I once had a friend who spent half her free time researching clever ways to cut calories in desserts: applesauce instead of oil, chickpeas instead of flour, prune puree in lieu of butter. Sorry, but I want REAL dessert when I indulge. Not some sugar-free, fat-free substitute that forces you to pretend you're satisfied. I'd rather eat the calorie-packed real deal and walk away totally thrilled with my decision.
Which is why I had no problem eating this lemon cake at the Steelhead Diner in Seattle (the photo above is my replication of it):
The restaurant, near Pike's Place, is known for its seafood, which meant the desserts were pretty much the only thing on the menu I could eat. (I don't eat any kind of fish or shellfish.) I can't say I was disappointed, because I'd been craving a tangy lemon dessert for days. I was pleased the moment by waitress set my plate down in front of me: The presentation alone was impeccable.
This layered lemon creation may look tiny, but it was so loaded down with rich ingredients—mascarpone cream, lemon curd, white chocolate shavings—that it undoubtedly packed a meal's worth of calories. And it was incredible. I initially intended to share it with my dining companions, but that didn't happen, obviously.
I was so blown away that I had to try to recreate it at home. I found an old Epicurious recipe with the core elements: homemade lemon curd, a lemon-infused mascarpone layer, and 850 calories per serving. Mmm.
The recipe is for a standard layer cake, but I wanted to mimic the Steelhead Diner Lemon Cake down to the last detail. So I baked the cake batter in a muffin tin, creating cute little cake discs, perfect for stacking.
This is a very laborious dessert to make. But the mascarpone filling and lemon curd are totally worth the effort—they taste exactly like the diner's versions. The cake's texture kind of came out funky, a little bit tough, although still chewy. But I think I just either over-mixed it or overcooked it. So proceed with caution!
Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone
Adapted from Epicurious
What You Need
6 large eggs, separated
14 Tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Filling and Frosting
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 containers (8 oz. each) chilled mascarpone cheese
White chocolate shavings
Put It All Together
1. Position rack in the center of your oven, and preheat to 350° F.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and 7 Tbsp sugar, until the mixture is very thick, about 4 minutes. Then in a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 7 Tbsp sugar to the whites, one tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff and glossy. Fold half of the egg whites into the yolk mixture, then stir in half of the flour and 1/4 tsp salt. Fold in the remaining whites, followed by the remaining flour. Mix until just combined.
3. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray, then spoon about 1.5 Tbsp of batter into each cup. (You'll probably need two muffin tins.) Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool in pan on rack, then run a knife around the edge of each cake disc to loosen them.
2. Prepare the lemon curd: Whisk the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, and egg yolks in a medium metal bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Whisk constantly until thickened and a candy thermometer reads 160° F. Remove bowl from water, then add the butter, whisking until melted. Transfer 1 cup of the curd to a small bowl, and reserve the remaining curd for the filling. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of each curd. Chill overnight. (I just chilled mine for a few hours, and it was totally fine, FYI.)
3. Make the syrup: Place sugar in a small metal bowl. Add 1/2 cup boiling water; stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in lemon juice.
4. Prepare the filling and frosting: Beat the whipping cream and sugar in a large bowl until peaks form. Add the mascarpone to the lemon curd you reserved for the filling. Whisk until blended, then fold the whipped cream into the lemon-mascarpone mixture.
5. Prepare for serving: Spread a spoonful of the lemon-mascarpone mixture in the center of a dessert plate, forming a circle just larger than one of your cake discs. Place a cake disc on top of the filling, with the flat side facing up. Use a pastry brush to spread syrup over the surface of the cake, then spoon on a layer of lemon curd, followed by a layer of the lemon-mascarpone filling. Repeat with a second cake disc. Sprinkle white chocolate shavings on top and on the plate.