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The perfect Christmas gift for you or a loved one
To make the cakes. Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3. For the bottom tier, grease a deep 30cm cake tin with butter, then line the base and sides with a double layer of baking parchment.
Using an electric whisk, cream 400g of the butter with 400g of caster sugar. Whisk 6 eggs in a jug with ½ tbsp of the vanilla, then gradually add to the creamed butter, beating between additions. Once combined, sift in 400g of the flour, and mix in 60g of ground almonds and add the zest of 6 lemons. Gently stir in 3 tbsp of the lemon juice.
Scrape into the prepared cake tin and level the top with a spatula. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 1 hr. Don’t worry if the top looks a little dark, as this will become the base. The cake is ready when the surface feels springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the tin for 30 mins, then turn out on to a large wire rack, or use 2 smaller wire racks pushed together.
To make a middle tier, line a deep 20cm cake tin as before, and make the cake following the method in step 2, using 4 eggs and 250g each of sugar, flour and butter. Add the zest of 4 lemons, 40g ground almonds, 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 1½ tbsp of lemon juice. Bake for 50 mins, testing as before.
For the top tier, use a deep 10cm cake tin and make the cake following the method as before, using 1 egg, 75g each of sugar, flour and butter, 10g ground almonds, the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tsp vanilla and ½ tsp lemon juice. Bake for 30 mins.
Repeat steps 1-4 so you have 2 bottom tiers, 2 middle tiers and 1 top tier. Leave until all the cakes are completely cool. Once cooled, the cakes can be wrapped in a double layer of cling film and kept in a cool place for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. To defrost, leave the cakes at room temperature overnight.
To make the syrup. Put the sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan over a medium-high heat. Simmer for about 10 mins, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, stir through the mint, then allow to cool and steep for up to 5 hrs. Sieve into a jug or bowl, then cover with cling film and chill until ready to use. The syrup will now keep for up to 1 week.
To make the mascarpone cream. Empty the mascarpone into a large bowl. Beat with an electric whisk to soften slightly, then fold through 300ml of the cooled Lemon & mint syrup until fully combined (save the remaining syrup for assembling). Chill until ready to use, but leave at room temperature for 20 mins to soften before using. Can be made 1 day ahead of assembling.
To assemble the cake. Split the two 30cm cakes and the two 20cm cakes in half through the centre, and the 10cm cake into 4 layers. Use the cake paddle or a large chopping board to help move the sponges and flip one of the largest layers onto a serving plate or cake stand, so that the top of the cake now becomes the bottom. Spoon over a little of the reserved syrup, then spread with some of the lemon mascarpone filling using a small offset spatula or knife. Drizzle over some of the lemon curd, then scatter with raspberries. Now top with the remaining layer, so the bottom of the cake now becomes the top, realigning the cocktail sticks to ensure the cake is level. Then layer more syrup, mascarpone, lemon curd and raspberries with the remaining 30cm sponges.
Push 6 straws into the middle of the cake in a circle formation, no wider than 20cm in diameter – these will support the next tier. Snip the straws where they protrude from the cake, so that they are flush with the top. Repeat the assembly with the two 20cm cakes, placing these onto thin cake boards before sitting on top of the larger cakes, then poke in more straws to support the top tie. Finally, assemble the top layer using the same method. Spread any remaining mascarpone on top, then dust the tiers lightly with icing sugar. Decorate with an assortment of mixed berries, mint sprigs and flowers (see tip, left).