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Recipe: Amalfi lemon cream cake

Posted on 09 May 2024

Transport yourself to the sun-drenched waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea with this recipe from ‘Italian Coastal’ by Amber Guinness.

This cake is inspired by the delizie al limone served at the glorious bar-cum-bakery Pasticceria Panza in Amalfi, an old-fashioned place with mirrored walls, art deco signs and waiters in white gloves. It sits next to Amalfi’s beautiful mosaic-domed cathedral in the main square, and is the perfect place for an aperitivo. But no matter what the hour, even if it’s cocktail o’clock, I always have one of their signature lemon desserts. These come as individual domes: the outer layer is bright white lemony custard, while inside, held together by yet more lemon custard, are two airy layers of pan di spagna – a sponge made with no raising agent aside from air whose name presumably originated when Amalfi and the Kingdom of Naples were under Spanish rule.

I tried to recreate them at home and quickly concluded that making individual portions was best left to the master bakers, so instead I’ve made one large version as a cake. The result is rather like a very light but intensely creamy and lemony Victoria sponge. The original version covers the cake with custard mixed with lemon curd, but you can achieve the same indulgent citrusy feel by mixing lemon curd with whipped cream, cutting out the step of making the custard. It’s still a bit of a marathon, but it’s worth it and actually becomes more delicious the day after you’ve made it.

PREPARATION: 40 minutes, plus cooling time

COOKING: 25 minutes

Serves 8

300 ml (10 fl oz) double cream
grated lemon zest or edible
flowers, to decorate (optional)
200 g (7 oz) strawberries, hulled
and cut into quarters (optional)

SPONGE
butter, to grease the tins
4 organic eggs
120 g (4 ½ oz) caster sugar
grated zest of 2 lemons
120 g (4 ½ oz) ‘00’ or plain flour
50 ml (1 ¾ fl oz) olive oil

LEMON CURD
2 organic eggs
3 organic egg yolks
120 g (4 ½ oz) caster sugar
grated zest of 3 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
100 g (3 ½ oz) unsalted
butter, softened

LEMON SYRUP
80 g (2 ¾ oz) icing sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

To make the sponge cakes, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) fan-forced. Butter two 20cm (8 inch) round cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment.

Crack the eggs into a large metal bowl, add the sugar and lemon zest and whisk with handheld electric beaters for 10–15 minutes (or, even better, use a stand mixer). This may sound like a long time, but remember there is no raising agent so the batter needs to be thoroughly whisked to ensure enough air is incorporated. It’s ready when you can draw a figure of eight when lifting the mixture with a spoon and it sits on the surface for a few seconds; if it immediately sinks back into the batter, carry on whisking.

Sift in about a third of the flour and, using a clean metal spoon or spatula, very gently fold it into the egg mixture, being careful not to knock out any air. Fold in the rest of the flour, a third at a time, along with the olive oil. Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake for 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Don’t remove the cakes from the oven just yet; instead, switch off the heat, prop the oven door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon and leave for 30 minutes so they cool gently. It’s important to take this precaution as sharp changes in temperature may cause them to collapse.

Remove the cooled cakes from the oven and set aside to cool completely in the tins. At this point, the cakes will keep in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

Meanwhile, to make the lemon curd, combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small saucepan over a low heat. Use a whisk to stir and break up the eggs. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to medium and add half the butter; stir it in until melted, then repeat with the remaining butter. Stir constantly over the heat for about 5 minutes until the curd has thickened, then transfer the pan to a cool surface and keep mixing for a few more minutes. Set aside to cool completely. The curd will keep in a clean airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days if you want to make it ahead of time.

For the lemon syrup, whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl until you have a thick sticky sauce.

When the cakes are completely cold you can start assembling your masterpiece. Prick one of the cakes all over with a skewer or fork, being careful not to go all the way to the bottom. Brush the top of the cake liberally with lemon syrup. Invert the other cake onto a serving plate or cake stand and prick it all over, being careful not to go all the way through. Brush liberally with lemon syrup.

Whip the cream to velvety soft peaks, about 2–3 minutes.

Pour half the lemon curd onto the cake sitting on the serving plate, smoothing it out evenly with the back of a spoon. Remove the other cake from its tin and top with a third of the whipped cream, smoothing it out to the edge. Carefully invert the cake onto the other one so the lemon curd and whipped cream layers are sandwiched together.

Add the rest of the lemon curd to the whipped cream to make a loose, thick lemony cream. Use the beaters to whisk for another minute or so to bring them together. Pour this over the top of the cake, using the back of a spoon or knife to smooth the surface, pushing some cream over the sides.

Cover the cake with a large upturned bowl and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving, or even better, let it chill overnight.

Remove the cake from the fridge about 20 minutes before serving. Decorate with lemon zest or edible flowers and serve with quartered strawberries, if you like.

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Italian Coastal

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