Monday, September 6, 2010

Lemon Mascarpone Cream Cake

Happy Monday, everyone!

So we're following up last week's easy cookie theme with something a little more fussy. Something that would get my apron dirty.

Today's cake is divine. Frosted with whipping cream, stabilized with mascarpone cheese and flavored with lemon curd. It's light, creamy and not too sweet. The cake is moist and dense, yet fluffy with a delicate crumb. Layered with a little lemon curd and the mascarpone frosting, it's easily one of my favorites.

The cake is a high ratio cake, which is a little different than your average cake; it doesn't use the more commonplace creaming butter and sugar method. Instead you blend all the dry ingredients with the butter and a bit of liquid, then add the wet ingredients. This method requires a stand mixer, as beating by hand would be too slow and it would likely be hard on hand beaters. Precision is very important in this recipe, so be sure to use the correct ingredients and follow the exact mixing times and speeds when making this cake.

High Ratio Yellow Butter Cake
from the CIA's Baking at Home
yields two 8" cakes
3 1/2 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, divided
4 large eggs
2 large egg whites (reserve the yolks for the curd)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

parchment for the pans
Professional 3-inch high sided, 8" round pans. (The cake will rise well beyond the sides of short cake pans.)
Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly coat your pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with circles of parchment.

Cut your butter into small cubes while it still has a slight chill (it's easier to cut), and then allow to stand at room temperature  until it softens. It won't take long when the butter is diced.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs, egg whites, vanilla extract and half of the milk. Mix until more or less homogeneous and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, sift together the cake flour*, sugar, baking powder and salt.  (*Tip for measuring cake flour: Don't scoop.  Spoon the cake flour into your measuring cup, directly from the package, and then level your cup with the back of a knife.)

I often whisk together my dry ingredients after sifting, to ensure salt and leavening is evenly distributed
Fit the bowl into your stand mixer and equip the whisk attachment. Add the butter and remaining half cup of whole milk. Beat this mixture on medium speed until smooth (about 4 minutes), scraping down the bowl with a spatula as needed.

The mixture will start out a little rough and then turn pasty and thick.  Once beaten, add a third of the egg-milk mixture and mix for two minutes on medium speed. Add another third and beat on medium speed for two minutes, you'll notice the mixture beginning to increase in volume. Add the remaining third of the milk-egg mixture and beat on medium speed for two minutes.

Finished cake batter. Very fluffy.

Divide the batter between your two pans (it will be roughly 670 grams per pan).

Level the batter with an offset spatula and bake for 35-40 minutes. They will be done when the cake springs back slightly when lightly touched in the center. If you touch the cake and it feels under-baked, feel free to give it another 5 minutes in the oven to set. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pans on a wire wrack.  The cake should pull away from the sides as it cools. If it doesn't, slip a knife around the side to release. Once cool, remove the cake from the pan and peel off the layer of parchment.

Trim the tops of the cake with a sharp serrated knife.

The cake should have a nice even crumb, with no tunnels. Tunnels in cake are often a sign of issues with mixing.
While you're waiting for those beautiful cakes to cool, work on the lemon curd and mascarpone frosting.

Lemon Curd
adapted from Luscious Lemon Desserts
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of one large lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.  Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and zest.

Mix together the sugar, salt and cornstarch and add it to the pan.  Whisk in the egg yolks until smooth and return to heat. Cook over medium-low heat for roughly 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Once thickened, strain the mixture though a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Allow to chill in the refrigerator completely before using.

Lemon Mascarpone Cream Frosting

adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking
yields enough to frost a 4 layer cake or generously frost a 2 layer cake
1 pound mascarpone cheese
5 ounces (2/3c) lemon curd
20 ounces (2 1/2c) heavy cream
3 ounces (7Tb) sugar

Beat the sugar and cream to soft peaks in your mixer.

Combine the mascarpone and lemon curd in a separate bowl and mix.

