this lemon crunch cake is inspired by the version from aiea bowl in hawaii, complete with plenty of cake (as dense or light as you want), silky lemon curd and crunchy toffee bits.
dear delicious not gorgeous,
you turned 5 today!! what?! you’re ready for kindergarten. mama’s gonna cry (but also, don’t call me mama heather. pls and ty).
we’ve gone from not knowing anything about photography to realizing that recruiting friends to decorate and eat cake (jasmine tea flavored cake, tiramisu flavored cake, doesn't matter) works veryyy well. we’ve gone from being giddy about one view to the blog within a day (before realizing that it was my own session lol) to slightly more than one view.
you’ve accompanied me through the end of high school all the way through college and now to this strange post-grad landscape with no more schooling in sight. you’ve seen me as the anti-social girl who stayed in her dorm all weekend, into a not yet woman who probably eats out and explores too much.
there were times i questioned if you were worth it: the time, the lack of return (emotionally, financially, etc). i’d be baking anyways, no matter if the blog was here, i’d think. but you’ve let me rant, forced me to become more in tune with digital marketing, inspired me to master new things (still working on those macarons though). thank you.
before you let all this gushing go to your head, i’ll end this. thanks again, dng. here’s to the next 5 years.
this year’s blogiversary cake is lemon crunch cake, which i first had and loved at aiea bowl, a bowling alley and restaurant in hawaii. i’m pretty sure that we went here twice within a week because of this cake, much to the dismay of my brother (who had numerous colorful puke sessions after having their hawaiian punch).
how to make lemon crunch cake
hawaii’s a little far, and i find myself going to more cities than beachy destinations these days, so here’s my version. i started with fork to belly’s light, asian-style cake recipe. i tend towards denser, western-style cakes, and ended up going with leite culinaria’s white cake. (my mom liked the delicateness of the original sponge cake though; click that fork to belly link if your tastes lean that way too).
courtney didn’t make lemon curd, but i'm obsessed with how tangy and fresh the homemade stuff tastes, so i deemed it the perfect opportunity to test out the view from great island’s microwave lemon curd. it’s easy and forgiving (did i mention that time i wasn’t paying attention to the instructions and microwaved it for 3 minutes straight and it came out with a thicc layer of scrambled eggs on top? scoop it off, strain the curd, and you’re solid), not to mention citrusy without being warheads kind of sour. it’s not as creamy as a typical lemon curd because there’s no butter, but the pastry cream and whipped cream add enough luxuriousness to the cake, and the lack of fat helps the lemon shine.
and the pastry cream! super easy (no need to go back and forth w some warmed eggs). and so smooth. before this recipe, i had the worst issues with pastry cream cooking unevenly, and even straining it after cooking didn't eliminate all of the bumps. not this recipe though~ it can be a little loose once you cut into the cake, but that means you have more pastry cream to lick off the serving plate later.
i know i should be pushing you to make your own toffee. this isn't semi-homemade with sandra lee. but after 3 iterations of toffee, all of which were more chewy and darker in color than i wanted, i'm going to tell you to give up. you can buy some great toffee (this one has almonds which would make the cake even better imo), and make the rest of the components. if you're stubborn (not me, never me) and insist on making your own toffee: adding a splash of water can help fix separated toffee, and if your toffee is super damp and clumpy after you crush it, try sticking it in the fridge for more crunch and less chew.
yes, it’s an intense cake. unless you like to do massive projects all at once, i’d recommend splitting this into 2-3 days, prepping everything on the first 1-2 days, and then making the whipped cream and assembling on the last day.
and i’m sure if you’ve gotten this far (rather than using the jump to recipe button lol), then you’re probably wondering if it’s even worth it.
yes, yes it is.
the cake is buttery and dense, which goes well with the light (feeling, not calorie-light lol) accoutrements. the pastry cream and whipped cream form a dreamy, creamy foundation for the real stars of the show: the toffee and the lemon curd. the toffee adds so much crunch and caramelly flavor, and the lemon curd is silky and tangy and honestly i could spoon that up plain.
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter room temperature
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- ½ cup buttermilk room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 T granulated sugar
- ½ T cornstarch
- small pinch of salt
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 3 eggs room temperature
- ½ stick unsalted butter
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream cold
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
In a large bowl or on a large piece of wax paper, sift the dry ingredients.
Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and mix in the eggs, 1 at a time, just until combined.
In a glass measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and vanilla. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add half of the milk mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated, and then scrape down the side of the bowl. Mix in half of the sifted ingredients and then scrape down the side of the bowl. Add the remaining milk mixture and sifted ingredients in the same manner.
Divide the batter between two greased and floured 6.5" round cake pans and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake at 350F until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean or the cake has slightly pulled away from the side of the pan, 20-30 minutes.
Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack. Unmold them by running a small knife around the edge of the pans, then invert them onto plates. Remove the pans and let the cakes cool completely before frosting.
In a small pot, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg yolk till combined.
Pour the milk mixture to the dry ingredients in the pot, whisking constantly. Add in the butter. Whisk constantly on a medium heat until the pastry cream thickens. After about a minute, add in the vanilla extract and continue to whisk.
Once the pastry cream has thickened, strain it through a fine mesh sieve and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure it touches the top of the pastry cream and refrigerate if making ahead of time.
Whisk the sugar and juice in a medium microwave safe bowl. Whisk in the eggs, making sure to get them completely incorporated.
Microwave for 1 minute, then whisk. Microwave for another minute, then whisk. Repeat microwaving for 30 seconds and whisking until the curd has thickened. It will get lighter in color and be like a thin pudding. Cool completely.
Have a parchment lined rimmed baking tray ready.
Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat; stir in the sugar. Stir occasionally until the toffee reaches 300F on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes.
Pour the toffee onto the parchment paper. It will harden as it cools. Once cooled, crack the pieces into smaller ones. Whizz the pieces in a food processor until you get fine crumbs.
Whip the cream and zest until the mixture reaches stiff peaks.
Place one cake layer on a cake stand or your serving plate. Spread a thin layer of lemon curd on top. Make a ring of whipped cream along on the outer edge of the cake. You can do this by piping the whipped cream, or making a rough ring with an offset spatula. It doesn't need to be pretty.
Pour the cooled pastry cream inside of the ring and spread evenly. Top with the final layer of cake, bottom side up.
Use an offset spatula to spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake and down the sides. Pour the rest of the lemon curd on top of the cake, and spread it just to the edges of the cake.
Set the cake over a rimmed baking tray. This will help to catch extra toffee crumbs that fall. Use your hand to press the crumbs up the side of the cake.
This cake does well in the fridge- the flavors meld, and the toffee stays crispy and crunchy.
This is a 2 layer 6.5" cake, but you can do make a 3 layer 8" cake. Double everything EXCEPT the lemon curd. If you want a 6.5" cake, you're going to have leftover lemon curd, or you can deal with measuring 1 ½ eggs to get the amount you need (and start checking the curd earlier - there's going to be less in the measuring cup, so it may cook faster than a full batch).