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CTnow

In praise of fluff

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

January 20, 2013

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We were stomping down the steps of New York's Metropolitan Museum, full of art and fashion, when we smacked into a guy wearing a sandwich board. Never a good look.

It read: "Going out of business," which didn't surprise me. It read: "Betsey Johnson," which did.

I thought Betsey Johnson, she of the short hemlines and tight bustiers, was eternal. Not that I belong to the Betsey Johnson cohort. But I remember those days fondly.

I sized up my traveling companions: teen girl, who might take an interest. Teen boy, who might not. We marched to Betsey's. It was fur-upholstered, loud, floral, sweet-and-sassy. Retro, in a good way. My Betsey-to-be tried on short this and tight that. I tried distracting the short-on-patience sort.

Soon I evacuated him down the block to E.A.T., the eternally delicious cafe run by the eternal Eli Zabar. Everything at E.A.T. is over-the-top, especially the lemon-meringue cake.

Which is lemon-meringue pie, only better. It offers contrast: sweet white cake and sassy lemon curd under a thick cloud of fluff. It's burnished into a triumph of curls and swirls. Retro, in a good way.

Betsey finished shopping. She brought news: Betsey Johnson was shutting down her store, not her brand. We all had at a massive wedge of cake. We praised art, and fashion and the eternal appeal of over-the-top fluff.

Lemon meringue cake

Prep: 2 hours
Bake: 25 minutes
Makes: 1 9-inch cake

Meyer lemon curd
1 cup lemon juice (squeezed from about 8 Meyer lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 egg yolks

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until thick, about 10 minutes. Strain into a clean glass jar. Cool. Cover. Chill.

White cake
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat butter and sugar fluffy. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each. Add flour and milk (mixed with vanilla) in alternating doses, beating just until combined. Scrape batter into 3 buttered and floured 9-inch cake pans. Slide into a 350-degree oven and bake until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool.

Meringue
8 egg whites
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in the stand mixer's bowl. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until hot, about 5 minutes. Snap bowl into mixer and whisk on high until thick, fluffy and cool, about 5 minutes.

To assemble:
Stack up cake layers, sandwiching lemon curd between. Slather with swirls of meringue. If you've got a kitchen torch, brown lightly. Enjoy.

Provenance:
Inspired by E.A.T. in NYC.

Email Leah Eskin at leahreskin@aol.com.