Special equipment: a candy thermometer
For the vanilla bean cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms and sides with parchment. Set aside.
Mix together the milk and half-and-half, set aside. Sift together both flours and baking powder; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Sprinkle in the sugar and salt and beat on medium speed until light in color and fluffy in texture. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix until just combined. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl frequently. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined; don't overbeat.
Transfer the batter to the cake pans and bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs, about 30 minutes. Let cool at 10 minutes before turning out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.
For the lemon curd: In a heat-safe mixing bowl, mix together the sugar, lemon zest, eggs and salt. Place the bowl over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water and stir in the lemon juice. Gradually add the cubed butter and stir until everything is incorporated. Continue to stir over low heat until the curd thickens and becomes lighter in color and a bit fluffy, about 10 minutes. The curd will thicken at about 170 degrees F.
Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Put plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd to avoid a skin from forming and refrigerate.
For the Italian meringue buttercream: Combine 3/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium-high, attach a candy thermometer to the saucepan and cook until the mixture reaches reach 248 degrees F.
While the sugar syrup is heating, combine the egg whites and pinch of cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip, slowly sprinkling in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, until you reach medium peaks. When the sugar syrup reaches temperature, pour it very carefully down the side of the bowl of egg whites and continue to whip until you have a white, glossy meringue. Replace the whip with a paddle attachment, add the butter in chunks and beat until the buttercream comes together. Beat in the vanilla bean paste. Set aside.
For the strawberry filling: Grind or crush the strawberries into a fine consistency, set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese. Add 1 pound of the Italian meringue buttercream and mix just until combined. Add the strawberries and mix just until combined.
To assemble the cake: Put a layer of cake in the center of a platter. Add a thin layer of lemon curd, then a layer of the strawberry buttercream filling. Add the second layer of cake. Spread with a thin layer of lemon curd, and then a layer of the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream. Top with a final layer of cake and ice the entire tier with the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream.
This recipe was created by a contestant during a cooking competition. It has not been tested for home use.
Recipe courtesy of Nathalie Sorenson