It’s probably a terrible thing when a decision over a simple, basic, yet elegant cake or a layered, complex and indulgent cake becomes a problematic internal conflict.

For my birthday I wanted a project, something challenging, something a little spectacular. But I had to wrestle with my love and trust of simple snacking cakes, like this one and this one. They never fail, these cakes. They are all-purpose, all occasions, suit everyone sort of cakes. But for a cake that may spend an evening sitting on a pretty plate, on a clothed table, near beautiful flowers in the window of a bar, and sparkling with lit candles – well, the cake must rise to the occasion. (Pardon the pun.)

Lemon cake, I thought. Lemon is classic and timeless, a strong, fresh flavour. Perhaps lemon curd for a bit of glamour – rich, smooth, beautiful and bright, bright yellow. Genoise sponge, thought my mother. And so this cake came to be. It’s quite amazing to make: beat eggs, yolks and whites, with sugar in a bowl over simmering water. After ten minutes the mixture is smooth and pale but doubled, tripled, possibly quadrupled in volume. It could resemble risen dough – full of air, light and there is a fragility to it.

Next, just two-thirds of a cup of flour – it seems an impossible amount. Slowly sifted and ever so gently, carefully folded with a grating of lemon zest. Then 60 grams of melted butter, again folded, but with a smooth deliberate motion. Quickly, into the oven.The sponge is light, yes, but it has a flavour more rich and charismatic, if flavour can have such a quality, than other sorts of sponge (read: store-brought sponge). Between the layers the lemon curd settles in, singing its bright notes.

Oh, and the icing – whipped cream spiked with Grand Marnier. It kicks it up a notch.

Lemon Genoise Sponge

I’ll share the recipe for one sponge cake and one measure of lemon curd, about a cup and a half. We made two cakes (this is an egg intensive recipe!), then split each cake in half to create four layers. The lemon curd is lovely on so many things – a dollop in muffins before they are cooked, drizzled on ice cream, or my favourite, spread thickly on toast with a smidge of butter.

The Genoise recipe comes from an old Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook French Cooking Made Easy. The photos are terrible – over exposed and almost clinical in style as if showing a medical procedure, but the recipes, or at least this one, have proven to be quite successful.

4 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2/3 cup plain flour
60 grams butter, melted

Liqueur Cream
300ml cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm round cake tin, line with paper and grease again. Combine eggs and sugar in a large bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the water touch the bottom of the pan. Use an electric mixture to beat mixture until thick and creamy, 10 minutes. Remove bowl from water and continue to beat until mixture has returned to room temperature.

Sift half the flour over the egg mixture and carefully fold in. Fold in the remaining flour. Quickly and carefully fold in the melted butter.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake in for 20 minutes. Turn immediately onto a wire rack to cool.

For the liqueur cream simply beat ingredients together until the right consistency to spread on the cake.

Lemon Curd

This recipe comes from Jo Seagar’s You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, darling. It’s a go-to recipe in our house.

4 large lemons
100 grams butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten

Scrub lemons then finely grate the rind and squeeze for the juice. Place the juice and grated rind in a small saucepan. Add eggs, sugar and butter cut into little cubes. Stir over a very low heat until the sugar dissolves and then stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Pour into a jug and then fill clean hot sterilised jars. Seal and keep refrigerated.