Vanilla and Strawberry Layer Cake with Lemon Curd and Italian Meringue

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I love experimenting with baking – I am sure you have figured that out by now. This birthday cake recipe is a result of wanting to experiment a little – I know, what a surprise! I started with a basic white cake but when it came time to put the batter in the pans I divided it in half so to flavor one part with strawberry. You can check out my layered angel food cake experiments to see the precursors to this cake. It was shortly after that disappointment that I read a blog post somewhere that suggested using freeze dried strawberries. What a revelation! I am revisiting this recipe because it’s a good one and it needed some updating.

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vanilla and strawberry layer cake


Vanilla and Strawberry Layer Cake with Lemon Curd and Italian Meringue

Makes one, four layer cake

For the Cake:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature. More for the pans
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self rising). More for the pans
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk, at room temperature
8 large egg whites (save the yolks for the lemon curd)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

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1 cup freeze dried strawberries

For the Lemon Curd:

4 large eggs and 6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Finely ground zest of two lemons and 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 5 or 6 lemons)
6 TBS cold, unsalted butter cut into chunks

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For the Italian Meringue:

1 cup plus 3 TBS sugar
1/3 cup water
4 large egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
1 TBS pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°
Prepare two 9″ cake pans; butter, layer with parchment, butter and dust with flour. Set aside.

Make the cake:

  • Add the salt and baking powder to the sifted flour and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar until light and fluffy – about 4 minutes.
  • Scrape the vanilla seeds in to the batter and mix to combine.
steps for making layer cakes
  • 1. Set the mixer on low alternating back and forth add the dry ingredients and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
  • 2. Add the egg whites and the pinch of cream of tartar to a clean bowl. Using the whisk attachment on medium whip the whites until they are foamy. Turn the machine up to high and slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Whip the whites until  they reach stiff peaks but are not dry.
  • 3. Take the 1 cup of freeze dried strawberries and pulverize them in the food processor.
  • 4.  Add 1/4 of the whites to the cake batter and fold in carefully. Fold in the remaining whites – being sure to do so with care to maintain the air in the meringue so the cake will rise.
  • 5.  Divide the batter in half and mix the strawberry dust into one half.
  • 6. Add the different batters to the prepared pans.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the cakes are browned are are starting to pull away from the sides.
  • Cool on racks for 10 minutes and remove from the pans to cool completely.
steps for making lemon curd

Making Lemon Curd

  • Add the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and lemon zest to a small, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.
  • Whisk until well combined. Stir constantly until the curd thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Remove from the heat and add the butter, continuing to stir constantly until it is all melted.  
  • Strain the curd and put it into the refrigerator for later use.

How to Make the Italian Meringue:

boiling sugar syrup
  • Add the sugar and water to a small heavy bottomed sauce pan equipped with a thermometer and bring to a boil. If crystals start to form use a pastry brush and water to brush them down.  
  • While the syrup is boiling add the egg whites and cream of tartar to a stand mixer with the whisk attached. Making this frosting is a bit of a balancing act. The egg whites have to be at soft peaks when the syrup hits 238° so you just need to watch and time. If the eggs get ahead of the syrup lower the speed but keep the eggs moving. If the syrup is heating up more quickly whip those eggs!
  • When the syrup hits 238° CAREFULLY pour it into the egg whites while the mixer is on high. YOU NEED TO POUR THE HOT SYRUP DOWN THE SIDE OF THE BOWL SO THE WHISK DOESN’T SEND BOILING HOT SYRUP FLYING EVERYWHERE. Be careful. Hot sugar is no fun when it hits skin.
  • Let the mixture beat for about 4 – 5 minutes or until it cools.
  • Just before you turn it off add the vanilla extract.

The frosting is ready to use.

Assembling the layer cake:

steps for building layer cake
  • Carefully cut each layer in half.
  • Place a strawberry layer on your plate. ( I like to rip either wax paper or parchment paper into pieces to protect the plate from frosting drippings. That way the plate looks nice and clean when I’m done with frosting the cake.)
  • Spread 1/3rd of the lemon curd on the layer.
  • Top with a vanilla layer, then 1/3rd more of the lemon curd, a strawberry layer, the rest of the curd and the final vanilla layer.
  • Generously frost with the Italian meringue.
slice of celebration cake

How Was the Celebration Layer Cake?

This is a really delicious cake. The strawberry flavor came through nicely but was not overpowering, the lemon curd was delightfully tart and I adore Italian meringue as a frosting; it’s light, marshmallowy and not sticky sweet. I use this frosting a lot – it’s particularly yummy on chocolate cupcakes.

layer cake with Italian meringue frosting on red plate

This is a great celebration dessert and it was worth all of the effort. It was moist and tasted good even a week later. There are not many scratch recipes that don’t taste dry a day or two later so this one is definitely a keeper. I found the basic cake recipe in the Martha Stewart Cooking School cookbook. The curd and Italian meringue are standard recipes.

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