Sassy Radish

Lemon Layer Cake – aka General Robert E. Lee Cake
Adapted, slightly, from The Southern Cooking Bible

Sadly, General Lee was on the wrong side of history when he fought in the Civil War. He was almost tried for treason and had his civil rights revoked. So, if he and I were sitting at dinner together, you could say that we’d have to agree to disagree. Still, the man has one tasty cake named after him, and I suppose that should count for something.

For the Lemon Curd Filling:
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 1/3 cups (233 grams) granulated sugar
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, chopped

For the Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (200 grams) granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups (315 grams) cake flour, sifted
2 1/2 teaspoons (12.5 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon (3 grams) kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the Buttercream Frosting:
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, strained
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice, strained
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon (2 pinches) cream of tartar
Pinch of kosher salt

1. To prepare the lemon curd filling, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon and orange zest. Place the pan over medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 15 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the cold butter. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap. Make sure that plastic wrap is right up against the lemon curd filling so that it doesn’t form a skin. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.
2. When you’re ready to prepare the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with butter or spray with cooking spray and line with baking paper.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sugar and lemon and orange zests and beat the mixture until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to incorporate all the sugar with the butter. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and vanilla. Beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until incorporated and scrape the sides of the bowl down occasionally. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake about 23 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Then remove from pans by inverting and peel off baking paper. Thoroughly cool your cakes on wire racks before frosting them.
5. While the cake layers are cooling, prepare the buttercream frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until soft and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon and orange juices until combined, about 1 minute. Place in a small bowl and clean out bowl of electric mixer.
6. Place a medium saucepan of barely simmering water on the stove. In the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed. Set the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture registers 140°F on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Set the bowl on the mixer and beat on high speed until the mixture has cooled and soft peaks form, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the creamed butter 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition until smooth.
7. Once the cake layers are cool, assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on a serving plate, with the flat bottom side facing down. Spread half of the lemon curd filling over the surface of the cake. Top with another cake layer, inverted, so the bottom of the cake is facing up. Spread remaining filling over this cake layer. Place the remaining cake layer, also inverted, on top. Spread the buttercream frosting over the top and sides of the cake. And then just try not to cut yourself a piece before the guests come over.

Serves 10 to 12

lemon layer cake – general robert e. lee cake originally published on

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