Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Cake Is NOT A Lemon…

….although it *IS* a lemon cake.

I have to say, one of my favorite flavors in the “sweet” end of the spectrum (and frankly, even in the “savory” end) is lemon.  I love the pucker, the bright, sparkly tang, the hit of acid that melds so well with the sweet of sugar (or chocolate, for that matter, chocolate and lemon is a great combination).  Lemon lifts and lightens the sometimes cloying heaviness of cakes, cupcakes and cookies, and truly does refresh the palate as a closer to a heavy meal.  Lemon sorbets and ice creams are a lovely, refreshing end to a summer’s meal of pasta or grilled meat, especially if there’s been lemon used in the entrée as an acidic punch.  Sort of brings the meal full circle.

A few years back, I made a wonderful lemon ice cream with a blueberry sauce that I still dream about.  Someday, maybe next summer, I’ll make it again and share it with you.  Can’t do it right now….my freezer is waaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy too full to have room for the ice cream maker bowl, *AND* for the finished icey cream !  Need to eat down some of the stock-pile, I guess.

But as always, I digress.

What we have today is a lovely, very easy, fabulously tasty double-lemon cake, made even better by the use of Meyer lemon juice.

Surely, most, if not all, of you know about Meyer lemons.  You’ve at least heard of them.  Some of you, however, may be wondering what the big whup is about them.  Those of you thinking that, have, most likely, never tasted a Meyer lemon, for the most wonderful thing about Meyer lemons is Meyer lemon's a wonderful thing (props to Tigger for the quote !).

Meyer lemons are a cross between a normal lemon and a mandarin orange.  The skin is extremely thin, and edible.  It has only the tiniest, thinnest layer of the bitter, white pith normally found under citrus skin.  The flesh and juice of the Meyer is much sweeter, and much less tart and acidic, than the normal lemon.  “Floral” is a term frequently used to describe the taste of Meyer lemon juice and flesh.  It’s still lemony, for sure, but a kinder, gentler lemon, very fragrant and compelling.  They were grown for centuries in China as an ornamental houseplant, where it was discovered in the early 20th century by a US Department of Agriculture employee named….guess what….Frank Meyer.  He brought some plants back to the US, where they flourished in California, Florida and Texas.  After being almost wiped out by disease, they’ve made a comeback in the last 10 or so years, thanks to the endorsement of two icons of Le Chic Cookery, Alice Waters and Martha Stewart.  Both of these paragons of “good things” embraced the Meyers and from there, well, the rest, as they say, is sort of history.

OK, enough of the (boring) history.  Let’s bake a cake shall we?

Here’s the players.  Usual suspects for a cake.

Note that I have two “lemon” lemons in addition to the bowl of Meyer juice.  Earlier this year, I’d been gifted with an absolute glut of Meyer lemons from a friend’s tree.  A nice dilemma to be in, let me tell you, because even in the fruit basket that is Southern California, Meyers are scarce and pricey.  I used some immediately, and juiced the rest for future use.  Some of the juice I froze in my ice cube trays (each of my cubes is about two tablespoons) then sealed in a freezer zippy bag.  Some, from a secondary haul, I just froze in a plastic storage container.

By the way, freezing stuff in ice cube trays is a great way to store things like juices, stock, coconut milk, leftover wine (hmmmm, someone tell me please, what exactly *is* leftover wine….) or other liquids.  That way if you need just a bit to finish off a dish, you can pull out what you need, toss it in, and carry on.  Don’t even need to thaw it, because in a hot dish, it’ll melt in a twinkle (a twinkle????  Where the heck did that come from…..?)

But again, the digression train has hit.  So let me pull this back on track and return to the cake.

Heat your oven to 325°.  Get a 10-inch tube pan, and butter it.  Since the cake wasn’t going to be frosted, I thought a fluted pan would be prettier, and knowing that buttering all the nooks and crannies (suddenly I’m craving an English muffin) would be a b..ch, I blasted it with some olive oil spray.

Combine your cake flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and reserve it.  Put the softened butter in the bowl of the KA, and beat it with the paddle until it’s nice and fluffy and light.

DON’T be a dolt like me and dump the sugar in with the butter up front.

(wishing I had a red circle with a slash to overlay that picture.)  DON’T do this.  Although the cake turned out fine, I think it would’ve been even better, if I’d simply….

OK, we all know this refrain by now……”READ THE RECIPE, ROBERTA”.

Don’t be like me, add the sugar after the butter has been creamed.

While the butter is creaming (by itself, with no sugar yet), take your lemons and your re-branded, re-marketed wood-working tool and grate off all the zest and none of the pith.

I actually would NOT recommend using your Meyers for the zest.  It’s so thin, I don’t think you’d get the amount you needed, and, since the zest is so delicate, the heat from cooking it in this recipe wouldn't let it shine.  In my case, since the actual lemons were long gone, I had no choice but to use “lemon” lemons, but even if they'd still been around, I'd have used "lemon" lemons for the zest part of the program.  The recipe says you need the zest from five large ones, but I had two from a neighbor’s tree that were each about the size of a softball, so I used them.

When the sugar has been added to the creamed butter, and is again light and fluffy, beat in the eggs one at a time.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as you need to.  When the eggs have been added, beat in some of the lemon juice and some of the zest.  Mix in the flour mixture and sour cream alternately, again scraping down as you need to, until completely mixed in.

Scrape the batter into the pan,

and bake until the tester comes out clean.  That’ll be about 60-70 minutes.  Check after 60 to be sure.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, in the pan, and then turn out onto a serving plate.

While the cake is baking, take the remaining lemon juice and sugar, and bring to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking, until the sugar dissolves.

Then dump in the last of the lemon zest.

Poke the warm cake all over with a long skewer (I just used my cake tester….it was already dirty….)

Spoon and brush the glaze over the top and sides of the cake.  You need to do this while it’s warm, so the glaze will sink in (hence the “double” lemon, no that wasn’t because I used two types of lemons !)

Let it cool completely, then slice and serve.  A little dollop of crème fraîche would be a nice, cool and creamy contrast to the lemon, but the cake is totally delicious without it.  The cake keeps, loosely covered, for a day or two.

Here’s the full deal-io recipe.  Note that the cake would be awesome with “normal” lemon juice, but the Meyer juice takes it to the next level.

Double Lemon Cake
Recipe from “The Los Angeles Times”, date unknown

3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1&2/3 cups sugar, divided use
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup *PLUS* 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 5 large lemons, divided use (3 lemons in one step, 2 in another)
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Heat the oven to 325°F.  Butter or spray a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan.  Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl, and whisk to blend.  Set aside.

Cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Add 1 cup of the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Beat in the 1/4 cup lemon juice and the zest from three lemons.  Stir in the flour mixture and sour cream alternately in three additions of flour, mixing with a rubber spatula until completely blended.  Scrape into the prepared pan.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.  Cool, in the pan, on a rack for 10 minutes, and then turn cake out onto a serving plate.

While the cake is baking, combine the remaining lemon juice and the remaining 2/3 cups sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking, until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and stir in the remaining zest.

Poke the warm cake all over with a skewer.  Spoon and brush the glaze over the top and all sides of the cake.  Cool on the plate completely before slicing.

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