lemon strawberry génoise

What's a génoise, you may be asking? It's an Italian sponge cake, but made without leavenings like baking powder or soda, rather using the air incorporated in the batter to make it rise. Whole eggs are whipped up with sugar instead of yolks and whites separately.

To be quite honest, I hadn't even heard of it until the day before Timothy's birthday. I just wikipedia'd that shit. I volunteered to bake my brother's birthday cake and my mother requested a simple sponge cake. Except, after a couple hours of recipe searching, I somehow got it in my head that a génoise was the only way to go and then, my mind jumped to lemons, which go so wonderfully with blueberries, both of which my brother loves. Done deal. I had to do it.

I obviously deluded myself into thinking that I was Jacques Torres or some shit like that and could handle something this ambitious. Except I'm just a college girl with lofty dreams of perfect pastries. Never mind that I've never actually made a cake before. And that blueberries were nowhere to be found in the local supermarket. I figured I might as well though, considering that I was heading off to college the next day, away from easy access to my equipment and the supermarket.

So, Ashley came over and we embarked on an adventure to make a kickass birthday cake. You have her to thank for so many lovely pictures of the process. Otherwise, once I get going, it's difficult to remember to stop and document it. It's a rather involved recipe that isn't too difficult, but just requires patience and attention.

The eggs and sugar need to be whipped over a gentle heat until it expands to triple its original size. I didn't think that it could possibly expand that much, but within 10 minutes, the egg and sugar batter became lighter and nearly reaching the the rim of the pot I was using. Be sure to use a whisk attachment though. I failed to do so and I incorporated too much air/oversized bubbles into the batter.

The génoise was supposed to have a much finer crumb than what is shown in the pictures. Mine ended up a little bit chewier, tougher, and didn't rise as much as it would've if I had used a whisk attachment. Granted, I actually have no idea what went wrong; I'm just guessing. It still tasted fantastic though and can still take up a lot of liquid, which is perfect because the next step was to brush it was the lemon syrup.

Don't be afraid to brush on a lot if the lemon syrup, this cake is really spongy and can take up a surprising amount of liquid. I only ended up with a couple of tablespoons left at the end.

I used the lemon curd that I made the day before and spread most of it in this layer. The little that was left over is great to mix into the whipped cream topping. The flavor is really bright and tart, so it complements the sweetness of the berries and the cake itself for an amazing summer cake. I had intended to use blueberries, but strawberries were all I could find in a pinch. Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries would go great in this cake, individually or all together.

I ended up covering the entire thing in lemon curd flavored whipped cream because I made so much of it, which was lovely, but I would make a lemon buttercream next time, if only because it keeps much better than whipped cream and easier to work with. I popped it in the fridge for hours and still checked obsessively, worried that it would melt.

I promise my recipes are usually not this involved and complicated; I just jumped at the chance to get a little fancy. Usually my baking at college is pretty ghettofabulous, filled with dining hall ingredient scavenging and a lot improvisation when things go wrong (which is often). Which is why the recipes I'll be posting on this blog won't have weight measurements with the cups and spoons, as much as I would love it too.

Lemon Berry Génoise
Adapted from lululuathome and others

The original cake recipe was for a 9'' round pan, but it made two slightly thinner 8'' pans just fine. I didn't slice the cakes into layers, because I was scared of it all falling apart on me, but I welcome you to try! And it also asked for clarified butter, but I don't have a cheesecloth, so whatever. For more genoise tips, look here and here and there. I just combined a lot of the articles and recipes I found into this one post, but definitely check out their much more experienced notes.

Cake Layer
6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Preparation: Preheat oven to 325F and place eggs in a bowl of warm water. Grease and flour all sides of the pan you're using and line the bottom with parchment paper. Triple sift the flour and salt in a large bowl. Melt the butter and set aside. Prepare a pan with about an inch of water and heat it.

Make the génoise: In a large heat-safe bowl that can fit over the pan, whisk eggs and sugar immediately after combining for 1 minute, until foamy.

Set the bowl over the pan of barely simmering water and whisk until dissolved. Break out the hand mixer with the whisk attachment and whip for 8 to 12 minutes until light and triple in volume. Make sure the mixture doesn't get hotter than body temperature. If it does, whisk the mixture off the heat for a bit.

Add the vanilla and lemon zest and beat an additional 10-15 seconds. Sift the flour mixture into the batter in three parts and fold until just incorporated.

Take about a cup of the batter and stir it into your melted butter. Add the mixture back to the cake batter and stir by hand until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan evenly, until about two thirds full, and smooth the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert the cake into another rack to cool completely.

Lemon Syrup
1/3 cup boiling water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine water and granulated sugar in a small bowl and stir until sugar dissolves. Stir in lemon juice. Cool to room temperature.

Final Touches
Blueberries, strawberries, and/or raspberries
1 batch lemon curd
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whip cream until almost stiff; then add in the sugar and vanilla. Whip until it holds stiff peaks. Chill.

Run a pairing knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Peel off the parchment paper, and slice the cake into 2 layers with a serrated knife (cutting tips). Place bottom layer, cut side up, on a serving platter.

Brush with half of lemon syrup. Spread with 1 cup lemon curd. Arrange berries on top of curd. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down, and brush with remaining syrup. 

Spread whipped cream on top of the cake before serving. Top with berries and lemon zest to garnish. Store cake loosely covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

  • Warm eggs trap more air when whisked. 
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar immediately so the sugar doesn't burn the eggs 
  • Adding the batter into the melted butter before mixing it will help the butter to more readily incorporate into the main volume of the batter
  • To help with batter that has too much air in it, knock the tin on the kitchen counter a few times to pop the larger bubbles. 
  • The cake is done when the center springs back when gently pressed. As soon as the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is flat at top, remove it from the oven. 
  • Piping a perimeter of curd with a plastic bag around where you're going to put the berries helps keep them from falling out. 
  • Whisk the leftover curd with the whipped cream before using to flavor it.