Back in the days when I worked in downtown Ottawa, my department proposed a cake baking competition to raise money for the United Way. Of course, I entered. The opportunity presented new recipes to try and a captive audience to try them on. It would have been for a good cause too.
Unfortunately, the competition was not to be. No one in the building I worked in wanted to participate in the competition itself, so it was canceled.
However, I did manage to find and develop a lemon cake recipe that one of my colleagues described as “sweet, but not clawlingly (sp?) so.”
The cake is essentially a standard sponge cake that is baked with many things citrus.
The recipe follows:
Firstly, this wonderful recipe isn’t one of my originals. It comes from this site, which mentions that the recipe originates from an 1846 cookbook by Catherine Beecher.
Anyhow, onto the recipe…
- 1 stick of unsalted butter (softened)
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- juice of one citrus fruit (lemon preferred, but orange works)
- zest of the now juice-less citrus fruit
- 1/4 cup milk (room temperature)
- 2 tbsp baking powder
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
- Soften the butter. This can be accomplished in two ways. Firstly, you can just leave a refrigerated stick in its wrapper on the counter until it softens. Secondly, you can place the stick into a heat-proof container, place the container on a toaster oven, and make toast. Because my beleaguered toaster oven is on its last legs, this method doesn’t liquefy the butter. That would be bad.
- Zest and juice your citrus fruit. Before you juice your citrus fruits, apply some pressure and roll them on a cutting board. This will break down the insides of the fruit, so the juice will run more freely. BTW, if you insist on using those mechanical zesters that look like stubby forks, please roughly chop the zest as well. I use a box grater. And, no, I don’t have a micro-plane grater in my kitchen arsenal.
- Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and place them in two bowls. Try to practice safe separating. This is done with three bowls. Two hold the whites and yellows respectively. The third is your staging area where you actually do the separating.
- Sift the all-purpose flour with the baking powder. Even if you purchase “pre-sifted” flour, after time, it tends to clump together. The reason you want to sift the flour is because it is much easier to incorporate it into the batter without the need to mix too vigorously, which can produce gluten (translated: very chewy cake). Sifting with the baking powder allows the powder to be evenly distributed when added to the mix.
- Grease and flour a 9 inch round cake pan. Since most pans are now coated with teflon, this will give the batter something to climb when it rises.
- Preheat the oven to 350Â°F
- Cream the butter and sugar in a separate metal bowl until the butter lightens. If, like me, you either don’t have a stand mixer or are too lazy to take the bloody thing out, take a wooden spoon and mix the sugar into the butter until the butter starts to look like frosting. Essentially, the sugar crystals cut into the fat, allowing the leavening to create a more uniform texture of small bubbles.
- Add to this mixture the egg yolks, one at a time. Mix well after each addition. I have a feeling this has something to do with stabilizing an emulsion. Egg yolks are a source of lecithin.
- Add the citrus juice to this mixture and mix well. You want to disperse the acid so as not to curdle the eggs or the milk, which is added next.
- Add the milk.
- Add the sifted flour and baking powder mixture to the bowl, mixing until everything is combined. Please do not over mix, it will toughen the cake. However, at the same time, this is not a muffin. You do not want to see lumps.
- In another bowl, preferably metal (copper would be best – you know copper ions and stuff…), whip the egg whites until frothy and add two tablespoons of granulated sugar. Adding the sugar is optional, but it actually acts as an abrasive, breaking down the egg white more.
- Continue beating until the egg whites form soft peaks. If they stand on their own without falling, you have stiff peaks, which will result in a drier cake. If you over-beat your egg whites, a pool of liquid will form and your once stiff peaks will fall apart. You will need to start again.
- Divide your egg whites visually. These whites will lighten the batter enough for the leavening to lift the cake. As such, add the portions of egg white, one third at a time, to the batter, folding them in with a silicone or rubber spatula. Please notice the word “fold.” Do not “stir.” If properly incorporated, the batter will become looser and lighter
- Pour the batter into the greased cake pan and bake for 30 minutes. It will turn golden brown.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes
- Remove from pan and garnish. Powdered sugar is nice. I like to serve individual slices with whipped cream and seasonal berries.