Meringue is deceptive; as elegant and decorative as it may look, its simple taste reflects its simple composition, created from nothing more than egg whites, sugar syrup, and cream of tartar. Meringue lends itself to hints of subtle flavorings -- vanilla, orange-blossom water, jasmine, rosewater, or a delicate liqueur could add an appealing undertaste -- but it is as much of a treat by itself. The Italian Meringue recipe used here holds its shape well, making it ideal for decorative applications. Martha Stewart Living food editor Susan Spungen uses it to emulate the spiky petals of a chrysanthemum on a stunning wedding cake. You'll need a solid base to hold a cake of this size; but aluminum foil or an unattractive caterer's tray will detract from the luxurious beauty of the cake. One solution is to coat a plywood base with royal icing, which adds a symmetry and continuity to the pristine white of the meringue. Eighteen batches of Moist Yellow Cake batter are needed to yield two 6-inch round layers, two 12-inch layers, and two 18-inch layers. Fill each 6-inch pan with 2 cups of batter; fill each 12-inch pan with 8 cups of batter; fill each 18-inch pan with 18 cups of batter.
- 1 28-inch-diameter plywood base
- 2 recipes Royal Icing
- 7 feet 4 inches of 3/4-inch-wide ribbon
- 1 30-by-40-inch piece of 3/16-inch-thick foam board
- 2 each 18-, 12-, and 6-inch round Moist Yellow Cake layers
- 1 each cardboard cake rounds in the following diameters: 18, 12, and 6 inches
- 2 recipes Lemon Simple Syrup
- 4 recipes Italian Meringue
- 5 recipes Lemon Curd
- 8 seven-inch-high clear plastic tapered columns
Prepare the base: Working on a flat surface, draw a circle in the center of plywood base that is 2 to 3 inches smaller than the largest cake tier. Using a large offset spatula, spread royal icing over surface between the drawn circle and edge of round plywood board to coat surface smoothly. Tap board on work surface to smooth and eliminate any bubbles. Set aside to dry, about 24 hours. When royal icing is dry, glue ribbon to edge of board, wrapping around to cover entirely.
Cut foam board into rounds, one each of the following diameters: 18, 12, and 6 inches. When cakes have completely cooled, place one of each size cake right side up on its corresponding size foam-board round. Place remaining three tiers on corresponding size cardboard cake rounds. Wrap all cakes tightly in plastic, and chill for at least 6 hours. (This makes the layers firm and easy to handle.) Cakes can also be frozen at this point.
Remove cakes from refrigerator. If cakes are not level, use a serrated knife to trim the tops off, making sure to maintain a 2-inch height on each cake. Place one of each cake on the corresponding size foam-board rounds, cut side up. Brush the cut surface of the bottom base cake layers generously with lemon simple syrup.
Using a medium-large pastry bag fitted with a coupler, pipe soft Italian meringue around the perimeter of each cake that has been moistened with syrup. This "dam" will prevent the lemon curd from seeping out. Fill the 18-inch cake layer with 4 2/3 cups lemon curd, the 12-inch base cake layer with 2 1/3 cups lemon curd, and the 6-inch cake layer with 1/2 cup lemon curd. Place the corresponding cake layers on top of filled layers, cut side down. Brush top layers generously with lemon simple syrup.
Using an offset spatula to give each tier a "crumb coat," ice top and sides of cake with a thin coat of soft Italian meringue. This thin layer of icing will seal the cake. Start from the center, and work toward and over the edge, making sure to spread the meringue over the sides of the tier. Let dry at room temperature for 30 minutes.
To ice the cakes: Using a clean offset spatula, spread a smooth, even layer of soft Italian meringue, to coat cake entirely. Be sure to cover all exposed cake. The icing should be smooth and uniform.
Place the largest tier on the serving platter. Insert four columns, narrow side down, into the 18-inch tier; each column should be 4 inches from the edge of the cake and evenly spaced around the cake. Fill a large pastry bag, fitted with a large star (#869) tip, with a freshly made batch of meringue. Beginning from the center, pipe 2 1/2-inch cones to cover the entire top of tier.
Insert columns into the 12-inch tier; pipe 12-, and 6-inch tiers in the same manner as in step 7. When ready to assemble the cake, dab a small amount of meringue onto the top of each column to fasten it to the above tier. Carefully stack the tiers.