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yellow wasn’t so mellow

Recipe: lemon mirror cake

a slice of lemon mirror cake: my click entry

I thought that when my chemo was over, I would resume my life more or less the way I was before chemo. I will be the first to point out that how I feel now is a million times better than how I felt during chemo – so this is a good thing. While my ideas and enthusiasm are nearly on par with what they are normally, the reality is that my carcass is still playing catch up for a variety of reasons (complications, unexpected lingering side-effects, etc.). Add to that the daily radiation treatments that cut right into the middle of the day and I find I am not getting to all of the items on my ginormous to-do list.

let’s make some lemon mousse

It’s okay. I have learned to accept these setbacks and make the best of it. The tagline on my personal blog reads “things don’t always go as planned” which is funny, because I coined that one before I was diagnosed. But it’s a good concept to keep in mind and I feel that it keeps me on my toes, keeps me from feeling “entitled” and allows me to maneuver through life with greater flexibility… greater happiness.

brushing soaking syrup onto the chiffon cake

I still have trouble in the kitchen because my left arm and left hand are experiencing problems including pain, numbness, and weakness. While I’m right-handed, any avid cook knows that you use BOTH hands when cooking or baking. But some things can’t wait and I feel happier overall when I can get into the kitchen and create something.

layering the mousse

After I had contacted Bee about contributing a prize for Bri’s fundraiser, she encouraged me to enter the CLICK photo competition for June. The theme: yellow. Ah yes, that damn cancer thing. Pink for breast cancer (I hate pink) and yellow for cancer (I don’t love yellow but I do hate cancer). It’s not that I wanted to enter the contest so much as I wanted to show my support for Bri. If you think you’re tired of hearing and reading about cancer, try having cancer… that gets old pretty fast.

pouring the mirror

What I realized while I made the cake was that it was very much like my own experience with cancer. I usually have a grand plan in my head for pastries I want to make. I think about it for as little as a few minutes to as much as a couple of weeks – planning flavors, textures, components, shape, presentation. I have *expectations* and then I play it out. I used to execute most of my baking plans with good effort and great success. But this time things were slower. Folding whipped cream into lemon curd hurt my hand. Washing dishes that I needed burned my tender skin. My strength and balance were a little off so that I bumped the mold against the wall of the fridge, spilling liquid gelatin over the top. All of that control I had commanded before… lost for now. It no longer became a matter of what shots I would get, but if I could manage a damn cake at all.

the mirror is set

After my surgery, but before my chemo, I thought I’d push through the treatment like I push through everything else in life – with determination and gusto. I had high expectations and a good attitude. Things were off to a decent start as I could still run a 5K after the first infusion and remain active and upbeat. However, the four and a half months chipped away at me with complications that were unforseen, side-effects harsh enough to knock a horse on its ass, and the reality that mine was not going to be an easy peasy treatment. I learned a lot about myself and my limits this year. I had a pretty good idea to begin with, but I have a deeper understanding now. I think that is a positive. I’m accepting that there are aspects in life that I cannot bulldoze through in my usual way and sometimes we have to make due with less than ideal – but we can still be happy.

Driving up the canyon on my way home the other day, I thought to myself how wonderful it was to be alive right then and there. To see the sun glistening off the pine forests, smell the canyon air, feel that lovely breeze cooling on my face – to be able to smile. As in chemo, as in baking, as in life… many of us persevere the crap to get to the reward on the other side. I suppose for me, the journey alone is reward in and of itself.

lemon mirror cake with raspberry coulis

Lemon Mirror Cake
[print recipe]

1 sheet or 1 round lemon chiffon cake (1/2 recipe)
lemon mousse
limoncello soaking syrup
lemon mirror

lemon mousse
2 1/2 tsps powdered gelatin
2 oz. fresh lemon juice
10 oz. heavy cream (medium peaks)
8 oz. lemon curd, freshly made or warmed
1 oz. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp lemon extract

