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Lemon Cake

I guess it’s about time I put the “lish”ousness back in this website. Here is a lemon cake I baked yesterday for David Galus’s birthday party.

David’s girlfriend told me he is a big fan of citrus cakes, so I happily experimented with a non-chocolate birthday cake.  The cake itself is not an attractive cake, and my roommate was making fun of how ugly it was when it came out of the oven. But with a little icing and a few decorative touches and a pretty cake platter, this humble lemon cake became sort of pretty (after this picture was taken, I piled a mountain of berries in the center of the cake, which made for a quite beautiful presentation).

This was my first successful attempt at making this particular cake. It’s a lemon cake recipe by Ina Garten, aka Barefoot Contessa from the Food Network. The first time I tried making it in bundt form, it stuck to the sides of the pan and ended up in one big crumbly mountain on my kitchen counter. The recipe itself is meant to be made in loaf pans. I would HIGHLY recommend parchment paper when using the loaf pans. Otherwise, make sure to lather the pan with grease and flour and I highly recommend using non-stick.

There was much holding of breath during the baking of this cake. I knew it would taste great; the hundreds of superlative reviews and my previous failed attempt had me assured of this. But since it was for a special event, I wanted it to look great too. So there was the “Please turn out in one piece” breath holding moment and then there was the “Please don’t leave half of the cake gummed to the bottom of the icing rack” breath holding moment. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck yesterday afternoon until the cake was packed safely in the car en route to its destination.

Normally bundt cakes are fairly straightforward, but since Ina has a multi-step approach to cake baking, this cake is rather complicated. Here are a few of my notes:

  • I baked it for an extra ten minutes (55 total) this time, since it’s better to have an intact cake on the drier side  vs. an overly moist, slightly gummy cake that falls apart when you turn it out of the pan. I think I would maybe bake it for only five minutes extra next time. Either way, I definitely would make sure the cake is visibly pulling away from the sides of the pan.
  • Last time I didn’t read the directions close enough and added a full 3/4 cup of lemon juice to the batter, instead of reserving some for the icing. This could also explain why the cake was underbaked and stuck to the pan. With that said, the crumbs were extra moist and very lemon-y. It would be nice to achieve this level of moistness without destroying the cake’s architecture.
  • Last time I poured the lemon syrup directly over the cake without taking it out first. This only made the cake adhere to the pan even moreso when I tried turning it out. Plus I didn’t wait long enough for it to cool before turning it out. This time I waited 10-15 minutes for the cake to cool, turned it out, then put it back into the cake pan (so it was upside down) and poured the syrup in and let it cool for an hour or so before turning it back out again. I also used chopsticks to stab a bunch of holes in the bottom to help the cake absorb the syrup better.
  • I would make the icing a bit thicker by adding a tad bit less lemon juice. There is a tricky balance to be found for bundt icing. You want it thin enough to flow gracefully over the bundt’s sexy curves (hehe, I like bundts, can you tell?), but you don’t want it TOO thin or else it just runs off the sides and pools up at the bottom of the plate. And causes your cake to stick to the icing rack and make it nearly impossible to transfer it to a cake platter *shudder*. I highly recommend you pour the icing QUICKLY and transfer the cake immediately, before the icing dries and forms a nice glue between the cake and icing rack.
Ina Garten’s recipe for Lemon Cake:    
 
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ½ cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

   
  Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease two 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ -inch loaf pans. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine ¼ cup lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine ½ cup granulated sugar with ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup. When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray (so they are upside down), and spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

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