Lemon ‘Whip’ Cake
with Dairy-Free Lemon Curd
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This recipe for dairy-free lemon cake is brought to you in collaboration with BC Egg, who have financially compensated me to produce it.
All opinions are my own.
Old-school baking meets new-school in this bright & cheery, delicious dairy-free lemon cake (and equally dairy-free lemon curd). A perfect recipe for working with minimal ingredients – all you need are lemons, olive oil (or another neutral vegetable oil), eggs, and basic baking staples. It’s also a great no-waste recipe, as the egg whites and yolks are split between the cake and the curd.
Well hello there, stress-bakers of the world. Shall we step away from the 24-hour news networks and bake some cake?
As I mentioned in another recent post, I try not to talk too much about current events in my recipe posts, but these are strange times we’re living in. The world is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, and many of us are stuck in our homes, waiting things out, hoping for the best, and trying not to freak out. Unsurprisingly, there’s a LOT of stress-baking going on. I’m a big fan of taking to the kitchen and diving into a culinary project or two when life is feeling crazy, but right now there’s the added problem of dealing with groceries. We might want to bake and cook and generally hunker down, but things can get complicated when you’re trying (or forced) to limit the frequency and duration of your trips to the grocery store. To that end, I thought it would be nice to develop a recipe that would be easy to bake at home while simultaneously using very few ingredients. Beyond the basic baking pantry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.) you only need a handful of things to make this cake (namely lemons, oil, and eggs), and there’s a good chance you have them, or you can get them without much trouble. The whole recipe is easy to the point of effortless if you’ve got a stand mixer and a high-speed blender, but even without these it’s not a difficult recipe to put together. I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that you can easily halve the recipe and make a single-layer cake – which is handy, given that you might not be baking for large crowds right now. It’s also a great no-waste recipe, as it splits the egg whites and yolks between the cake and the curd respectively. Still not convinced? What if I told you that you can modify it by using other types of citrus? Or how about the fact that the curd recipe gives you enough extra to make your breakfast toast a whole lot more special for a few days?
So let’s sum up why this should be next on your to-bake list. This cake is:
- a delicious, citrus-lover’s dream come true
- cheap, and easy to make
- made with readily available ingredients
- easy to reduce and modify
- dairy-free (but hey, you can use butter to make the curd if you want to!)
- a fantastic excuse to chill out and get out of your own head for a little while.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When it gives you lemons PLUS a pandemic-induced period of prolonged isolation, make this.
What’s a Whip Cake?
A whip cake is… something I made up. The name is a reference to the fact that the light, airy texture of the crumb has to do with a whole bunch of whipping (along with some other cool baking tricks – more on that below). The recipe is, however, inspired by some wonderful old-school cakes, largely from American cooking traditions. In particular the use of whipped, airy egg whites and ice water (in lieu of milk) is related to the early/mid-20th century delight known as a Silver Cake. There’s a lovely recipe for it, along with plenty of other old-school treats in Jessie Sheehan’s book The Vintage Baker (you can see the recipe here on her site). But this cake takes another turn by taking out butter (or shortening) and swapping in oil – and not just in the cake itself. The dairy-free lemon curd uses oil instead of butter, and I have to say that I’m pretty thrilled with the result. The oil swap is actually quite easy to do, and there are a few different options for you to consider, so do take a moment to read through the Recipe Notes section below.
If you’re an experienced baker with a well-equipped kitchen, you’ll probably be comfortable skimming most of these notes, though I would urge you to pay the most attention to the section on oils (this has the biggest impact on the flavour of the cake). If you’re looking to figure out workarounds with equipment/ingredients, or if you’re interested in trying out variations, you should find the information you need here. And if you don’t see what you need, leave me a message in the comments! I’m always eager to hear from and help out readers.
Ideally, you’ll want to make this with a stand mixer (for the cake) and a high-speed blender (for the curd). If you’ve got these kitchen tools, you’ll find that this cake is ridiculously easy to make. But hey, this is Diversivore, and we’re all about options – so read on for some tips for alternative methods.
Let’s talk about the cake-making aspect first. A stand mixer is ideal given the amount of whisking that you’re going to do, and the final batter is easily put together with the paddle attachment. A hand mixer will work fine too, though you’ll obviously have to hold everything a little bit longer. In theory you could do all of this with a hand whisk too if you’re feeling super hardcore. Go you. Regardless of the tools you use, make sure to fold the whipped egg whites into the final batter by hand in order to avoid deflating the batter.
