This year’s Christmas dessert table boasted quite the spread: pear cranberry gingersnap crisp, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, Aunt Beth’s unbeatable apple pie, and lemon cake. The first three fell into place pretty easily. As for the fourth, I knew I wanted something fruity rather than chocolatey but knew I wouldn’t have the time (or oven space) required for a pie on Christmas morning. Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake fit the bill perfectly: light, sweet, lemony, and can be made a day ahead. Perfecto.
As far as cakes go, the prep is straightforward and the product is delicious. The recipe as I made it yields one large bundt (or similar) cake; it can easily be halved to make a loaf cake. Turns out we don’t have a bundt pan at home so I made it in a springform pan. Came out beautifully.
Bring 2 sticks of butter and 4 eggs to room temperature. Cream the softened butter with 2 cups of sugar. [Note: I often do my mixing and creaming by hand as I’m too lazy to pull out/clean another gadget. I found using an electric mixer here was a lifesaver — it saved time and made the batter so much nicer.] Once light and fluffy, mix in the eggs and 1/3 cup lemon zest (approximately 6 lemons, I used 5).
In another bowl, sift together 3 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of salt. In a third bowl, whisk 1/4 cup lemon juice, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla together. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the creamed butter alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix everything until smooth.
Pour the batter into a greased bunt pan and bake at 350F for 45 minutes to an hour, until a tester comes out clean.
Just before the cake is finished, combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a cooling rack over a tray and baste with lemon syrup. Allow to cool completely.
Here is where my cake differed from Deb’s. Seeing as I made this cake on Christmas Eve, I was A, exhausted from other baking and prep I’d done in the kitchen all afternoon and B, rushing to make myself presentable and get out the door to my Aunt’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. I made the lemon syrup immediately but ended up basting it three different times over a period of 15 hours or so: once about an hour after it came out of the oven, once late that night before bed, and once in the morning. I didn’t fret about doing it this way; Deb’s own recounting of the cake says it absorbed so much syrup there wasn’t any absorption left for the glaze and that the glaze slid all over the place. The cake appeared to dry after the first two syrup bastings; the third left a slightly shiny sheen.
I ended up ditching the glaze in favor of time, and also because I didn’t want my glaze to run down the sides and pool at the bottom as Deb’s had. Hence I skipped the glaze altogether and simply dusted mine with powdered sugar. It was perfectly lemony and sweet without it; I almost think the glaze might have been too much.
If, however, you find yourself wanting the glaze, simply whisk 2 cups confectioners’ sugar with 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice until combined. Drizzle over cake and serve.
This cake is divine. I’m not one for citrus-flavored desserts. In fact, there are like three citrus desserts I’ll eat, and the first took serious coaxing (lime cupcakes made by my Aunt Beth are at the top of said list). I generally find them too overly citrusy, too fake. And far too sweet to mask the delightful citrus tartness. Perhaps as a native Floridian you lose your taste for all things that aren’t simply pure, naked citrus fruit. Although that’s probably not the case as I feel I’m in the minority with my anti citrus dessert palate. Anyway. How am I still rambling?
That is definitely not the case with this cake. It’s fantastic. Dense, moist, crumbly, with the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness. It was a big hit, among citrus dessert lovers and haters alike.
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.