Bloom gelatin in lemon juice then melt it to 100°F. Whip the heavy cream to medium peaks. Cover and put in refrigerator. Blend together the warm curd with the corn syrup and the lemon extract, stirring with a whisk. Add the melted gelatin to the curd. Strain and cool the mixture to 70°F. Temper half of the whipped cream into the curd mixture. Fold in remaining whipped cream. Immediately use the mousse, cover and refrigerate until set.

lemon mirror
1 1/2 cups lemonade, strained
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp limoncello
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp unflavored gelatin
1 drop yellow food coloring

Place lemon juice, limoncello, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft. Heat lemonade in a pan until it simmers and pour over gelatin mixture. Stir to dissolve gelatin. Stir in the yellow food coloring. Place bowl over ice bath and stir occasionally until the mixture is syrupy.

Assembly: Place ring mold on foil base. Cut the cake into two slices for the shape of the mold or pan you are using. Set the first slice down in the ring mold and brush with half of the soaking syrup. Pour half of the mousse on top of the cake layer. Set the second cake layer over the mousse and soak with remaining syrup. Pour the rest of the mousse on top and smooth the surface. Refrigerate until the mousse is set. Remove from refrigerator and pour mirror on top and return to the refrigerator until gelatin is set. Unmold and serve.

43 nibbles at “yellow wasn’t so mellow”

  1. peabody says:

    I love mirror cake. It is what I chose for everyone to make when it was my time to pick the Daring Bakers. The yellow is striking on it.
    The journey is indeed a reward all in itself!

  2. Marija says:


  3. Barbara says:

    What a great post! Your positive attitude plays such an important part of your healing process.

    And that cake! omg, it’s beautiful!

  4. bee says:

    dear jen,
    thank you for participating in CLICK and for sharing your story. we wish you strength and healing. this is a very special entry for CLICK.

    the cake looks spectacular.

    indeed, things don’t go as planned. i just hope and fervently wish you wake up one day and the pain is gone, and you can function at 100%.

  5. Mia says:

    What a lovely cake, and lovely post, too!

  6. DaviMack says:

    I’m glad that you’re up and about as much as you are – and that you revamped that cake into lemon! Yum!

    Good luck with recovery!

  7. manggy says:

    Yes, and the people we share it with make the journey seem that much effortless– thank you for sharing and for being in my life, Jen :) I’m surprised the tagline came from before your diagnosis. Well, to extend your analogy a little bit, even if we persevere our asses off to get to a goal, even if we make mistakes every now and then (like spilling the gelatin) or the pain becomes too great and we wonder if the effort is even worth it, the end result is still undeniably beautiful. Knowing the love and difficulty that went into making it just makes it all the more special.

    On the other hand, I took one look at your contribution, and I was like, “Oh, shit.” My first idea for the Click! competition was not going to cut the mustard. At. All. Someday you’ll see it and laugh. :P

    I bought another cake ring yesterday, but this hexagon mold is really pretty, too. I saw an in-theme recipe for using it– layered cake and honey mousse. Hee!

  8. Diana Banana says:

    this is beautiful! the red, the yellow, the reflection of it all on the fork in the first shot, with just a hint of green from the mint garnish…how poetic.

    despite the pain and frustration of not feeling “normal” from the treatments, i really admire how you’ve decided to keep up with cooking, baking, skiing, hiking, and photographing it all. it’s all mental therapy, and i think it’s fantastic that you try your hardest not to give up the things you love to do.

    jen: + 10,000,000 points!

  9. manggy says:

    (I forgot to say: if you ever want to free up some time from your schedule, tasting your creations can take up a lot. Send ’em here and let me help you! Heh heh heh :)

  10. Rachel@fairycakeheaven says:

    Wow this looks divine, I’m so glad you’re on the mend and starting to get back to your old self. I think cancer always teaches a person much more about themselves and how resilient they are!!! You seem to be extremely so and are a testament to every strong cancer survivor out there!!!

  11. Kalyn says:

    Your posts are always so poignant and inspring both. I do admire your resolve and hope for the best for you and Bri.

    And of course, the photos on this blog are always amazing!