Add the cream to the mascarpone mixture. Gently fold to combine. If the mixture is overworked it can separate or look grainy. To fix this add several tablespoons of heavy cream and mix with the spatula until smooth again.  If you're baking karma is good, you can dump the mascarpone mixture into the cream and briefly beat with your stand mixer on medium low speed.

Left: Mascarpone curd mixture. Right: Finished frosting.
Now you're ready to assemble the cake.

Drop a dollop of the mascarpone frosting onto the cake and smooth to seal the top. Fill a piping bag with a large round opening with frosting and then pipe a boarder around the top of the cake. This will contain your lemon curd. Fill the center of the cake with roughly 1/3 cup of lemon curd. Then cover with a layer of frosting. The easiest way to cover slippery lemon curd with an even layer frosting is to use that same piping bag you made the boarder with. starting in the center of the lemon curd, pipe a tight spiral of frosting. Coil it tightly, around and around until you've reached the edge of the cake.

Gently place the second layer of cake on top.

To crumb coat the cake: Apply a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake and chill for 30 minutes. Then apply a thick layer of frosting over the cake. Using your cake tool of choice (I get by with a small offset and large flat spatula for frosting cakes), smooth the frosting over the cake.

If you're nervous about making a smooth sided cake, a cake comb can make the process a little easier.

Now you can decorate.

Now unfortunately for me, my 2 year old daughter thinks fishing around in my cake decorating tips is the best thing ever. She seems to have removed my small and medium star tips and I've had to resort to a star tip that is better suited to cupcakes than cakes, so bear with me (decorating-wise).

Pipe a boarder on the top of your cake and then cover the top with some of the remaining lemon curd.

Enjoy responsibly.


  1. This looks stunning. I'll have to try it for my Beloved's birthday in a few months.

  2. Amen on the lemon curd.

    Is it wrong that my favorite photo is the one where the curd is oozing all over the mascarpone?

  3. Um wow. This sounds incredible...I wish I had a special occasion to make this for, since I feel like "I wanted a ridiculously big cake" is not a proper excuse.

    That's really interesting about the high ratio cake. I've never heard of those before, but this one looks great.

  4. What a STUNNING cake! Great photos!!! A must make to put on my list.

  5. Oh, yum! This looks GORGEOUS!

    Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

  6. Wow, that's beautiful!

    And, I said it before... Your cake slicing skills are masterful. You could do brain surgery.

  7. This cake looks awesome! I love whipped cream covered cakes. Am going to make this soon!

  8. your cake is a beautiful vision…i particularly love the photo showing the cake crumb…& your frosting is so artful & precise.
    come to nyc & give baking classes…please!

  9. Mmmm, drool... You're making me want to splurge on a stand mixer just to make this cake! I think it looks beautiful, even if you had to resort to using the 'wrong' piping tip!

  10. Absolutely beautiful. I might just make this for a wedding shower I have coming up :)

  11. Gorgeous! Now I just need an occasion to make this.

  12. A beautiful cake, so tall, too. That pool of lemon curd on top, I can dive right in there!

  13. I so wish I had your enviable patience and precision. This cake is a work of art.

  14. This cake looks divine!!! AND I LOVE lemon too! Sadly no stand mixer, so I might just have to resort to making a miniature replica instead. Gotta go grab a towel to wipe the drool from my keyboard!

  15. OMG! You are so *mean*! I so want some of this cake right now! Nom, nom, nom! :)

  16. I was just admiring how perfectly you sliced that cake. What kind of knife/ tool would I need to get slices that neat? The frosting and curd didn't move at all. All too often I am ruined in the execution.

  17. Simply perfect!!!!!!!! I love you cake ;)))))) and your lovely blog too!! You are great! Have a nice day!!!

  18. Whoa that looks amazing. Can you suggest an alternative cake which would work with the filling/frosting for those of us without stand mixers?

  19. 'Enjoy responsibly' - EXACTLY. A pound of mascarpone and even more cream. Was there leftover frosting?

    Why do you live in Seattle? Can you now up sticks to Bristol or even Mewport? then I come over when you make these cakes.

