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Lemon and labneh mascarpone layer cake

Cake Weekend project
Serves 12-16 (makes a 3 layer cake)
Prep 25min
Cook 1.5 - 2 hr
Cool 1+ hr

We've never been shy about our love for lemons. How to maximise the lemony-ness of a lemon cake, however, was where the ‘lemon-everything’ truly came to life: from a triple layered, lemon-syrup-soaked sponge, to fragrant burnt lemon powder and delicate dehydrated lemon pieces. This cake truly embraces our favourite citrus in every single one of its many forms. That being said, we recognise this cake as a weekend project - one to attempt when you have plenty of time, a cause for celebration, and many mouths to feed!


Lemon sponge:
285g unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks
380g caster sugar
380g plain flour, or cake flour if you can get it
5 1⁄4 tsp baking powder (24g)
1⁄2 tsp salt
7 large eggs (400g)
150g vegetable oil, or other neutral oil like sunflower
150ml whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
1 tbsp lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
150ml lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
115g caster sugar
500g mascarpone
335g cream cheese
165g labneh, store-bought or homemade
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 tsp lemon juice
350g icing sugar
200g lemon marmalade, or regular marmalade mixed with a tablespoon of lemon juice
meringue kisses, store-bought or homemade
dehydrated lemons (optional)
burnt lemon powder (optional)
120g egg whites
1⁄2 tsp cream of tartar
240g caster sugar
3⁄4 tsp cornflour
1/8 tsp baking powder
2 lemons, sliced into thin 1⁄4 cm rounds, pips removed
2 lemons


  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Turn the heat down to medium and cook, whisking occasionally to prevent it from burning. It should start to foam, at which point it’s almost ready: keep whisking until browned and smelling nutty. Immediately pour into a heat proof bowl to stop it cooking further (you should be left with 220g). Set aside to cool. You want it still liquid, so if it does solidify then melt it very gently once more and let cool slightly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160C fan. Grease and line the sides of three, 23cm cake tins that have a removable base (springform cake tins will also work). You can also do this with 2 tins, saving a third of the batter to bake again once one of the cakes has cooled. We wouldn’t recommend doing this 3 times with 1 tin though, as the butter in the batter might start to solidify by the third go.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined and there are no lumps.
  4. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour this into the flour bowl and use a whisk and a folding motion to gently incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry. Once the batter is smooth and there are no lumps, pour in the cooled melted butter and the lemon zest and whisk just to combine (don’t over mix). Divide the batter evenly between the 3 cake tins, or alternatively add a third of the batter to each of the two tins (and reserve a third for a second bake). Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  5. While the cakes are in the oven, make the lemon syrup by adding the lemon and sugar to a small saucepan and placing over a high heat. Stir gently to dissolve the sugar then remove from the heat.
  6. Brush the tops of the still warm cakes with the warm lemon syrup (about 85ml per cake) then set aside to cool completely. If baking a third cake, set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes before gently releasing the cake from its tin. Repeat with the remaining batter so you have a total of 3 cakes.
  7. While the cakes are cooling, make the mascarpone cream by adding all the ingredients to a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium speed until smooth and you have soft to medium peaks, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Be sure to keep an eye on this, as you don’t want to over-whip the icing.
  8. When ready to assemble, place one of the cooled cakes on a cake stand. Using an off-set spatula or a palette knife, spread a little less than a third of the icing over the top of the cake. Evenly spoon over half the marmalade then crush a couple mini meringues with your hands and sprinkle this on top. Lastly, if using, sprinkle very lightly with some of the burnt lemon powder. Carefully place another cake on top. Repeat this process again before carefully topping with the last cake layer. Now spread the remaining icing on the top of the cake. Don’t worry about it being perfect, you can cover this up with the decorations! If getting ahead, refrigerate the cake at this point before decorating the top.
  9. To decorate the cake, artfully arrange some of the meringue kisses on top along with the dehydrated lemons and a small sprinkling of the burnt lemon powder. Cut into thin slivers and serve.

Decorations (optional)

Meringue kisses:

  1. Preheat the oven to 90C fan. Line 2-3 large trays with parchment paper.
  2. Place the egg whites into a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment in place, and beat on medium-high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and whisk until the mixture begins to stiffen slightly and the bubbles tighten. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, cornflour and baking powder in a medium bowl. When ready, and with the mixer on medium-high speed, use a dinner spoon to add in the sugar mixture a spoonful at a time, whisking until glossy and you have medium to stiff peaks.
  3. Transfer the meringue mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 13mm round nozzle (or a star shaped nozzle) and pipe small kisses, spaced a couple centimetres apart, onto the prepared trays. Bake for 90 minutes, or until nicely dried out, but not at all coloured. Set aside to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container for up to 2-3 weeks.

Dehydrated lemon slices:

  1. Preheat the oven to 80C fan.
  2. Place the rounds onto a large, parchment-lined baking tray, arranging them so they’re not overlapping. Dehydrate in the oven for 3 hours, or until visibly
    dried and no longer carrying any moisture. Leave to cool completely then store in an airtight container. Dehydrated lemons can last for a very long time (years!) if stored correctly, as long as they’re completely void of any moisture as even the smallest amount will cause them to spoil with time.

Burnt lemon powder:

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C fan.
  2. Use a vegetable peeler or a small, sharp knife to remove the skin from the lemons, avoiding any pith. Place onto a small tray and bake on the top shelf of your oven for 15-20 minutes, or until very fragrant and completely charred and blackened. Set aside to cool then use a spice grinder or a small food processor to blitz into a fine powder. If using the latter, pass the powder through a sieve set over a bowl, to remove any larger pieces. Store in a jar in your cupboard and use to top sweet icings or creamy labneh.