A few weekends ago we celebrated my Mom's Birthday with a surprise party. I'm not going to tell you which birthday we were celebrating, because I know better than that, but I will let you know that it was a big one, one that required some fanfare and attention. My Mom however, is the kind of person who hates attention. She loathes the idea of all eyes being on her, and she would rather someone else be in the center of it all. These were all things that she told me explicitly about a month before her birthday, when she expressly said that we were not allowed to have a surprise birthday party for her. She swore to me that she would never forgive us if we threw her one. I tried to reason with her, but she would not budge in her thinking.
So when my father approached me asking me to help him plan a surprise party for her, I very adamantly told him everything that my mother had said. I explained that she would be mortified if we had one, and that she would be very upset with us. To which he quickly replied, "I don't care." Apparently my Dad can be just as stubborn as my Mom.And wouldn't you know, but my Dad was right to not care? The party was a huge success, and my Mom had the time of her life. It truly was one of those magical evenings where everyone seemed to have a great experience. I'm just happy that the guest of honor didn't pass out or start swearing at us, because either reaction might have put a damper on the whole event.
We held the party at my place, and it was the perfect day for it.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous, sunny and clear, with just enough warmth for dining outside on the deck.
There was lots of great stuff going on at this party, including the surprise itself:
She didn't know what hit her. There was also lots of great food, which I regrettably did not photograph. That's what happens when you're cooking and hosting at the same time folks.
But believe me when I say there was food, and lots of it. Another item there was lots of was this:
Which led to some toasting:
My father, the king of giving toasts. Also present at the party were cute little chubby baby arms and legs - don't get me started on these. I might not be able to stop.
I may have failed on photographing dinner, but I got some shots of dessert. Homemade toffee with pecans and sea salt:
I will have to share the recipe for this toffee, because it is addicting and I know I will need an excuse to make it again soon. (I got these cute stickers and cupcake toppers here) There were also these cupcakes:
Which are always a crowd pleaser. And then, there was the cake. Oh my goodness let me tell you about this cake. Layers of light and moist lemon chiffon cake, filled with rich and sumptuous lemon cream, topped with a not-too sweet meringue that's toasted until browned all over. This cake is a real showstopper, and it tastes like a dream. I would highly implore all of you to go out there and make this cake, even if you don't have a special occasion to make it for. If I could steal the Nike slogan for a moment - Just Do It.
I was so happy that the party was a success, and that my Mom had such a good time. What a wonderful night it was. As the daylight turned to dusk, candles were lit...
...and candles were blown out.
And we all ate some cake.
Lemon Meringue Cake
Adapted from Tartine and The Best New Recipe
Lemon Chiffon cake layers
1 ½ cups sugar
1 1/3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
7 large eggs, 2 whole, 5 separated, room temperature
¾ cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
Zest of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of two 8-inch springform pans with parchment paper. Whisk the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in the 2 whole eggs, 5 egg yolks (reserve the whites), water, oil, extracts, lemon zest and lemon juice, until the batter is just smooth.
Pour the reserved egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer; beat at low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar, gradually increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the whites until very thick and stiff, just short of dry (as little as 7 minutes in a standing mixer and as long as 10 minutes with a handheld mixer). With a large rubber spatula, fold the whites into the batter, smearing in any blobs of white that resist blending with the flat side of the spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes (start checking at 25 minutes). Let the cake cool completely, then run a thin knife around the pan’s circumference between the cake and the pan wall to loosen the cake. Invert cake layers.
Trim the cakes to make three even sized layers that will fit an 8-inch springform pan (there will most likely be extra cake left over).
½ cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cool
Notes: Never use an unlined aluminum pan when heating lemon juice or any mixture containing lemon juice. The acidity in the juice reacts with the metal, giving the dessert a metallic flavor. The finished cream keeps well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar and salt in a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the saucepan over, not touching, the water. Whisk the ingredients together, never letting the mixture sit together for more than a moment without stirring. Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180 degrees on a thermometer. This will take 10-12 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool to 140 degrees, stirring from time to time to release the heat.
Meanwhile, cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. When the cream is ready, pour it into a countertop blender. With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and opaque and quite thick.
The cream can be used immediately, or poured into a storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerated.
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
To make the lemon syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and then chill until cool to the touch, about 30 minutes. Whisk the lemon juice into the syrup.
Have ready the lemon chiffon cake layers, lemon cream, and lemon syrup.
Line the sides of an 8-inch springform pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough overhang to cover the top of the cake completely when it is assembled.. Leave the bottom of the pan unlined. Fit 1 cake layer into the bottom of the pan. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer evenly with one-third of the lemon syrup. Using an offset spatula, spread with one-half of the lemon cream. Repeat with one more layer, then top with the third cake layer and moisten with the remaining lemon syrup. Fold the overhanging plastic wrap over the top of the cake, covering completely, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to overnight.
When you are ready to finish the cake, make the meringue. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in the stainless-steel bowl of a stand mixer that will rest securely in the rim of the saucepan over, not touching, the water. Whisk together and then place over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the whites are hot to the touch (120 degrees), about 5 minutes or so. Remove the bowl from over the water and place on the mixer stand. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment and mix on high speed until the mixture is very thick and holds glossy, stiff peaks when you lift the beater.
Release and lift off the pan sides and peel away the plastic wrap. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cake to a serving plate, if using, or leave it on the pan base. Using the offset spatula, immediately frost the top of the cake with the meringue, creating swoops and peaks. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the meringue, and then lightly blacken some of the tips of the peaks. The cake can be served immediately or kept cold in the refrigerator until ready to serve.