Vanilla Cream-Filled Lemon Cakes are actually closer to a soft, lemony mini whoopie pie. Little rounds of lemon cake with a delicious vanilla bean cream in the middle.
This is a great recipe to make with your little chefs — or a class full of adults at my local Sur La Table. This recipe was originally published in a cookbook called “Southern Italian Desserts” by Rosetta Constantine with Jennie Schacht.
It has been close to a year since my friend Megan and I last attended a cooking class. So we agreed that learning how to make some southern Italian desserts was the right way to get back in the swing of things.
One of the things I love about cooking classes are the tips you get from the chefs. Chef Timothy Harley [@spoonfulls], let me peer over his shoulder and ask more than my fare share of questions as he led the class. So I learned a lot.
This recipe was pretty easy to make, and the nice thing is you can serve the finished product immediately, or you can plan ahead and store them in an airtight container for up to four days before sharing them with your family or friends.
One of the keys to this recipe involves a little pre-staging of ingredients. You will need to make the cream filling first, to allow it to cool before using it to fill the center of the cakes.
You will also want to bring your cake eggs out several hours in advance of when you want to use them so they are at room temperature. Lastly, I would also suggest that, if at all possible, you use vanilla paste and not extract for the pastry cream filling — the taste overall is better.
The last piece of prep work you will need is a piece of parchment paper and a small round cookie cutter (approximately 2″ in diameter). You want to take the cookie cutter and trace it’s outline onto the parchment paper, with a 1″ space between each circle. This will help you when you are ready to pipe out the cake batter before baking.
Ideally, you would put the parchment paper underneath a silicone baking mat where you can see the outlines through the mat, and then pipe the batter directly onto the mat. However, if this isn’t an option, you can just pipe directly onto the parchment paper.
I would suggest actually setting the vanilla cream-filled lemon cakes aside in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving. This allows the glaze and filling to soak a little into the cakes, allowing the flavors to mingle even more. That said, they are also delicious fresh.
One recipe makes approximately 16 servings. Enjoy!
- 4 large eggs, separated (room temperature)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Finely grated zest from 1 small lemon
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2/3 cup cake flour
- 2 cups confectioners' (powdered) sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons hot water
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste/extract
Vanilla Pastry Cream (Filling)
- 2 cups half-and-half
- Peel of 1 medium lemon
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
For the Cream Filling:
- Over Medium-high heat, bring the half-and-half and lemon peel to a simmer in a small saucepan; do not let it come to a full boil.
- In a 2 to 3-quart heavy, nonreactive saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until they are completely smooth and slightly thickened.
- Whisk in the cornstarch until it is completely incorporated.
- (Optional) Use a fork to carefully remove and discard the lemon peel from the half-and-half.
- Add the half-and-half to the egg mixture in a slow stream while whisking constantly.
- Return the mixture to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream boils.
- Continue to whisk as you boil the mixture for about 30 seconds to make a very thick cream
- When you remove the whisk from the pan, you should have to shake or tap it firmly to drop a splotch of cream back into the pot.
- Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl. To prevent a skin from forming, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface.
- Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours, or up to 3 days. (To quickly chill the cream, fill a larger bowl with ice and water and set the bowl of pastry cream over it, taking care not to slosh water into the cream.)
For the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) with rack in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
- Line two baking sheets with outlined parchment paper and/or silicone baking mats.
- Beat the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the lemon zest at high speed in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a handheld electric mixer, until pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes.
- In a second bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt, beginning at medium-low speed until the whites are frothy,
- Increase to medium speed until they are very thick and frothy.
- Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, a few teaspoons at a time, then beat at medium-high speed until the whites form firm, but not dry, peaks that hold their shape when the beater is lifted.
- Using a large spatula, gently fold the egg yolks into the whites until mostly combined but still a little streaky.
- Add the cake flower in small batches to the egg mixture, gently folding in each addition, until the flour is completely and evenly incorporated, taking care not to deflate the batter.
- Carefully transfer the batter into a piping bag fitted with 5/8-inch round tip or a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off.
- Following the circles on the parchment paper, pipe out 2-inch rounds with one inch all around
- them, forming sixteen rounds on each sheet.
- Place baking sheet in oven and set timer for 12 minutes.
- Half way through (at 6 minute mark) rotate the pan 180-degrees (half turn).
- Bake just until the tops begin to lightly color.
- Let the cakes cool completely on the baking sheets.
- When the cakes are cooled, slide a small offset (icing) spatula under the cakes to loosen them, turning them bottom side up and arranging them in matching pairs.
For the glaze
- Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and vanilla in a heatproof bowl.
- Place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water so that the bowl is over, but not touching, the water (like a double boiler.)
- Stir the glaze just until it is smooth and warm, about 1 minute.
- Remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside to cool slightly while you fill the cake halves.
To fill the cakes:
- Spoon a heaping tablespoon of pastry cream evenly over half of the lemon cake rounds, then sandwich them with their matching tops.
- Place the filled cakes on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to catch the glaze.
To glaze the cakes:
- Pour the glaze over the filled cakes, centering it over the tops so that is spreads to cover them and drips down over the edges.
- If the glaze has cooled to where it isn't pourable, warm it over the simmering water, stirring, until it is loosened into a more fluid glaze.