  20. I meant Newport. Don't know why I didn't capitalise 'they' either. Hate myself.

  21. just bought a stand mixer to make your cookies, now, I am really inspired....

  22. Absolutely gorgeous! Like the other comment-leavers, very impressed by your icing and cake-cutting skills. Btw, I only have a hand-beater and make high-ratio cakes with no problems. Just need to use a huge mixing bowl otherwise the batter tends to "climb" the beaters causing a huge mess.

  23. Gorgeous! You must be reading my mind, we're about to have a cupcake contest at my work, and I was leaning towards lemon/mascarpone. Do you foresee any issues in adapting the cake to a cupcake? I thought I'd fill a piping bag with half each frosting/curd, inject into the center, and then do a top similar to the cake here.

  24. Gorgeous! It sounds so delicious!

  25. I didn't know that you knew how heavenly mascarpone was in frosting. I must have transmitted that to you genetically. Yes, I actually am taking credit for it.

    Two days ago I made a chocolate cake with chocolate mascarpone cheese frosting. I was going to eat one piece and then take the rest to work. I didn't do either - eat just one piece or take it to work. Don't tell anybody.

  26. Bubble and squeak,

    Used a freshly sharpened global chef knife. I probably should of used a serrated knife, as it tore the cake up a little, or chilled the cake before cutting. When the cake is refrigerated it cuts very cleanly. Of course cold cake tasted horrible but had I been willing to let the cake chill overnight I could of made some mind-bogglingly clean cuts.


    Your favorite non-stand0-mixer white/yellow cake will work fine to recreate this cake. The cake recipe above is good but let's not fool ourselves, it's just a vehicle for the mascarpone cream.


    Good to know hand beaters can handle the high ratio method. I was worried that the first step would blow out some motors and then I'd get angry emails. Shaz says it's safe folks!


    I don't use this for cupcakes because of the texture of the batter. It doesn't pour neatly into little cups. You can drop little blobs of the light fluffy mixture, but then you have to smooth it into the cups. That is a lot of work for a plain yellow cupcake.


    Yet another Chocolate cake, mom?!

    I bet my cake is prettier.

  27. Your cake is prettier. I don't take credit for your baking OCD - though it does make a beautiful final product. But as you know, my cakes ARE made with love - even if they might look bad.

  28. Thanks, Ms. Humble. I think I'll just use Martha's yellow butter cupcake for the cake. Another random question - whenever I make cupcakes with paper liners, the liners always cave in a bit on one side when filled and pushed down into my cupcake tin. I don't care, usually, but now that a competition is at stake...have any tips? I also have decided a thin slice of candied lemon would be a nice topper for these cupcakes and may boost my 'wow' factor.

  29. Michelle,

    The cupcake papers buckling in the cups can be caused by a couple things.

    First, is your pan's cups may be a little small. I have 6-8 "standard" muffin/cupcakes pans and only half of them allow a cupcake liner to fit well without caving in. So much for standard, right?

    The other issue may have to do with your paper liners themselves. If they're stored outside of the packaging they came in, the crimping will relax and they won't fit well into the pan. You'll also see poorly packaged liners (sold in bags, etc) that arrive from the factory pre-relaxed and misshapen. Boo!

    I store my liners in paper cups. Stack a few dozen and drop them into the cups. Push them part-way down until the crimping is tight. This really helps them keep their shape, and even allows some liners to fit into some of my smaller pans.

  30. Great tip, thanks! I bought a 'tube' of liners for a great price, but they came in plastic wrap. My husband just walked in on me shoving the liners down into cups in the kitchen, and proceeded to question my sanity :) If you ever decide to conquer canning, I'll be able to pay you back with tips, geek style. Two words: pH sticks.

  31. Wow - my mouth is watering. I love citrus desserts, and cakes with marscarpone frosting.

  32. "Enjoy Responsibly" -- that's hysterical! This cake looks fabulous -- a must try. However, from the looks of it, enjoying responsibly won't be an option. Thanks for another wonderful post!

  33. oh my this looks utterly divine...

