In praise of fluff

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

January 20, 2013


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.

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.

Inspired by E.A.T. in NYC.

Email Leah Eskin at leahreskin@aol.com.