Lemon Meringue Cake

Do you love lemon meringue pie? If so, this show-stopping Lemon Meringue Cake is for you! Three layers of lemon cake filled with homemade lemon curd and covered in Swiss meringue frosting. The sweet-tart filling and fluffy meringue frosting are out of this world!

three layer lemon cake covered with swirls of toasted meringue

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If you know me at all, you know I love lemon desserts. LOVE.

So obviously, if I’m doing a year-long series on layer cakes, at least one has to include lemon, right? Right!

I also love meringues. Little bite sized meringues. Giant bigger-than-your-face meringues from Ottolenghi.

How better to combine these two favorites than with a lemon meringue cake? Three layers of lemony cake, a homemade lemon curd filling, and instead of frosting, a pile of light and fluffy meringue?

This is a cake of contracts: dense and tart lemon curd, airy and sweet meringue. And it is delicious.

While this might seem complicated, I promise it really isn’t, and I’m here to help break down the cake into easy to follow step by step instructions!

slice of cake on its side with lemon curd visible between the layers

Lemon Layer Cake

First up for our lemon meringue cake: three layers of lemony cake!

This cake is full of bright lemon flavor, extra moist crumb, and just dense enough to stand up to a layer of lemon curd filling.

To make sure the lemon flavor really comes through, this cake uses both lemon juice and lemon zest.

What you won’t find in this cake? Lemon jello, lemon pudding, or lemon extract. While these are common ingredients in many lemon cakes, I prefer to use natural lemon flavor!

One key ingredient to making the best structure of this cake? Using baking soda instead of just baking powder. Why is the addition of baking soda so important? It’s time for my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!

Kitchen Chemistry

Adding an acid, like lemon juice, to cake batter denatures (unfolds) the proteins in the batter.  Too much acid  causes the structure of the cake to fall apart.  Because we’re adding a lot of lemon juice to bump up the real lemon flavor, we need to add baking soda to the cake to neutralize the acid.  As the baking soda interacts with the lemon juice, carbon dioxide forms, which releases bubbles and gives the cake extra lift.

These cake layers can be made ahead of time and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 3 months before assembling the cake!

four pictures showing how to fill a lemon meringue cake with lemon curd and cover with meringue frosting

Easy Homemade Lemon Curd

In between each of those layers of delicious lemon cake? A layer of dreamy, creamy lemon curd.

You’ll find all the step-by-step instructions you need to make perfect lemon curd on my homemade lemon curd post.

One batch will be plenty — you’ll likely have some leftover (to eat with a spoon, obviously). There isn’t a precise amount to put on each layer; just eyeball until you have a nice coating to the edge.

Lemon curd has a high moisture content – it’s what makes it so soft and creamy. But while this creates a wonderful texture, the moisture can also start to soak into the cake, creating soggy cake layers.

We definitely don’t want soggy cake layers, so we’re going to use our meringue frosting as a barrier between the cake and the curd.

three layer  cake covered with toasted meringue with eggs and lemon curd in the background

Swiss Meringue Frosting

Obviously the key to a lemon meringue cake is… the meringue! We’ll use a homemade Swiss meringue frosting between each layer of cake and to decorate the outside of the cake.

Just like meringue cookies or pavlova, this Swiss meringue frosting is made from egg whites and sugar, with a pinch of cream of tartar and vanilla extract.

Swiss meringue is my favorite type to make, both because the egg whites are cooked and the frosting is stable and can easily be piped or swirled onto the cake.

To make Swiss meringue, a double boiler is used to cook together egg whites and sugar until the sugar dissolves at 160 °F. This mixture is then whipped with an electric mixture until fluffy and able to hold stiff peaks.

Not only is Swiss meringue easy and delicious, it also toasts beautifully, just like the big fluffy pile of meringue on a lemon meringue pie!

slice of lemon meringue cake on a blue dessert plate

How to Toast Meringue

To assemble the cake, start with a layer of lemon cake. Spread a thin layer of meringue frosting all along the top of the cake and pipe a thicker 1-inch wide border along the edge.