  12. Amy says:

    “If you think you’re tired of hearing and reading about cancer, try having cancer… that gets old pretty fast” — what a great quote. I understand completely what you mean. ;)

    That being said, the fact that you cranked out this gorgeous cake in the midst of recovering from nasty chemo and still undergoing radiation is quite a feat. It’s wonderful to live through those moments when you feel so *alive* and so thankful to be in the present, right then and there. Yay you!

  13. Kevin says:

    Nice mirror cake! The colours are so vibrant.

  14. Tartelette says:

    Bill and I repeat this phrase everyday, he believes in g-d, I…eh…not so much but you get the idea, whoever/whatever you believe in: “if you want to make g-d laugh, make plans”….The only plans we make are for dessert. Beautiful entry and smashing cake!

  15. Laura says:

    Oh. My. God. That looks SO good.

    That was a beautiful entry (“culinarily” and otherwise) ; thanks for sharing.

  16. White On Rice Couple says:

    You made me cry again, dammit. I feel so weak. But your struggles & your journey has made me stronger. I suppose I should thank you for the tears of strength and tears of joy to be where I am right now. Thanks.
    Your click entry is beautiful and metaphoric. I see the yellow as joy, the red as strength. Both standout strongly against the white.
    BTW- everyone at work now is asking me why I’m crying. I lied and told them that I just checked out my Visa gas bill.

  17. Mrs Ergul says:

    Before I got married, friends and acquaintances will ask, do you have plans on when to settle down and have kids. I always say you can’t really plan for things like this because life doesn’t usually go the way you plan. However, despite this cruelty in life, there is always an ideal. The ideal now is for that ruthless and unpleasant C-thing to get away from you forever! Keep it up, you’re already doing great. your strength and energy is gonna come back bright as this mirror cake!

  18. Laura @ HungryAndFrozen says:

    Gorgeous cake – so shimmery! Great post too :)

  19. Kathy says:

    It is unbelievable what you have been through and endured. Each time I read your blogs, I find that you give the world a glimpse at your strength, tenaciousness, and will … plus, you tell the secrets of the grim reality of cancer and the treatment for it. Thank you for sharing a little bit of yourself with all of us.

  20. Patricia Scarpin says:

    Jen, I never knew there was a lemon mirror cake. That is simply heaven for me. Tks for sharing such beauty – I’ll be trying it too!

  21. Tanya says:

    Absolutely gorgeous and what a great post–you are an inspiration!

  22. Pam says:

    I can’t believe you can make that gorgeous cake with all you are going through!

  23. Gabi says:

    I don’t want to sound trite but in my experience sometimes the flip side of pain is a gain in understanding the layers of our strengths. Strength can come in accepting that we are human and sometimes our will alone cannot override our need for time, patience and even support from others. We are born alone but not by ourselves and even though we can accomplish much through effort and determination on an individual basis- we are stronger when we slow down and connect with others- even when we have to accept help because we are forced to do so. You are such a strong person naturally- that comes through across in spades through your work. I love that you are finding your way even in this struggle- you are an inspiration.
    Best to you!

  24. jennywenny says:

    Sorry you’re still suffering. Its a beautiful cake.

    Your post reminds me of something a dear man Ted told me about having to find a new normal. He has survived two fierce bouts of leukemia and just finished the rock and roll half marathon in san diego. He’s really having to take each day at a time and is no-where near his previous strength but is finding pleasure in everything he does, including feeding us pb and j sandwiches at the top of a mountain and cheering us on with our bike ride.

    I hope you realise what an inspiration you are to so many people in refusing to let this thing beat you.

  25. Christine says:

    Jen – I wish I had something meaningful to say…but all I can say is that your cake is once again kicking my ass! It’s invaluable to readers of your blog that you share all the things you’re going through (in both a funny and eloquent way). I’ve only begun to realize the gifts of sharing experiences.

    p.s. have I really missed that many of your posts or are you blogging outta control? :)

  26. jenyu says:

    Peabody – I think the strawberry version (yours) is more appealing to me, but then it wouldn’t be yellow ;)

    Marija – thanks!

    Barbara – oh, thank you.

    Bee – you’re incredibly kind. With all of the damage my body has endured, I would be happy with “almost” normal at this point. Really, it’s all relative, no? :)

    Mia – thank you.