  34. You created a perfect cake - delicious flavors and a treat for the eye too.

  35. My husband made me this cake for my birthday today and I was in cake heaven. Your recipes always turn out well for me, but I have to say, wait for it, "this takes the cake!" Heh heh heh!

    Seriously, it may be the best lemon cake I have ever put in my mouth, which given the amount of cakes I have baked and eaten over the years, is saying something.

    Thank you for all your thoughtful, cheerful, beautifully photographed posts. You are an inspiration!

  36. hi,
    i made this cake today in my quest for best vanilla cake and i am happy to report that this turned out reallly nice, soft, moist crumb with firmness required in a decorated cake. I have an issue though, my cake didnt rise that well, like it was 1.5 inc at max and a little uneven, it also baked a little early like in 30 mins, may be oven temperature was too high, otherwise it was great to know a scratch cake with box properties.

  37. I just made this cake for Easter, and while my frosting wasn't as perfectly smooth as yours, it was pretty darn good. The cake, lemon curd and frosting were AMAZING!!! I never want a frosting with out mascarpone in it again. I used (2) 9" pans, and had to bake them around 35-40 mins. I had 2 people ask me where I bought my cake. I thought that was a great compliment. I made the Blackberry Mascarpone ice cream to go with it. I had frozen blackberries from my blackberry bush/vine monster in my yard, so the whole thing was very Martha.

  38. hi, my final batter was smooth and fluffy like yours, however, the finished cake had fluffy top but very dense bottom. can you help? thanks!

  39. Hmm... That is a new one for me. It is possible the butter melted too quickly near the bottom of the pan, or just pooled down there. This would release the air trapped in the batter by beating. The leavening works by adding to that trapped air, if it isnt there... the cake would be dense.

    That's my best guess. So perhaps a heat issue in the oven or the butter getting too soft pre baking.

  40. Hi, long time lurker delurking! I just made this cake in cupcake form (neglecting to smooth out the tops as you mentioned above), and there are tons of air bubbles going from the very bottom to the very top of the cupcakes. Do you have any idea what might be the reason? Overbeating, possibly? Not enough flour?

  41. G,

    Generally when you see air bubbles (tunnels) in a high ratio cake it is due to over mixing. However, it is difficult to troubleshoot without seeing the cakes myself. Were all the cupcakes in the pan equally tunneled? Or just certain cupcakes (like the ones on the left, right, outside edges, center, etc)?. Did the cupcakes crack or dome?

    It wouldn't be the amount of flour, with tunneling the flour is partially to blame. Or rather, how the protein (gluten) in the flour is developed by mixing. We develop gluten in bread by mixing and kneading to trap the gas from yeast, making those delicious bubbly breads. In cake, we don't like gluten, which is why we use cake flour (low protein flour) rather than all purpose flour. This minimizes the amount of gluten formed, keeps things light, tender and allows the leavening to do its work evenly.

    I should also note that it could also be an issue of too much leavening, as the gas bubbles can combine to form larger bubbles when too much gas is formed. I've been told that some baking powderers are stronger than others, depending on what country you're in. So even if you're using the right amount, your baking powder could be stronger than mine.

    As for making cupcakes out of this thick batter, kudos for attempting that. Must of been a lot of work. I've never been patient enough to spread a batter this thick fluffy into small cups myself. (Unfortunately that also means I cannot say how well this particular recipe turns out in the smaller cupcake form.)

  42. Ms. Humble,
    I have been eying this cake for a while and finally plan on making it this weekend for my husband's birthday. However, I went to the store yesterday to buy some new pans and couldn't find any! My town is lame. I'm afraid I've run out of time to order them, so do you think a springform pan would work? Thanks!

  43. Springforms will work, but you will still need more than one. If you only have short sided cake rounds and are worried about the batter bubbling out and over in the oven, just divide the batter between more pans (3-4). Or don't use all of the batter--make cupcake with the extra, though the batter is rather thick for cupcake cups--it is better than cleaning out the bottom of your oven.


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