Spread the chilled lemon curd inside the meringue frosting border, then top with another layer of cake and repeat. After the third layer of cake has been added, refrigerate for 15 minutes to set the curd and the frosting.

Using a spatula, spread the rest of the meringue frosting along the sides and top of the cake. Use the back of a spoon to swirl the meringue, if desired.

To toast the meringue, use a kitchen torch to carefully brown areas of the frosting. Kitchen torches, also called creme brûlée torches, have a very moderate flame and will allow you to get a nice golden color. 

slice of cake with lemon curd and meringue frosting

Tips and Tricks for the Best Lemon Meringue Cake

  1. To keep cake layers perfect flat, use Bake Even Strips (or wet cloth soaked in water and wrapped tightly around the outside of the cake pan).
  2. For even cake layers, weigh the batter of the cake and divide into three baking pans. 
  3. Store the lemon meringue cake in the refrigerator.  The lemon curd does require refrigeration.  
  4. To prevent the cut cake from getting stale, wrap leftover slices in plastic wrap or push wax paper against the exposed edge to minimize contact with air.

More Lemon Desserts:

2021 Layer Cake of the Month Series

lemon cake with lemon curd filling covered in toasted meringue

Lemon Meringue Cake

Yield: Serves 16
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Three layers of lemon cake filled with homemade lemon curd and covered in Swiss meringue frosting. The sweet-tart filling and fluffy meringue frosting are out of this world!

Ingredients

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (99 grams) vegetable oil
  • 3 cups (594 grams) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (227 grams) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup (56 grams) fresh lemon juice

For the Lemon Curd:

  • 1 cup (227 grams) fresh lemon juice (4-5 large lemons)
  • 1 cup (198 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (~2 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • tiny pinch salt

For the Meringue Frosting:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup (198 grams) granulated sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then spray parchment paper with nonstick baking spray.
  1. Make the cake batter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add half of this mixture to the butter and eggs and beat until just combined. Pour in the buttermilk, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and lemon juice, mix to combine, and follow with the remaining flour. Beat until just combined and no lumps remain.
  2. Bake the cakes. Divide the cake batter into three equal portions. Scrape the cake batter into each of the tree prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out with a moist crumb. Remove from the oven, allow to cool in the cake pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Make the lemon curd. While cakes are cooling, prepare the lemon curd, following this recipe. Chill the lemon curd for 1 hour, while the cakes cool.
  4. Make the Swiss meringue frosting. Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pan filled with simmering water. Continue to whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens, reaching a temperature of 160 °F (about 4 minutes). Remove the bowl from the simmering water and stir in the cream of tartar and vanilla extract. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed until the meringue forms stiff, glossy peaks, about 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Assemble the cake. To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of the frosting on the bottom of a cake plate to help prevent the cake from sliding. Place a layer of cake on the bottom and spread a thin layer of meringue frosting across the top of the cake. Pipe an additional thicker border of frosting along the edge of the cake. Fill the center with a third of the lemon curd. Repeat with the next layer of cake, frosting, and lemon curd, followed by topping with a layer of cake. Refrigerate for 10-30 minutes to set the frosting and prevent the curd from leaking out. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the remaining frosting along the sides and top of the cake. If desired, swirl the frosting with the back of a spoon. Using a kitchen torch, gently torch areas of the meringue frosting until toasty brown. Store the cake in the refrigerator.

Notes

  1. Buttermilk can be substituted for 1 cup of whole or 2% milk + 1 teaspoon of lemon or vinegar. Mix together and set aside for 5 minutes before adding to the batter.
  2. For perfectly flat, even cakes, weigh the batter to ensure the same amount is in each pan and use Bake Even strips while baking.
  3. This recipe makes 3 8-inch layers. To use 9 inch pans, multiply each ingredient by 1.25. To use 6 inch cake pans, divide the recipe in half.
  4. If the meringue frosting is heated to 160 °F, the egg whites are fully cooked and safe to eat. Toasting the meringue is optional for appearance and flavor, but is not necessary to cook the egg whites.

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Lemon Meringue Cake: Three layers of lemon cake and lemon curd filling, surrounded by light and airy meringue -- this stunning cake is perfect for birthdays and celebrations!