    DaviMack – thanks!

    Mark – aw shucks, man. Well, that tagline applies to a lot of things in my life even before my diagnosis, so it is quite appropriate for me (unfortunately). But that just helps me in rolling with life. People who get bent out of shape when things don’t go their way… they have serious problems. I would not laugh at your photos, dear. The hexagon mold is nice, but a pain in the butt because it is too short for most of what I make :( poo.

    Diana – wow, you are so sweet! Thanks for the points (10,000!!!??) and thanks for the encouragement.

    Mark – dooooooode, I have stuff I wanna send you anyway. Email me your mailing addy!

    Rachel – I’ve definitely had my down days during chemo, so I am not so tough as you may think :) But there is too much to life to let it all go down the drain over stupid cancer, no? xxoo

    Kalyn – ha ha, some of my posts are just inane ;) You give me too much cred, love. Yes, let us definitely send positive thoughts to Bri. She is a trooper. xxoo

    Amy – yeah, you and I got voted into this crappy cancer club :( But at least I am in great company because everyone in that club is pretty frakking awesome and incredibly supportive. Hugs to you, hon.

    Kevin – heehee, food coloring ;)

    Tartelette – ha ha, that’s a good one! I have never heard that before, but I like it. My plan is a very general one… to kick ass ;) You seem to do it quite well, yourself!

    Laura – thanks!

    WoRC – I wish my blog could dispense kleenexes for folks like you ;) My dear friend, I don’t ever want to make you cry! You always make me LAUGH!! :) Thanks for the laughs – you are awesome.

    Mrs. E – thanks. You always have the most encouraging things to say. I love your outlook and attitude. Mr. E must be a lucky fellow to have someone so positive in his life!

    Laura – you’re sweet :)

    Kathy – that’s incredibly kind of you to say. The sad truth is that a lot of people go through what I’ve been through, and I wish not a single one had to. Chemo sucks. Cancer sucks. It is surprising to learn how primitive our methods of detection and treatment are, and how much a person has to endure because we know so little. I was amazed and saddened to learn that so many fellow food bloggers have been touched by cancer. But we do have a tight knit community in the food blogging world and people really rally together to support one another, cancer or no. For that, I am really grateful to have met so many amazing people.

    Patricia – I didn’t either! ha ha ha, I just made it up from the strawberry mirror cake ;) hee hee!

    Tanya – thank you!

    Pam – ah well, it wasn’t a pretty process, but I didn’t take pictures of the ugly parts – ha ha ha!

    Gabi – you don’t sound trite at all and I really appreciate your comments. Thanks so much.

    Jennywenny – Ted sounds pretty amazing! I think there are a lot of incredible people out there actually. I don’t think of myself as an inspiration. In fact, a lot of what I share is just to help me muddle through my own thoughts. However, in doing so, I have been able to connect with a lot of individuals and I think of that as just “relating” whether it be about cancer, owning a nutty dog, loving mountain life, or cooking :) But if it can help someone else, then I’m glad for it. Thanks for your sweet comment.

    Christine – you know, you always have very thoughtful and articulate things to say. I always love your astute observations. And yes, I am blogging out of control, my dear ;) xxoo

  27. Sonya says:

    Bravo, it is fantastic !!! and seem so delicius…lol

  28. Elizabeth says:

    It has been wonderful to read about your Sushi adventures and your joy at being able to host guests now that you are not as vulnerable to infection. I did not realize that you are still being battered by the treatments, that was short sighted of me, of course it is not over till it is over! You are a very strong woman, not just physically but mentally too, and while a side effect may take you down but it does not keep you down. Hold on to the memories of your full health and know that you will be there again. You will be running the ridges with the best of them, and skiing all day with energy to spare, but first you have to get thru this.

    The cake looks amazing and I was thinking that I might have to make it for the 4th.
    I have lemon curd sitting in my fridge waiting for a project, but as I read the recipe I realized that it is far beyond my skills right now. You are Super Woman! That is a gorgeous cake.

    God bless you and keep you strong.

