Holidays in Italy with my family always meant a chilled limoncello digestif after our meal. If I could bottle up summer and take it with me wherever I went, there would be plenty of limoncello involved. I like to think of this as a refreshingly grown-up lemon drizzle that is still young at heart. The billowy Italian meringue ensures it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Reprinted with permission from “The New Way to Cake” by Benjamina Ebuehi, Page Street Publishing Co. 2019 (Photo credit: Holly Wulff Peterse). Available on Amazon.
Yield: 1 square 9-inch (23-cm) cake
For the Cake
1 1/2 cups (300 g) superfine/caster sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable or sunflower oil
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 g) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, room temperature
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons (30 ml) limoncello
For the Syrup
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) limoncello
1/4 cup (60 ml) water
For the Meringue
1 cup (200 g) superfine/caster sugar
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
Scant 1/2 cup (100 g) egg whites, room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a deep 9 x 9–inch (23 x 23–cm) cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- To make the cake, beat the eggs and sugar using a stand mixer or electric whisk for 3 to 5 minutes, or until thick and pale. With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the oil. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt followed by the milk and lemon zest. Beat until smooth before stirring in the lemon juice and limoncello.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until well risen and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- To make the syrup, heat the sugar, limoncello and water together in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Prick the surface of the cake with a toothpick and pour on the syrup, letting it seep through.
- To make the meringue, add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, swirling the pan to dissolve the sugar. Once it reaches a boil, do not stir, as the syrup may crystallize.
- Heat the sugar until it reaches a temperature of 238°F (115°C). Before adding the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer, make sure there is absolutely no trace of grease, or the egg whites won’t get stiff. I like to wipe the bowl with a lemon wedge just to be safe. Whip the egg whites on low speed for 1 minute, or until foamy. Increase the speed to medium and whip for 2 to 4 minutes, or until you have soft peaks. To check for soft peaks, pull the mixer head out of the bowl. It should form peaks that fall back onto themselves quite quickly.
- Once the sugar has reached the right temperature and with the mixer still running, slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl, taking care not to pour the syrup onto the beaters. The sugar will be extremely hot so be very careful. Continue to whip the meringue on high speed until you have thick, glossy, stiff peaks and the bowl is cool to the touch.
- Spoon the meringue on top of the cooled cake, leaving about a 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) from the edge. Use a blowtorch to lightly toast the meringue. If you don’t have a blowtorch, you could place the cake under a grill or broiler for a minute or two. Keep a close eye on it, as the meringue will brown very quickly.
TIP: To create a more intricate topping, spoon the meringue into a piping bag fitted with an open or closed star nozzle. Pipe swirls or roses on top of the cake before blowtorching.
Read more about Benjamina Ebueli in our article, “British Baking Star Benjamina Ebuehi’s Simple Recipe for Exceptional Cakes.”
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