Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lemon Cake

I confess that I don't want to be here today. It's a bright sunny day and I just bought a couple small flats of flowers. My nails are itching to get nice and dirt-filled. Okay, so maybe they're not quite itching for it, but the rest of me is.

Nevertheless my duty to lemon cupcake calls. And also, is it wrong to associate cupcakes with duty? I think it must be.

I found this cake on Pinterest. It looked pretty incredible. When I went to make it, however, I realized that it was from Cooking Light. Hmmm. Maybe some people would be happy about that, but I was suspicious. 'Light' and cake are not two words I associate with each other. First of all, I'm always left wondering, "Did they do such and such because it tasted better or because it reduced the calorie/fat/whatever count?" Furthermore, when people say 'light' they always mean 'low-fat.' And that usually only works in angel food type cakes, which isn't really my cake thing. Nevertheless, I didn't really have another lemon cake recipe to turn to and the picture sure was tempting.

And then, as a second strike, I read the reviews. Many were positive and many were scathing (the cake fell; the cake was a hockey puck; the cake looked nothing like the picture; worst cake ever made--that sort o thing). I'm not even sure why I did make the cake. I think it had something to do with curiosity (was it really a bust; were the folks at Cooking Light using pictures of cake box cakes and pretending they had baked them?)   and because I wanted to see how it measured up in my pursuit of lemon cake nirvana. I love love love a good lemon cake: dense, moist, lemony, not too fluffy or bouncy, but not a rock either--something like perfect lemon bars only in cake-y form. I know it's out there; I've eaten it before, but I've never made it.

I was pleasantly surprised by the cake I turned out. It was lemony and pretty. It was delicate and light with a nice crumb. It was even better on days 2 and 3. I made mine into cupcakes not a layer cake, so I can't be sure it would have looked like the cake in the picture, but I suspect it would have. Also, I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong with the reviewers who didn't have success. I don't think they beat their first five ingredients long enough. Unfortunately, my chemistry is a little dusty (was it ever not dusty) and therefore I can't tell you why this is necessary, but it is. So follow the directions or risk a large lemon-y hockey puck.

Now I must confess that, even though I enjoyed the lemon cake, it was not my soul mate. Oh sure, we had a nice time together and we'll still be friends, but it didn't have the dense richness of my true lemon cake. However, just because it wasn't the one for me doesn't mean it won't be for you. If you're the type who likes cake light and delicate kind of sort of like cake box cakes, this just might be your true love. Or if you're trying to cut back on butter. Or if you love all good lemon cakes for their various contributions to the palate.

One final note: The original recipe told you to zest a lemon, but then instead of using the juice from the lemon, it asked you to buy concentrated lemonade and thaw a few tablespoons of this to use. Please please and puh-lease. This will result in a waste of perfectly good lemons and possibly the waste of the rest of your concentrated lemonade. That's just silly and, frankly, a recipe pet peeve of mine. If you're lazy (nothing to be ashamed of), just use the lemon juice from your lemons in place of the lemonade concentrate. If you want to do things exactly right, then combine equal parts lemon juice (from the lemon) and sugar and let it sit for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is a syrup (a syrup, which is just what you're buying when you buy the lemonade concentrate).

Lemon Cake
adapted from Cooking Light
Makes one 2-layer cake or 24 cupcakes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $1.70 without frosting;
sugar: .20, butter: .25, lemon: .50, eggs: .40, flour: .20, milk: .15

1 1/3 C sugar
6 Tbsp butter, quite soft
1 Tbsp grated lemon rind (about 1 lemon's worth)
3 Tbsp lemon juice concentrate (or 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice concentrate and 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar, mixed)
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 C buttermilk (or 1 1/4 C regular milk with 1 Tbsp vinegar mixed in)


I made the Best Cream Cheese Frosting Ever and combined zest and juice from another lemon

Preheat to 350 and prepare your pans (cake pans with wax paper and butter or cupcake tins with cupcake liners).

Put first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and beat at medium speed for 5 minutes. Just do it. Add eggs and egg whites one at a time (I usually ignore the one at a time thing, but for this cake I did it because I didn't want to risk a hockey puck.)

Combine remaining dry ingredients in a small bowl.

Add part of flour mixture to sugar mixture and mix. Add buttermilk and mix. Them more flour mixture; mix. Then remaining buttermilk; mix. Then flour mixture to finish it off.

Bake about 20 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out with a few crumbs. Cool in pans 10 minutes (p.s. that's important too--leave them there forever and they'll be tough to get out). Then turn out on cooling racks (or wherever) to cool completely.

Frost as you wish. Top with jelly beans if you wish. Or with berries, which I think would have been intensely beautiful. Or drizzle it with this raspberry sauce that I just discovered and which will change my world.


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