I used to have all sorts of trouble when I tried to bake a cake. It would sound so easy – go to the grocery store, buy whichever flavor of cake mix sounded appealing, mix in two eggs, stir in some oil and bake. Yet every time I attempted to make cake from a mix, I managed to screw it up in inexplicable ways, the cake sank or the cupcakes refused to separate from their wrappers.
Then, I discovered how to make lemon pound cake from scratch.
Sometimes when I’m home and it’s getting too late to cook, I like to peruse cookbooks. I drift over lists of ingredients and drool over descriptions. I decide whether a recipe sounds worth trying, if my kitchen has the ingredients stocked and I make plans for weekend baking adventures.
Sometimes I find new favorite foods by following through with these plans, and lemon pound cake is one of them. It’s flavorful and moist with a fantastic lemon tang.
I made it for the first time on a whim last summer, mostly because I had all the ingredients on hand. Lemon is a wonderful flavor and it balances beautifully against the sweetness of sugar in cakes or cookies. It is delicious in hard candies, lemonade and adds a splash of freshness to almost anything on a grill. In lemon pound cake, I find it absolutely irresistible.
Making cake from scratch is surprisingly simple. As with many cookies, I began with creaming together butter and sugar. The first time I made it, I was surprised that I needed six eggs. I had already started mixing things and, since my egg supply was short by two, I had to make a mad rush to the grocery store.
Once the eggs are all accounted for, it’s simply a matter of mixing together the rest of the dry ingredients with some milk and lemon. The list of ingredients I have to add is a bit longer than if I used a boxed cake mix, but it hardly seems like more effort. The results are worth it too.
Pound cake is generally regarded as being very rich and was originally made by mixing together a pound of each main ingredient. What I enjoy about this particular cake is that rich doesn’t mean too heavy. The lemon tang is delicious and it goes well with strawberries, blueberries or blackberries.
The glaze adds a layer of intensity, but the cake is full of flavor even without it.
My past experiences with cake mixes and a few other cake recipes have been largely disappointing.
A perfect cake should be delicious, whatever kind it is. It shouldn’t be a dense lump or burned. Bits of it shouldn’t stick to the pan when I flip it over. Making lemon pound cake was the first experience I’ve had that truly met all of my expectations.
Lemon Pound Cake with Glaze
(Adapted from “The Gourmet Cookbook,” edited by Ruth Reichl)
2 sticks butter (1 cup)
2 cups sugar
¼ cup lemon zest
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup milk
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup plus 1 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan. (I made this recipe in a
Bundt pan, which works equally well, but takes an extra 10-15 minutes to bake.)
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and lemon zest. I used a zester, which is a handy thing to have for finely grating cheese or lemon rinds. If you don’t have one around, the smallest holes on a cheese grater will work. For this recipe, one whole lemon should satisfy both the zest for the batter and the juice for the glaze.
Stir in eggs one at a time. You should not have flaps of butter floating in egg, but rather a smooth mixture.
Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. If you don’t have cake flour on hand, regular flour will also work.
The flour, milk and lemon juice should be added bit by bit in alternation. To clarify, stir a quarter of the flour mixture into the batter, then some milk, then some lemon and so on in three batches. Try not to mix them together, as lemon will make milk curdle. The last addition ought to be the last quarter of the flour. The mixing during this step should be done gently, as too vigorous stirring will make the baked loaf denser.
Pour batter into pan. Bake until top is golden brown and edges are beginning to pull away from the pan. This should take about 45-55 minutes. To check whether it is done, poke a toothpick or knife into the cake. If it comes out completely clean, it’s done.
Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes. Now is a good time to mix up the confectioner’s sugar into the lemon juice for the glaze. This is straightforward: whisk the sugar into the juice until it is smooth.
After 15 minutes, the cake should be cool enough to glaze, although you can wait until the cake is completely cooled. If you use a Bundt pan or desire a free-standing cake, this is when you flip it over. Drizzle with the glaze. Serve and enjoy as soon as cake has cooled enough to cut without crumbling.
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