  29. Lemon Mirror Cake « FP Daily says:

    […] Lemon mirror cake with raspberry coulis from Use Real Butter. Sunshine on a plate. No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> […]

  30. April says:

    This cake looks wonderful!

  31. jenyu says:

    Sonya – thank you.

    Elizabeth – you’re very sweet and thank you for such a thoughtful comment. That cake is much easier if you use a springform pan instead of hexagonal mold :)

    April – thanks!

  32. Caitlin says:


    I’ve been reading for a while now, but haven’t left a comment yet. I just wanted to say how fantastic I think your blog is. I find your posts utterly inspiring for so many reasons…you seem to come from and cook with a diverse background, you live in a beautiful but alien part of the country (to me) and you produce a prodigious amount of food and take fabulous pictures of it. I know some commenters in the baking blogosphere have whined about cancer being talked about amidst the cooking posts, and I just want to say how much I enjoy the stories that accompany the food – all of them! I am fortunate not to have anyone in my close friends or family who has had cancer, but that doesn’t make me any less interested in your stories. I also don’t have any close friends or family who ski! It’s all part of the human experience, and that is what I come here to enjoy (and the recipes, of course) and I thank you very much for sharing it with us all.

  33. sunita says:

    Dear Jen,
    Though this post is all that I know about you, it gives so much insight into the strong persona that you have. Going through life’s travails and having a crack at it…I really admire you…and that cake is a real showstoper… beautiful, simply beautiful picture of an extraordinarily beautiful cake .

  34. Pooja says:

    this is my first time visit to your blog. and I am here to say that people like you are inspiration for the rest. i admire you, your thoughts and the way you take life.
    Life is really strange sometimes . And i wish you will get back to your normal active life soon.
    Hugs to you dear.

  35. fitri says:

    Congratulations for Jen, you picture really neat.. and I would like to try your recipes.

  36. jenyu says:

    Caitlin – that was such a sweet comment you left. Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoy seeing all of the non-food pics as much as the food pics. All the best to you.

    Sunita – thank you, you’re very kind.

    Pooja – hugs right back at ya. Thanks for your encouragement :)

    Fitri – thanks!

  37. stunned speechless « Toxo Bread says:

    […] when you consider that a simple loaf of crusty bread managed to elicit more food cravings than lemon mirror cake, challah, or lemon-basil sherbet. Holy […]

  38. jugalbandi » SUPERCLICK 2008: The winners … (Part III) says:

    […] lemon mirror cake ~ use real butter […]

  39. The Secret Cake Cavalry « Sniff & Snort says:

    […] was a choice of two pre-requisite ingredients. Pistachio and/or lemon. I decided on making a lemon mirror cake. A cake that I have been meaning to make for years. The cake suggests patience and forethought. […]

  40. adelina says:

    hi jennifer,

    i’m addicted to your site, especially your photography skills!
    i was looking around for some ideas on how to build a lemon sponge cake and again, visited your site! the cake looks lovely here and i bet it tasted awesome! do you have any idea/ suggestion on how to use agar agar powder in place of gelatin to make the “lemon mirror”?

    thanks again, for such a wonderful post!

  41. jenyu says:

    adelina – thank you. i don’t know what the substitution quantities are to translate from gelatin to agar agar, but you may want to try googling for it? Otherwise, I think it should work although I’m not sure how clear or how firm the mirror will be using agar agar. Hope it works out!

  42. Jeanne says:

    The “funny” thing is that I found this recipe for a cake for my boyfriend who actually fought cancer just a year ago. I didn’t know him before which is probably good for both of us and I don’t know how you feel but I know how it feels to care for one who made it through it. I always motivate him bc of his disability and his scars which make him even more strong and lovely. He told me everything and since then I feel such a respect for everyone with a past or even present like that. You are so strong and you can be proud of yourself. I realize the time afterwards isn’t easy but if you have the people you love around you it seems to make it so much easier. Good luck and thanks for this recipe of course ;)

  43. jenyu says:

    Jeanne – all the best to you and your boyfriend. I hope the recipe works out for you. xoxo

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