As for the lemon curd, my favourite method, bar none, is to use a high-speed blender (e.g. a Vitamix). I’ve been using mine to make curd (including for other recipes) for quite a while now, and it’s spectacular. Throw everything in the blender, turn it on for 5 minutes, and you’ve got curd. You do need a high-speed/high-performance blender though; small, cheap blenders don’t have strong enough motors, and won’t spin the blades fast enough to create sufficient heat to cook the curd. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you can always go with the traditional method of making lemon curd on the stovetop. It’s actually a little easier for this recipe as the oil is already liquid and doesn’t require mixing. If you have a double-boiler, you’ll want to use that, but any heat-proof bowl or pot that can be comfortably nested inside of another pot and used on the stovetop will work great. Do try to make sure that your setup doesn’t splash hot water into your inner bowl though.
I love developing dessert recipes. I don’t love the temptation of an entire cake sitting in the fridge. So given that you might not exactly be able to share this recipe with too many people right now, I thought I’d address modifying the serving size a little bit.
Halving the recipe is definitely the easiest option. You’ll only end up with a single layer of cake, but you can cut this in half the long way if you want to fill the inside with lemon curd. You could also make mini caked if you have smaller pans, though you’ll need to make sure you keep an eye on your baking times. You could also reduce the recipe by 1/4 (working with three eggs instead of four), but you’d probably want to use two smaller cake pans (and a reduced baking time) to make that work.
I haven’t tried this batter recipe for making cupcakes, but I think it would work very well there too. Try reducing the baking time to 15-20 minutes, but keep a close eye on things. Uneaten cupcakes (hah!) can be kept in the freezer, minus the lemon curd. If you do try this recipe in cupcake format, I’d love to hear from you!
It’s worth noting that this recipe makes more lemon curd than you need to decorate the cake (I found I had about one extra extra 8-oz/230 ml mason jar leftover). I didn’t want to reduce the recipe however, as you’d end up with leftover egg yolks. We’ve just been eating the extra curd with toast, and I guarantee that there have been no complaints around here. Extra lemon curd will keep in a jar in the fridge for at least two weeks, but it probably won’t last that long.
Cake Flour vs. All Purpose Flour
If you’ve got cake flour, definitely go ahead and use it – but you probably don’t need to go out of your way to buy any if you’ve got a good all purpose flour. Cake flour is special because it’s made from ‘soft’ (low-gluten) wheat varieties. This lower gluten content makes for a softer, finer crumb in baked goods. All-purpose flours are generally a little higher in gluten content, but not as high as bread flour. I had no issues with all-purpose flour, but if you find that you’re ending up with tougher/chewier cakes, consider seeking out cake flour instead.
For those of you in the UK and other regions where self-rising flour is common, you can easily substitute it into this recipe. Simply omit the baking powder and salt from my recipe. You’ll actually end up with a little more baking powder and salt in the final batter than what I use, but it shouldn’t impact the cake negatively.
Stop scrolling! You have a choice to make here, and it’s an important one.
Both the cake and the curd use oil in place of butter, and the type of oil you use can play a significant roll in the flavour of the finished cake. I call for olive oil specifically (we’ll discuss alternatives in a moment), but what TYPE of olive oil you choose is important. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) will have a much more pronounced olive oil taste, whereas virgin will be lighter and more neutral. From a chemical and baking perspective, the difference is fairly negligible, as the oils are not heated to the point of deterioration, but the taste difference is substantial. EVOO contributes an herbal, somewhat fruity flavour to both the cake and the curd, though this is a lot more pronounced in the curd. Virgin olive oil is far more neutral tasting, and impacts the taste of the cake and curd far less. If you love the taste of olive oil in baking (and many do), don’t be afraid to use extra-virgin. If you’re looking for a more traditional taste, driven primarily by lemon, use virgin oil (or another neutral alternative). Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to use EVOO in the cake again, but I think I might make the curd with a more neutral oil next time, as I prefer not to compete with the sharp and distinctive taste of lemon. Make sure that you’ve got a good quality olive oil regardless of the type you use. If you do use EVOO, try to use something with a more pronounced fruity flavour profile, rather than a greener, grassier tasting oil.
