Let’s add real citrus to legendary Soviet lemon cakes (RECIPE)

Wonderfully delicious, these sweet and sour lemon cakes offer the best of both worlds.

Wonderfully delicious, these sweet and sour lemon cakes offer the best of both worlds.

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No one knows why these cakes were given the name “lemon cakes”, because apart from color and acidish, they have little in common with citrus. The ready availability of the ingredients, however, helped this dessert win the respect of the Soviet people.

In Soviet times lemons could be found in northern cities like Murmansk or Severodvinsk whose residents received constant supplies of fruits and vegetables from the government to make their lives a bit more bearable during the long winter season. But in Moscow such a ‘sweet’ treat could cost a fortune. Nevertheless, the burning desire to cook something exceptional urged housewives to bake these cakes without lemons, but still preserving the sour flavour of the dish. The main secret of the Soviet lemon cakes is the absolute absence of lemons but using something powdered citric acid to get that same tangy taste. 

The recipe can be roughly divided into four stages: making the crust, lemon cream, Italian meringue and the assembling of all the ingredients into a single confectionery delight. It might seem complicated at first, but, in fact, any amateur can bake these soft and tender cakes from the USSR. The only thing I suggest is that we use real lemons instead of citric acid since we no longer have to endure those times of want.  

Ingredients for soft butter dough:

  • Egg yolks 3 pcs 
  • Eggs 1 pc 
  • Unsalted butter 100 g 
  • Sour cream 200 g 
  • Sugar 150 g 
  • Salt ½ tsp 
  • Baking powder 10 g 
  • Vanilla extract 1 tsp 
  • Flour 500 g  


1. Have all the ingredients measured out and ready to use. Put the egg yolks, the whole egg, salt and sugar in a bowl, and mix well. Add sour cream, vanilla extract and soft unsalted butter; beat at slow speed and then add flour portionwise, constantly mixing until the flour is evenly contributed. 

2. Form the dough into two even balls – the dough should be fairly smooth and pliable. Then wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes. 

3. Take the first dough ball out and place it on the parchment-covered baking sheet. Cover the pastry with another sheet of parchment and roll it out. 

4. Prick with a fork all over, to prevent uneven rising. Bake the pastry for 12-15 minutes at 180 Celsius. Repeat the process with the second dough ball.  

Ingredients for the lemon cream: 

  • Eggs (large) 2 pcs 
  • Sugar 150 g 
  • Lemon juice 100 ml 
  • Lemon zest of 1 lemon 
  • A pinch of salt 
  • Corn starch 5 g 
  • Unsalted butter 100 g  


1. Remove the zest from the lemons on a very fine grater, and squeeze the juice.

2. Put the eggs, sugar, corn starch, salt, lemon juice and zest into a saucepan. Mix with a whisk and turn on the heat. Stir constantly and cook until it thickens and is similar in consistency to a regular custard. When it boils, simmer one minute, then turn off the heat and add the butter piece by piece, stirring thoroughly so the butter disperses well and combines with the egg-lemon base.

3. Tighten the cream with cling film so that it touches the surface - this will prevent the formation of an unpleasant crust. Cool the cream in the fridge. There it becomes even thicker due to the fact that the butter will freeze. 

Ingredients for Italian meringue:

  • Egg whites (3 pcs.) 110 g
  • Sugar 220 g 
  • Water 60 ml 
  • A pinch of salt 
  • Vanillin (a pinch) 
  • Lemon juice 1 tsp 


1. Put the egg whites in a clean dry bowl and beat at slow speed until they foam thoroughly; add the salt, gradually increase speed to fast and beat to soft peaks. Turn the mixer to slow as you complete the sugar syrup. 

2. The sugar syrup: put sugar and water into the saucepan and bring to a simmer; swirl the saucepan to dissolve the sugar completely and boil to the soft-boil stage. That means that when you drop a bit into cold water to cool it, a soft ball will form.

3. Sugar syrup into egg whites: beating the egg whites at a moderately slow speed, dribble them into the boiling syrup. Increase speed to moderately fast and beat until cool and when the egg whites form stiff, shining, upstanding peaks.


1. Place one piece of pastry on the other one and cut around in a rectangle, collecting the scraps into a separate bowl; be careful to keep the pastry from cracking. Divide both layers into 10 even pieces and put the upper layer aside. 

2. Place about half of the cream on the lower layer and smooth it around. Then place half of the meringue and again smooth around. 

3. Carefully place the upper layer, forming the cakes, and repeat the procedure – first the cream, then the meringue. 

4. Take the crumbled scraps and sprinkle on top of the cake.

5. Put the lemon cakes into the fridge for a couple of hours to cool. 

6. Now the cake is ready and you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work!

READ MORE: 5 traditional dishes from Suzdal, the ‘most Russian city’ (RECIPES)

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