Lemon Chiffon Layer Cake

May 29, 2021
13 Ratings
Photo by Food52
  • Prep time 2 hours 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Makes 1 (9-inch) 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 didn’t 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

What You'll Need
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Lemon Chiffon Layer 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
  1. Heat the oven to 325°F. 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, vanilla, and lemon extract.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), whip the egg yolks on medium speed until slightly pale, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add 1 cup (198 grams) of the granulated sugar and whip the mixture on medium-high speed until it becomes pale and thick and has quadrupled in volume, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 until incorporated.
  6. In a clean, dry electric mixer bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Mix on medium speed until foamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn up the speed to medium high, add the sugar, and whip the egg whites to medium peaks, 4 to 5 minutes.
  7. Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter, mixing thoroughly (this first addition helps to temper the batter, making it easier to incorporate the rest of the whites without deflating them). Add the remaining whites in 2 to 3 more additions, folding just until incorporated.
  8. 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 to 55 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.
  9. Make the lemon syrup: Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to help dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  10. 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.
  11. Cook the sugar mixture to 235°F. Begin whipping the egg whites on medium-high speed. When the sugar mixture reaches 240°F, 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 to 6 minutes.
  12. With the mixer running on medium speed, gradually add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing to fully combine before adding more. When all the butter is added, mix in 1 cup (240 grams) lemon curd and mix well to combine. Transfer about 1/4 of the buttercream to a pastry bag and cut 1/2-inch opening from the end.
  13. Assemble the cake: Use a serrated knife to remove the domed top of the cakes, if desired, and then cut each cake into 2 layers—you should have 4 layers total.
  14. Place one layer on a cake turntable, platter, or cake stand. Pipe a ring of frosting around the outside edge of the cake. Use an ice cream scoop (about 1/4-cup in size) to scoop 3 scoops of the remaining lemon curd into the center and spread into an even layer. Place another layer of cake on top, and repeat this process. Continue until you’ve used all the filling and layers.
  15. Apply a thin all over “crumb coat” of the frosting, and chill the cake for 10 to 15 minutes. Frost the cake with the remaining frosting. Finish with lemon zest.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • macaronandme
  • Chocowagon
  • VivianF123
  • qwerty
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, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

16 Reviews

VivianF123 May 26, 2023
Make it a few times. I say that because it gets easier every time. I actually doubled this recipe and it was perfect for 3 12inch cake rounds.
qwerty May 25, 2022
Difficult to make with many parts but if you have a basic understanding of what a chiffon cake is, and italian meringue butter cream - then this recipe will work exactly as it's written. One star off just for the confusion regarding the lemon syrup (I didn't use it) - and I cheated (or did it properly ... this is debatable) and used a chiffon pan, baked 1 single cake and cooled it upside down - then sliced it into three but it turned out fab so... I highly recommend if you have 14 or so hours of time and want to bake something that is really special: this is the cake for your occasion.
kelly May 13, 2022
I like to try challenging cake recipes and for somebody that bakes a cake maybe 2-3 times a year, this was challenging. Definitely worth it though. It was delicious and I learned new baking skills through the experience like how to make Italian meringue.
Abenavides April 22, 2022
The Lemon Chiffon recipe says, it makes 1 (9inch)??? Is that correct??
Thecook4u August 2, 2021
Please correct recipe to reflect “baking powder” instead of “making powder”!
ellent124 August 2, 2021
Is the technique for piping the frosting in that detail that is shown in your book, or where to find it? Beautiful!
Fran April 5, 2021
Made this for Easter dinner and it was a HIT! I did it over 3 days, firstly the lemon curd, then the cake and of course lastly the frosting. It is very rich,and you only need a little slice, but MAN OH MAN Is it lemonly! Which is a wonderful thing! Itmade a special occasion more special! Thank you!
Flowers January 17, 2021
This recipe looked amazing! We were so excited to make a luscious lemon cake for my daughters birthday. However, something went very amiss. What did we do wrong? It’s hard as a rock!

It seems that when making the first part of the Cake batter it needed a lot more moisture, before adding the egg whites it was a consistency of cookie dough, is that right? Seemed so heavy and then difficult to fold the egg whites into something so dense.

With no instructions for the simple syrup and the hint that it would help with the dryness, I poured it over the cakes but it seemed a very insufficient volume to make much of a difference. I worry about adding more and making it soggy.

So disappointed with not enough time to redo...
Bakedaddy January 3, 2021
I wanted a fluffy, sophisticated lemony cake. The cake itself went perfect. Icing brutal! How can you whip up egg whites, then add butter? All or any stiffness disappeared, and I'm left with gloop. What a mess. And where does the lemon syrup come into play? It's never mentioned where to add it. Very ambiguous instructions. I'm sure you knew what you were doing, but couldn't convey it coherently. Try to rejig your instructions
Chocowagon January 25, 2021
I would recommend brushing the cake halves with the lemon syrup after they are cut, layer by layer, before you add the curd. Careful not to drench them! This method is the typical use of a simple syrup when assembling a cake to help flavor it and keep it moist.
Chocowagon January 25, 2021
Also, did you make an Italian meringue before adding the butter to the frosting? From your comment it seems you may have forgotten to add the hot sugar, this would stabilize/cook the whipped whites and would make it possible to whip in the butter properly.
Squirrel22 January 8, 2022
I am not a baker but it seems to me that your egg mixture was still too warm. It was mentioned in the recipe that the bowl can't be warm to the touch. There is a video on YouTube which Erin posted with different kind of buttercreams and you can find there how to make Italian buttercream.
Squirrel22 January 8, 2022
macaronandme August 11, 2020
Awesome recipe.I ll try soon..
macaronandme August 11, 2020
Awesome recipe....ll try soon..
macaronandme August 11, 2020
Awesome recipe....ll try soon