Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lemon almond cake with vanilla buttermilk panna cotta and lemon curd

Before I do my little prelude into my baking post, I must say that I'm currently in a major phase of my life. I'm gonna be moving. And that's from the place that I've stayed for as long as I can remember (say, perhaps a good 17, 18 years?). There are certain reasons for the move, but all I can say is, while on one hand I'm excited about planning a new room, on the other hand, I'm a bit sad cos I've grown up here and I've never actually thought about the possibility of myself ever moving out of this home of mine cos we've just been rooted here for ages. Oh well, guess that's about to change.

And since I'm currently deep in the midst of packing/moving (it's sorta a last minute rush thing going on here that's quite hard to explain), I'll not be able to bake much in the coming few weeks! Reasons being - no time and I don't think the oven's gonna be set up so soon yet anyway. But it's okay, I have quite a few backlog posts, so by the time I get baking, perhaps I'll actually be more up to date with the posts? ^^

Lemon almond cake with vanilla buttermilk panna cotta and lemon curd

Anyway, I digress, back to the cake. One of my best friend's birthday was in May, and since I made her a cake last year, I decided that I should make her another one this year. (:

It was my first time baking the meringue sticks. I've seen them before in books or online as decorations and thought that it was really pretty. But as mentioned previously, I'm just not a fan of meringues, so I actually hesitated a bit and tried thinking of alternate decorations. But in the end, I decided to just go ahead with it anyway cos heck, I should just try something new at least once.

It was also my first time making candied lemon zest. It was really quite easy to make these and those who tasted the cake all seemed to like it. Personally? I liked how it provided a nice sweet crunch to the dessert as the lemon components of the cake were really quite tart. ^^

I remember bookmarking a lemon layered dessert from Aran a few years back. Then a while ago, I borrowed Claire Clark's "Indulge" from the library and saw something similar. I photocopied it and saved a scanned copy in my computer for future reference. So while looking through all my resources to find a tart, citrusy dessert, I came across both recipes again and *snap*, I knew I was looking at the cake that I was gonna be making.

I really really liked this cake! It embodied my version of a perfect citrus cake. I used Claire's recipe for the sponge - a Pain de Gênes, which is essentially a dense almond cake with a really little amount of flour (the method was also unusual because of the timing of adding the eggs instructions) and the lemon syrup. I liked the cake cos it tasted really moist after soaking. But weird that the cake layer turned out quite high for my tin (probably cos I adapted her recipe for a 8x6 to 7x7?).

And for the rest of the components (panna cotta and curd), I adapted from Aran's recipe. I made a slight change to the buttermilk panna cotta by adding in vanilla bean paste to make it vanilla flavoured. The panna cotta turned out perfect, and the addition of vanilla sweetened the layer slightly, which in turn, complemented the top layer - the lemon curd. The lemon curd was the sour star of the show. It was tart, tart and tart.

I shared the cake with a few different group of friends, and there were mainly two responses - the "love it" people and the "erm, it's sour" people. Well, for those who love sour goodies, it's bound to appeal to them, so I did try to make sure I shared the good stuff with all those friends who happen to be fans of sour goodies. So thankfully, there was a slightly higher percentage of those in the former group. If you're a fan of tart and refreshing citrusy treats, I highly recommend this dessert. I mean, there's always the sweetness of the panna cotta and baked meringue bits to cut through the tangy-ness. ^^

*Do note also that I only added the meringue bits and candied lemon zest on the cake right before I was serving it cos the meringue will absorb moisture from the cake and turn soggy very quickly. So when I was bringing the slices out of the house, I try to pack the decor bits in a separate small container, and only scattering them on before I passed them to the tasters.

Lemon almond cake with vanilla buttermilk panna cotta and lemon curd 
(adapted from Aran at Cannelle et Vanille & Claire Clark’s Indulge)
(makes a 7x7 cake)

Baked meringue sticks
50g egg whites (a little under a quarter cup)
50g sugar
50g powdered sugar, sifted

Whip the egg whites until a light meringue forms. Slowly add in the sugar while mixing. Continue to mix to stiff peaks. Fold in the powdered sugar.
Place the meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a number 5 plain tip. Pipe straight lines of meringue on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Bake the meringues in a very low oven, about 90C until crispy, about an hour. Keep them in an airtight container to stop them from becoming soggy. Break into chunks for decorations.

Pain de Gênes
150g unsalted butter
120g caster sugar
1 medium egg
150g almond meal
20g plain flour
20g cornstarch
2 small eggs

Preheat oven to 170C. Grease and line a 7x7 baking tin and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar till fluffy, lightly beat the medium egg before adding to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift the dry ingredients together into the creamed batter and use a large metal spoon to fold together.
Lightly whisk the two small eggs in a small bowl, then add to the batter and mix in thoroughly. Transfer to baking tin and bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake is well risen and the top springs back when gently pressed. Leave to cool in tin.

