Bakers Journal

Pucker up! Bakers turn lemons into luscious treats

April 17, 2024
By Karen Barr

Learn how innovative bakeries are creating dream desserts for lemon lovers

This lemon cake from Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana starts with three genoise sponge layers made with pure vanilla essence. PHOTO: SULIMAN CHADIRJI

It’s more than likely that you’ve enjoyed numerous slices of lemon meringue pie throughout your lifetime. Or maybe you would rather have a slice of citrusy French lemon tart. Lemon is on everyone’s lips, ranging from classic to new creations that people can’t wait to sink their forks into.  

Rustique Pie Kitchen: Updated classics
“Customers are always in the mood for lemon,” says Dorothée Kaupp, sous-chef at Rustique Pie Kitchen in Montreal. The lemon meringue pie on the menu is a classic with updated ingredients and a decorative twist. The pie crust is replaced with a sweet dough crust. The shape is no longer round but rectangular. Without the obligatory handmade fluted crust to hide it, the thick lemon curd stands out.

“We wanted our lemon meringue pie to be the star of our pies,” Kaupp explains. It wasn’t just the traditional shape that was revised: “We changed the lemon curd, too, by adding more butter to make it even more indulgent. The key to a perfect lemon curd is butter and fresh ingredients. The name of the game is balance. You want creamy, soft, and velvety, with a punchy hit of lemon.”

Piped using a star tip, the meringue is placed on a decorative angle. “We use Italian meringue for our lemon meringue pies, as it is the one that toasts the best when torched. This gives our meringue its classic roasted crispiness,” Kaupp says.


Rustique Pie Kitchen sells lemon meringue pies all year round. “Thanksgiving is a huge holiday for us, and lemon meringue is one of our best-selling pie flavours, along with pumpkin.”

Bobbette & Belle: Balanced tartness and sweetness
Allyson Bobbitt, owner and pastry chef of Bobbette & Belle in Toronto, admits she does not have a sweet tooth despite her obsession with baking. “Lemon is the perfect dessert for people like me. It’s a balanced combination of tartness and sweetness. I’m obsessed with lemon curd made with real lemons,” Bobbitt says. “There is an additive in commercial lemon juice that has a decidedly metallic aftertaste when cooked. It makes such a huge difference to the taste when you take the time to juice the lemons yourself. I blitz in the butter after the lemon curd is cooked for creaminess. This changes the texture to a beautiful, smooth, opaque finish that is incredible.”

Bobbitt also decided to change up the old-fashioned lemon meringue pie. “Our pie is more like a lemon torte and relatively flat. We love the ratio of crust to curd and meringue when it isn’t as deep.” The short-crust pastry is baked in a fluted tart tin. Once cooled and filled with lemon curd, it’s topped off with Swiss meringue.

What is the secret to a successful meringue? “It is essential to either thoroughly wash your bowls and whisk or wipe them down with vinegar before using. Any oil-based residue accidentally left on will cause the meringue to fail. If this happens, you should cut your losses and start again. We like to pipe a fairly intricate pattern on top of the lemon, and it just looks so sad and deflated if the meringue is not stiff enough.”

The lemon meringue cupcake at Bobbette & Belle is a vanilla cupcake base with a fresh lemon curd centre. “The cupcake base is topped with lemon Swiss meringue buttercream, flavoured with a combo of lemon juice and fresh lemon curd. We want to get the lemon flavour and signature tartness across. It is such a nice balance with the vanilla cake. Our lemon candy topper is not made in house, but it is a specialty item we were thrilled to find because it adds a fun finish. We also added a small baked, piped meringue to the top of the cupcake. It has a cute lemon pie look when it’s garnished.”

The lemon cream cake comprises three layers of classic vanilla cake filled with homemade lemon curd. “We wanted the lemon cake to have a wow factor and the decorative style people associate with lemon meringue pie. The finish we chose is a lemon buttercream with a tinted yellow piped ruffle swirl on top. It has a decorative element and the yellow colour reference that makes people think of lemon.”

Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana: Innovative lemon meringue cake
Last summer, over at Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana in Ottawa, pastry chef Joe Calabro was challenged by a friend to develop a lemon meringue cake. “Our customers love lemon because it’s refreshing. Lemon desserts are never too heavy after any meal,” Calabro says.

This new creation starts with three genoise sponge layers made with pure vanilla essence. Lemon curd is mixed with vanilla pastry cream and used as a delectable filling. “I like the combination of lemon curd with pastry cream because it makes the filling even lighter.”

Next, an Italian meringue is swirled around the cake using a palette knife. A cake comb helps to provide decorative sides, while a plain pastry tip is used to add the finishing touches of meringue on top. The final step is to torch the meringue to a golden blonde. 

Calabro shares tips for making perfect meringue. “It’s all in the amount of sugar you use. For every 100 grams of egg whites I use, I add 175 grams of sugar. It also helps to warm and whisk the eggs and sugar together before beating. For extra lift, I use a touch of cream of tartar or salt.”

Another lemon lover’s favourite is the classic lemon layer cake. It starts with vanilla sponge cake brushed with citrusy lemon syrup. It’s also filled with the lemon curd with vanilla pastry cream combination. Then it’s covered in swirls of vanilla buttercream or whipped cream. The final topping is a layer of lemon curd with a mirror glaze.

Calabro likes to pair lemon with other fruits, including raspberries, blueberries, strawberries or mango. The citrus and berry-inspired lemon raspberry torte has three layers of light, lemon syrup-infused vanilla sponge cake.  The bottom and top layers have lemon pastry cream, while the middle has raspberry pastry, creating beautiful visuals when cut. 

On weekends, the kitchen team bakes bombolone or Italian-filled doughnuts. The lemon variety is extremely popular. “The amount of liquid in the yeast dough is important for the finished product to maintain moisture. We flavour the dough with nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. We let the dough rise for at least an hour. Then, we roll it out and cut it to rise again before deep frying.”

The shop sells several types of pies, all made with a traditional pie dough base. “Originally, we had apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, and lemon, all with a lattice crust. Customers wanted lemon meringue pie, so that is the only kind of lemon pie we make today. People buy lemon gelato or sorbet to go with it.”

Lemon has its place in every bakery. Whether it’s classic, a modern take, or something entirely new from your imagination, there will always be a customer for all things lemon.

Karen Barr is an Ottawa-based writer and licensed chef who travels the world to explore topics about food and culture.

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