueberry pie filling (fresh berries, sugar, cornstarch, ...) and gently cooked the mixture on the stovetop. I let it cool, then chilled it. I put the cooled filling into a cooked graham cracker crust, and mounded spoonfuls of the lemon meringue filling (I only made 1/2 the recipe)on top and chilled it until it was time to serve. It was _really_ good. Actually, even 1/2 of the meringue recipe was more than I needed for a single pie (so I made an extra for one of our friends). Another option would be to use it as part of a parfait. The Taunton recipe for Blueberry Pie Parfaits with White Chocolate Cream (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/blueberry-pie-parfaits.aspx) could be a fine starting place. So, would I make the recipe again? Yes -- but probably not as an icebox cake. The filling recipe is another brilliant recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum and I think it's something I will make again and again.

I wanted a "summer" dessert for our July 4th yesterday and saw this recipe in the June/July 2010 Fine Cooking. What a process but good results. I gave it a 4-star because it took so long to make and not sure I'll do it again. I keep telling myself to read the reviews before attempting one of these more complex recipes but forgot to do that again this time. For instance, although the angel food cake turned out okay, I would not have greased the sides of the pan as others had cautioned. However, the end result was a cake that looked like the pictures and had a rich, lemony taste that got rave reviews from the diners.

This was probably the most difficult cake we've ever had to make (correction, my husband had to make)...but it was DELICIOUS and worth every effort at the end. Really try to digest the process before you start. We don't agree w/ the first review, learn how to bake first before you start the recipe.

Don't waste your time. It's a pain in the neck of a recipe (a snow with 14 eggs)and the texture and flavor of the cake were so lousy that I literally threw the cake in the garbage. I never quite made it to the mousse. To date my biggest Fine Cooking disappointment.

This dessert was AMAZING..... it looked exactly like the picture, set beautifully and tasted even better than I hoped...I agree that this is ranked as one of the best cakes I have made and my company also loved it (after they got over how many eggs total I used in the cake) It was a lot of work and worth every second! I have made so many recipes from Fine Cooking and have yet to have failure... everything from avocado ice cream to pot stickers... wonderful magazine.

I made this cake and wasn't that impressed. The angel food cake worked out fine, because I already knew NOT to grease the sides of the pan so that the batter can cling to the sides as it rises (there is an angel food cake recipe included in the article that calls for greasing the pan). Regardless, the lemon meringue mixture was just okay, and even after chilling in my refrigerator for 24 hours, the cake never firmed up enough to hold its shape once I took it out of the pan. Instead of slicing it, I ended up spooning the cake into a bowl and serving it as something more like a parfait than a cake.

I actually haven't made this one yet but I just had to comment on what I think the problem was for the first two ladies. This recipe is just for a filling for either a purchased angel food cake or one you bake yourself but you don't mix all the ingredients together and bake them!! No wonder you had a problem. Try it again and I'll bet it's wonderful.

Made this last night, and had the same problem w/the cake falling. Should have remembered that you're not supposed to grease an angel food cake pan, as it needs to cling to the sides of the pan as it rises and later cools...that's what made it fall...slippery sides. The recipe for the angel food cake that is included with this should be amended so that you DON'T GREASE THE PAN BEFORE BAKING THE CAKE!!!

I've made angel food cake before and never had the problems I had with this recipe. The texture is lumpy and dense, and it did not bake properly. It cooked for 40 minutes and did bounce when pressed, then fell to about 2.5" as it cooled.

Could be the best dessert I've ever eaten. Read my full review at: http://themomchef.blogspot.com/2010/06/lemon-icebox-cake-from-fine-cooking.html

This cake is so delicious. The time and effort, if you have it, is worth it. Lemony and Light as a feather! YUM! Make it!

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