My Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was not a cheesecake, it was not a very well behaved cake nor was it a particularly beautiful cake. Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was… a special occasion cake for our family, it was a cake we dearly loved and a unique cake that frankly I have only found three other recipes for Lemon Cheese Cake! Believe me- I have tried! Lemon Cheese Cake may be specific to my home state, Alabama. All four recipes were recorded by Alabamians! Two famous chefs, who originated in Alabama- Scott Peacock and Virginia Willis, fondly recall this delicious cake and included it in their cookbooks; then- I found a very similar cake named White Moon Cake in an obscure church cookbook that was compiled by church mothers, fairground workers, military cooks and domestic cooks.
So, what is Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake? It is a white layer cake, filled and frosted with a thick Lemon Curd. I fully believe the ‘curd’ was exchanged in terms- to ‘cheese’ since this recipe is well over 75 years old, perhaps older than that! Now, Aunt Mary Sue was actually my great aunt, she was my grandmother’s younger sister. I loved her, she was fashionable and had an incredible sense of humor- she was also the keeper of this recipe and the designated baker of Lemon Cheese Cake. Mimi also, in a rare departure of recording recipes, actually wrote down the recipe for the Lemon Cheese Filling and added my aunt’s shortcut of using a white layer cake mix – with a few tweaks Mary Sue apparently made. You need to know that Mimi was a purist when it came to her own baking, the recipes she wrote down rarely were recipes she never intended to use, and believe me- she never planned to bake a Lemon Cheese Cake herself! That was Mary Sue’s specialty. And! Here’s what I know for sure… Mary Sue’s recipe for the Lemon Curd or Lemon Cheese Filling has never failed, not even once! I’ve used it to make Lemon Curd without even baking the cake! So! Here’s how you make-
‘Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Filling’
- Butter – 1/2 cup or 2 sticks
- 2 cups granulated Sugar
- 6 Egg Yolks (use large eggs)
- Zest of 2 Large Lemons
- Juice of 2 Large Lemons
In a double boiler, mix all ingredients over hot water (not boiling) until thick. Stirring often. This process may take up to 30 minutes. Lemon curd will generally thicken at 200 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Store tightly sealed until chilled.
* For filling and frosting a Lemon Cheese Cake, up to one extra stick of butter may be added, while Lemon Curd is still warm- cut butter into small cubes and add gradually. This recipe may be doubled, yet it takes a good bit longer- therefore I generally make two batches. To use the lemon curd or filling as an icing…it is enough to spread on two 8 or 9 inch layers and I suppose because the egg yolks were used in the filling- the cake was always a white layer cake.
To assemble the Lemon Cheese Cake is a matter I’ve struggled with and apparently so did Chef Peacock and Chef Willis- they say to insert wooden skewers on the cake as it tends to shift and that is oh so true! And Chef Willis may have altered it a bit for a more stable cake.
What I did differently was- I put the two 9 inch layers of white cake in the freezer and actually iced the frozen layers with the lemon filling still chilled slightly.
Why did I freeze the layers? Well, my Uncle Charles had an ice house… his sister Mary Sue would keep the Lemon Cheese Cake in the ice box at home and if the special occasion was at Uncle Charles’ house- the cake was held in the Ice House until we were ready to serve it. I recall that the cake didn’t languish on the sideboard- it was cut into slices waiting to be served and I still recommend it that way. (It might also be wonderful made into one layer cakes as well, to avoid the landslide effect! )
Lemon Cheese Cake was almost always served with a seasonal fruit- strawberries or peaches were a summer favorite, in the winter when citrus fruits were available, Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was served alongside a simple citrus ambrosia of orange sections with fresh grated coconut; this cake and my grandmother’s pound cake were our family’s favorites. I have to say, my grandmother kept a tight rein on who added dishes to the meals, so I strongly suspect that Lemon Cheese Cake was a recipe she and my Aunt Mary Sue may have learned from the cooks in the childhood home. How and why this cake hasn’t survived to become a southern classic may be due to the difficulty of leaving this wonderful cake on a sideboard to be admired otherwise it is a mystery to me! I’ve seen variations that come close, yet with the exceptions of these two wonderful chefs and the church ladies’ cookbooks whose recipes are very close to Aunt Mary Sue’s this is considered by me to be an heirloom recipe and one I’m thrilled to have. If you don’t make the cake- at least hang on to the Lemon Filling…it’s the best Lemon Curd I’ve ever tasted!
Love y’all, Camellia
*All photographs are obviously mine! *Some recommend straining the lemon curd after it’s made- I personally enjoy the lemon zest in it!