Lemon Chiffon Layer Cake

Author Notes

I created this cake for my then boyfriend, now husband, inside the pages of my first book: he is a sincere fan of all things lemon. I dreamt up his dream cake as lemon on lemon on lemon: a lemon chiffon cake soaked in a lemon simple syrup, filled with lemon curd and frosted with lemon curd buttercream. When I first studied pastry, I used to not understand the appeal of chiffon cakes, which can be touchier to make and tend to be dry, even when baked properly (requiring a soaking syrup as mentioned above). But now I understand their appeal: they’re reliable risers (this recipe rises beautifully flat), they are light and therefore beautiful for the loftiest of layer cakes, and the syrup requirement is really an opportunity to add another layer of flavor - in this recipe, the lemon syrup adds a tart freshness that I really love.
Adapted from my book, The Fearless Baker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books). —Erin Jeanne McDowell

  • Prep time 2 hours 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Makes makes one four layer 9 inch cake
  • 3 cups (361 grams) cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (121 grams) vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup (161 grams) whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 8 large (170 grams) egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (298 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 8 large (283 grams) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup (80 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
  • 5 large (177 grams) egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 cups (347 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (181 grams) water
  • 14 ounces (397 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups (560 grams) lemon curd, divided
  • Lemon zest, as needed for finishing
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9 inch cake pans, place a parchment round in the base, then grease and flour the edges of the pan.
  2. Make the cake: sift together the cake flour, making powder, and salt into a medium bowl. In a container with a pour spout (such as a 2 cup liquid measure), whisk together the oil, milk, and lemon extract.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg yolks on medium speed until pale, 1-2 minutes. Gradually add 1 cup (198 grams) granulated sugar and whip on medium-high until the mixture is pale and thick, 4-5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the lemon zest, then whip for 1 minute more to help stabilize the foam. Gradually add the milk mixture to the mixer in a slow, steady, stream, mixing on low speed to combine.
  4. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the flour mixture into the mixer bowl and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Add the remaining flour in 3 more additions, mixing just to combine
  5. In a clean, dry mixer bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Mix on medium speed until foamy, about 1-2 minutes. Turn up the speed to medium high, add the sugar, and whip to medium peaks, 4-5 minutes. Fold in about 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the batter to temper it. Add the remaining whites in 2-3 more additions, folding gently to combine.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and gently spread into an even layer. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cakes spring back slightly in the center when touched, 50-55 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.
  7. Make the buttercream: place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir until the mixture begins to bubble, but as soon as bubbles appear - stop stirring. If necessary, dip a pastry brush in cool water to brush away granules of sugar that appear on the side of the pot.
  8. Cook the sugar mixture to 235 degrees Fahrenheit. Begin whipping the egg whites on medium-high speed. When the sugar mixture reaches 240 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and gradually add the hot sugar syrup to the mixer in a slow, steady stream. Continue whipping until the meringue has reached full volume and the bowl is no longer warm to the touch, 5-6 minutes.
  9. With the mixer running on medium speed, gradually add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing fully to combine before adding more. When all the buttercream is added, mix in 1 cup (240 grams of the lemon curd and mix to combine). Transfer about 1/4 of the buttercream to a pastry bag and cut a 1/2 inch opening from the end.
  10. To assemble the cake: use a serrated knife to remove the domed top of the cakes, if desired, and then cut each cake into two layers - you should have four layers total.
  11. Place one cake layer on a turntable, cake stand, or platter. Pipe a ring of frosting around the outside edge, then scoop 3-4 scoops of lemon curd into the center, and spread into an even layer. Place another layer of cake on top, and repeat this process until all 4 layers of cake are used.
  12. Apply a thin all over “crumb coat” of the frosting, and chill the cake for 10-15 minutes. Frost the cake with the remaining frosting. Finish with lemon zest.

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I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, is out on November 10th, 2020.