Lemon syrup
1 lemon
50g water
50g caster sugar

Finely zest the lemon. Combine lemon zest, water and caster sugar in saucepan and stir well. Bring to boil over the stove and simmer for two to three minutes. Using a pastry brush, spread the hot syrup evenly over the cooled Pain de Gênes (still in the tin) and leave to soak.

Vanilla buttermilk panna cotta
1 cup heavy cream
55g sugar
2 sheets gelatin
1/2 cup buttermilk
few drops of vanilla bean paste

Wash the square cake ring and place it on a sheet pan lined with a silicon mat. If your cake ring is not completely level and any liquid might leak out, you might want to wrap the bottom of the ring with plastic film.
In a medium saucepan, heat the heavy cream and the sugar until hot but not boiling. In the meantime, soften the gelatin in ice water for 5 minutes. Squeeze out excess water from the gelatin and add it to the hot cream. Let the cream cool to lukewarm, and then mix in the buttermilk and the vanilla bean paste.
Pour the panna cotta into the ring and bring this to the freezer. Freeze until solid, about 2-3 hours. When solid, remove the cake ring and wash it, we will need it to assemble the cake.

Lemon curd
3 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
100g sugar (1/2 cup)
2/3 cup lemon juice
2g gelatin
150g butter, cut into small cubes (still slightly cold)

Whisk the eggs, lemon zest and sugar together in a large bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice. Place the bowl over a water bath and whisk constantly until it thickens. It will start to make ribbons.
In the meantime, soften the gelatin in water. Squeeze out excess water and when curd has thickened, add the gelatin to the bowl. Strain this curd into a clean bowl.
Using a submersion blender, start mixing the curd and add the small pieces of butter. The curd will start to change in color and become lighter. Add all the butter and continue to mix till well combined.

Place the cake ring on a sheet pan. Insert the almond and lemon sponge on the bottom of the ring.
Spread about a thin layer of the lemon curd over the sponge and spread it evenly with an offset spatula.
Then place the frozen buttermilk panna cotta square on top of the lemon curd and press gently. Spread the rest of the lemon curd on top of the panna cotta. Refrigerate the entire cake until set.
Slice into desired portions and decorate with baked meringue sticks and candied lemon zest.


  1. This looks fantastic!  I love the meringue decorations and have been wanting to try something like that for a while

  2. What a beautiful cake you've made for your friend. I can imagine all the tangy elements of this cake to be balanced out by the panacotta and meringue.

    Good luck with the move! Hopefully it isn't too stressful

  3. xiaolu: yeah, it was really good (spoken by someone who loves tart stuff). and the meringues were really easy to make.

    phuoc huynh: yeps, everything was sorta balanced out (sweet + sour). and thanks, i need all the luck i can for packing. i nv knew hw stressful it is to pack up your life in a box(es). sigh.

  4. This is  lovely cake to serve to company for tea.  You are right, have to choose those who love sour goodies to taste this cake.

  5. Oh this looks divine!
    Great photos! Making me drooling!

  6. The meringues remind me of marshmallows and the candied zest looks awesome on the cake - must have tasted absolutely great :D 

  7. Michelle, this is such a beautiful cake - I'm speechless.  I love the meringue sticks, and the layers are impeccably and exquisitely perfect.  It also sounds so delicious, love the buttermilk panna cotta with the lemon curd.  I really want to try this!

    That said, I really messed up my cake the second time around trying to do too much.  I doubled the mousse and panna cotta, which was simply too much, (unless sliced it into larger squares, which I should have done once I saw the result) but the worst mistake I made was that I let the panna cotta set too long prior to pouring it on the frozen genoise. I didn't have time to warm and loosen it again, then wait for it to thicken, so I stirred it  rigorously in it's slightly gelled state, and then tried to smooth it on as best I could. Naturally, once slightly gelled, never a good idea.  As you can see,  the panna cotta layer was completely uneven, AND affected the layers above it so the whole cake was off kilter, before and after slicing.   This is a lesson not to push something or do too much when it already worked once. 

    Also, (sorry for the novel lol), I futzed with the recipe to revert it back to less panna cotta and berry mousse, but the amount of berries should have remained 1 cup of each, along with more lemon juice, water, and gelatin, so there's more than 3/4 cup puree to set aside for the mirror, plus 1/4 cup water stirred in before pouring.  I just didn't want to bother Dennis anymore!  I need to revise it desperately lol

    Finally, you and Evan inspire me.  The two of you are pastry goddesses! :)

  8. veronica, kulsum, sneige, janine: thanks! ^^
    lisa: we are constantly learning smth new in the process of baking arent we?  (:

  9. this is such a pretty dessert! it really looks amazing. beautiful job!

  10. Mi piace moltissimo questo dessert e lo faro' molto presto....Gran bel dolce! I miei piu' cari complimenti...

  11. Hi Michelle, I love your blog and check it all the time for new recipes and ideas - I think you are great. I was thinking I might try and make this cake, but I just wanted to check on the amount of gelatin needed. When it says '2 gelatin sheets', what grade is this and what would it convert to in grams? Thanks for your help - I'm sure mine won't turn out as well as yours, but I will have a good go at it :)


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