July 10, 2009

A lemon of a cake

Last week, for my birthday, I decided to make myself a cake, and not just any cake, a Meyer lemon cake. It's another one of those recipes I had filed away and was saving for some special occasion. Several of those recipes are lemon based, too, not surprisingly, considering my fondness for all things lemon. My birthday seemed as good a day as any other to try it, except there were no Meyer lemons to be had anywhere, since summer isn't exactly the season for Meyers. After my initial disappointment of having again to do without the fleeting winter citrus, I decided to proceed with making the cake using the old standby, the Eureka lemon, available everywhere, any time of year. It really is a reliable fruit and quite handy to have on hand.

This cake is a fancy looking cake, single layer, with a glaze and candied lemon slices adorning the top. At least the picture in the magazine where I found it a few years ago looked fancy. My version was not quite up to par, visually. The flavor, though, was good, and definitely worth making again, although I would make a few changes. Everyone who ate a piece agreed. The cake itself was just right, with lots of zippy lemon flavor, not too tart, not too sweet. However, the glaze was not impressive, being too syrupy, nor were the candied lemon slices, which were slightly bitter and crunchy, and I mean crunchy in a bad way. They didn't sit well in the stomach. Too much pithy rind, I suppose. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed with the final result. It just wasn't quite what I was expecting. Next time, I'll do away with both and make a buttermilk-lemon glaze, keeping the whole cake simple and the process less time consuming.

I was curious about making the candied lemon slices, and I'm glad I did, because now I know I'll never do it again, so my curiosity's satisfied on that point. However, I'm itching to bake the cake again and top it with a buttermilk glaze, which will look pretty and complement the lemon flavor. At the same time, I'm tempted to wait until Meyer lemons are in season and try the cake with those, as originally called for, but still using only the buttermilk glaze. Oh, what a baker's dilemma to be in. Time will tell, or test, my patience. Other lemon recipes are waiting, so there's plenty to do with them in the meantime, if and when the urge to bake with lemons hits me again. The feeling often does, because lemon baked items are just so tasty.

At any rate, this was a delicious cake, a good idea for a birthday, sans the lemon slices, and works well with plain ol' lemons. I'll post the original recipe, just in case you need to satisfy your curiosity about the lemon slices as well, and whenever I bake another, with the above mentioned changes, I'll post it again, so you can see (and try) the difference.

Meyer Lemon Cake
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cooking, via Domino, February 2007

For the cake:
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
1 ¼ cups sugar
⅔ cup buttermilk
⅓ cup Meyer lemon juice
1 Tbsp Meyer lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
For the glaze:
⅓ cup Meyer lemon juice
1 ⅔ cups confectioners' sugar
For the candied lemon slices:
2 Meyer lemons
2 cups sugar
2 cups water

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Melt butter in saucepan. Cool and set aside. In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1 cup of the sugar until thick and light in color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in buttermilk, lemon juice, and zest. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Then add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Fold half the flour mixture into egg-yolk mixture, followed by half the egg white mixture. Repeat with remaining flour and egg white mixtures. Take about 1 cup of the batter and stir it into melted butter. Gently fold butter mixture into the rest of the cake batter. Pour into a buttered and floured 9-inch cake pan, and bake for about 50 - 60 minutes until cake is lightly brown and pulling slightly away from the edge of the pan.

While cake is baking, make the glaze and candied lemon slices. For glaze, combine lemon juice and the confectioners' sugar in a saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Set aside. For the candied slices, cut lemons widthwise, in ¼-inch slices, and discard end pieces. Remove seeds. In a saucepan, combine the water with the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add lemon slices and simmer about 5 more minutes, until fruit is soft but not falling apart. With a slotted spoon, remove slices and place on waxed or parchment paper to cool.

When the cake is baked, cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then invert onto a cooling rack. With a long toothpick, poke the top of the cake to make about two dozen small deep holes. Strain the glaze while warm, then slowly spoon it over the cake, allowing it to sink in before adding more. Poke extra holes if needed, to use as much of the glaze as you think the cake can take. I used most of it, but not all, because I didn't want my cake drowning in syrup. Cool the cake completely, slide it off of the rack onto a cake stand, and serve.

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