One last note about olive oils: you’ll often see recipes that suggest you refrain from putting EVOO into blenders. This is, purportedly, due to an increase in the bitterness caused by blending the oil at high speed. It’s not entirely clear how real this effect is, or what the scientific basis is (see this great article from Serious Eats for more on the subject), but in any case I wouldn’t worry about it in this recipe. Lemon curd is already naturally somewhat bitter thanks to the lemon zest, and you’re very unlikely to notice much of a difference from the olive oil.
If you want to go with a neutral oil and you don’t have (or want to use) virgin olive oil, there are plenty of great options to choose from. Any light tasting, neutral oil will substitute 1:1 for olive oil in both the cake and curd recipes. Avocado oil, light vegetable oil, canola oil, and grapeseed oil will all work very nicely.
Don’t need to keep things dairy free? You can use butter in the curd very easily (1:1 replacement works). If you’re making the curd in a blender you don’t need to change the process at all, but if you’re using a stovetop method you’ll need to melt the butter before whisking it (carefully!) into the other ingredients in a double-boiler. As for the cake itself, I’m reasonably sure that you could cream butter and sugar together instead of whipping the oil and sugar, but I haven’t tested this and I don’t want to trip anybody up. Again, I think a 1:1 substitution should work, but I would only try this out if you’re already fairly comfortable tinkering with baking recipes.
I’m a big fan of citrus in virtually all of its guises, and there are plenty of variations you could use if you wanted to switch up the flavours in this cake recipe. Lime (or a mixture of lemon and lime) would be fantastic (especially with some toasted coconut as garnish). Common Persian (aka Bearss or Tahitian) limes would work, but I think key limes would be nicer. Meyer lemons, with their bright, sweet flavour, are also an excellent choice – especially if you like a somewhat less intensely ‘lemony’ curd. If, however, you like to lean into the bitter and intense side of citrus flavours, a mixture of grapefruit and lemon would be fantastic too. Sweeter flavours like orange and blood orange would make great choices too, though I would mix them with lemons (try a 50/50 blend).
Ultimately, there’s not a lot limiting the type(s) of citrus you use in this cake, but I would encourage you to consider how best to maintain the intensity of flavour that you get from lemon. Milder, sweeter citrus is often nice for eating, but can get a little bit lost in baked goods and desserts.
Note: Nutritional Information is given for a single slice (1/12th portion of the total recipe), including lemon curd. Note that the nutritional information below assumes that you’ll use about 2/3 of the lemon curd in the recipe to make the cake.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
Dairy-Free Lemon 'Whip' Cake
- 4 large egg whites at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil (see note)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1.5 cups granulated sugar
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour or cake flour, sifted (see note)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 cup ice water
Olive Oil Lemon Curd
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 1.5 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Line two 8 inch cake pans with a circle of parchment paper. Grease the sides with a little oil.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C) and position the racks so that the cakes will sit in the middle.
- Combine the egg whites and salt in a large bowl or stand mixer, then whip to stiff peaks. Set aside.
- Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar. Whip/whisk for about 2 minutes, or until thick and somewhat foamy/airy.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, and lemon zest together.
- Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or hand beaters) at low speed, gently mix approximately 1/3 of the flour mixture into the whipped oil and sugar. Add 1/3 of the ice water, and continue to mix. Repeat with remaining flour and water, stopping when the ingredients are just barely mixed. The resulting batter should be fairly thick, but still liquid enough to pour.
- Gently fold the whipped egg whites by hand into the batter mixture, a little at a time. Work gently to avoid deflating the mixture.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then gently invert the cakes onto cooling racks and set them aside.
- Once the cakes have cooled, trip the tops (and sides, if you like) so they're flat. Cover one layer of the cake with the finished/cooled curd, then top with the second layer and more curd. Cover and chill for 1 hour, then serve.
Olive Oil Lemon Curd (High Speed Blender Method)
- Combine all the lemon curd ingredients in a high speed blender (e.g. a Vitamix) and mix at full speed for 5 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes, then remove the lid and allow the lemon curd to cool.
Olive Oil Lemon Curd (Stovetop Method)
- Prepare a double-boiler, or a medium-sized heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water.
- Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, and salt together in small bowl.
- Place the oil/lemon mixture in the double boiler. Whisk in the eggs. Heat over a low flame, stirring continuously, until the curd has thickened and set (around 12-15 minutes). When finished remove from heat and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.