28 January, 2009
a second cake!
I still can't get over it. My baking curse, the one in which I could not properly produce anything for dessert, seems to have lifted! Because while I have known for some time that I could produce ONE cake with no difficulty, today I achieved its successor, and I cannot wait to share it with you.
Now, believe me when I tell you that I fully realize an English lemon drizzle cake is child's play, learned at the knees of their mothers, to most English people. It's the basic, the one you set a bright ten-year-old to make on a nice sunny Saturday afternoon (well, that description in and of itself sounds like fiction, the sunny bit) in time for tea. But I am a person who had a mother at whose knee I might learn to play Chopin's "Minute Waltz" or memorize the complete Agatha Christie, but would never learn to cook anything because she detested cooking so. In fact, the only reason I learned to cook at all was to relieve the poor dear of her metaphorical apron and take over feeding the family so she could get back to needlepointing exquisite samplers while simultaneously refinishing some enormous piece of Indiana antique furniture. I know, she doesn't sound real. But she is, thankfully.
I digress. My point is, I have learned cooking by trial and error, for the most part, and there have been plenty of errors. Oh boy! I have one reader of this blog who is kind enough to tell me that my errors make her feel more confident, and I can absolutely see the point of that. As I get older, I have less and less patience with people whose purpose in life seems to be to make me feel inadequate, and I gravitate more and more to the types who say, "Well done!" This is not to say I can't accept criticism, because my writing experiences this year have done away with most of whatever ego I ever had. But I like to be with people, whether in writing or real life, who are REAL. People who screw up and then can dust themselves off, explain how, and get it right the next time.
That being said, I have made a disproportionate number of mistakes in the creation of things to eat at the end of a meal. In part this is because my idea of dessert is another soft shell crab, or meatball, perhaps another piece of cheese. But mine is a life that includes a smallish child to feed, Bake Sales to contribute to and the like, and it has become increasingly embarrassing to have all dinner guests say mildly and with complete confidence, "Would you like me to bring dessert?"
Well, I have my apple and banana cake now, Avery's favorite breakfast of all. And today, the perfect lemon drizzle cake came out of my oven. I just can't tell you how pleased, and relieved, and inspired I am. Perhaps other cakes are in my future. Of course this cake could be a lime drizzle, or orange drizzle cake just as easily. A satsuma and clementine cake! A Meyer lemon cake, let's get crazy! But for the moment, I give you:
Lemon Drizzle Cake
225 grams (one cup) unsalted butter, softened
225 grams (one cup) caster (ordinary American) sugar
zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
zest of 1 lime, finely grated
225 grams (one cup) self-raising flour, or plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder added
juice of 3 lemons
85 grams (1/3 cup) caster sugar
Beat the butter and sugar till soft and fluffy, then beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in zests and flour gently until fully mixed (including the baking powder if you are using plain flour). Tip into a loaf pan and smooth the top flat with a spoon. Lick the spoon.
Bake for about 45 minutes in an oven set to 185C, 350F. Watch carefully, because all ovens are different. Take care not to burn bottom or brown top too much. The cake is done when the middle of the top doesn't jiggle when pressed gently. Err on the side of baking less rather than longer.
Cool cake enough so that you can handle the tin. In the meantime, mix the lemon juice and sugar till dissolved. Prick the top of the cake all over with a fork and then SLOWLY drizzle the mixture over it. If you drizzle too fast, the mixture will end up all sliding down the sides of the cake. Serve warm.
Heavenly! I adapted this recipe from Tana Ramsay, beleaguered wife of Gordon. I've tripled her measurements for lemon zest and juice, and added the lime zest. My family like citrus! But feel free to cut down on these if your family are not lemon freaks.
With my cake safely made, John and I went off in the drizzly grey London afternoon to get Avery at school, and Emily traipsed along with us, down the cheery little expanse of shops down the road from their school. So cozy. We passed the massive building housing the romantic swimming pool, at which I performed my first "receptionist duty" last night. Such responsibility! Collect the keys from school, try to remember the code for the gate and door, turn on the lights, collect the cash box, swimming caps for sale, sign-in book. And so many swimmers turned up! Among them, in the gathering chilly darkness, were Annie and Fred and Emily, all chattering sixteen to the dozen as they do, partly why I love them: so cheerful and busy compared to our very quiet (too quiet) household. And a lovely old man who signed his name, ran his finger down the list of names and said, "Oh, dear, oh dear, I'm the 13th swimmer. You know, my dear, in my block of flats the numbers go from 12 to 12A to 14. Makes a hash of deliveries, but..." I offered the information that many American hotels have no 13th floor. "Well, obviously there IS one, but they skip the number and just go right on to 14," I babbled. He wisely ignored this sally and made his stately way to the pool.
Well, I can tell you that the cake met with the approval of Emily, Avery and John. Being me, naturally there was a screwup. I had put the batter into the pan and the pan into the oven when I saw the container of baking powder on the counter. Holy s&^t, I had forgotten to put it in. I salvaged the pan from the oven, poured the batter back into the bowl, added the baking powder, put it back in the pan, back in the oven. It's a very forgiving recipe, because all was FINE. And the drizzle never glazed in the way that traditional lemon drizzle cakes here do. All the drizzle ran into the cake. Emily diagnosed too much lemon juice to the amount of sugar, but just as I was planning to try again tomorrow with more sugar, Avery said, "I prefer it with no glaze. It can be too sweet, and this version has just enough BITE." Thank you, food critic on the hearth.
There you go. Enjoy, because it's foolproof and it will brighten up your day, grey or not. And you family in Indiana: throw a couple of snowballs for me!