The Best Darn Lemon Cake

fullsizeoutput_52d4

After last week’s revelation of whether internet recipes were well tested or NOT I promised to deliver a better lemon cake. The photo below is the recipe dud my friend experienced that kicked off lemon cake mania in my kitchen.

27072572_10216656419349646_3158448912372348166_n

~friend’s photo

Looking over the written recipe she used I guessed those sinking centers were a result of too much leavening. The cake collapsed down the middle because the batter could not hold the excess carbon dioxide. She also mentioned that the cake was very oily. With a half cup of oil stirred in at the end that came as no surprise. Based on the concept that oil and water don’t mix I imagine the oil just coating the wet batter rather than joining into the pool. The next photo is that same recipe with less baking soda and half the amount of oil with the oil incorporated in the beginning of the recipe rather than at the end. The collapse is gone, but it still felt oily and didn’t have much lemon flavor.

IMG_1162

too oily and not enough lemon flavor

 

It took a bit of internet recipe research and thumbing through a variety of my own cookbooks AND a field trip to Starbuck’s to understand the many variations available. Baked with everything from oil to instant pudding mix I knew I wanted a less processed ingredient cake that would tingle all the way down to your toes with fresh lemon flavor. It was not an easy task.

IMG_9187

In addition to my daughter and husband, my neighbor agreed to be a taste tester. Pam is a very good cook and I trust her tastebuds. Then it happened. The first slice I sent over her response is “this is better than Starbuck’s”. I knew I needed to get my hands on a slice to properly compare since this whole project started over a copycat recipe that failed.

IMG_9185

I am not sure why anyone likes this cake. See those tunnels in that slice? That most likely means the leavening is not distributed evenly into the flour. Oh, and it also collapses. AND at $3.00 a slice Starbuck’s is not cheap. Even before the cashier handed me the bag I was hit by a waft of lemon scent. Sadly, it was an odor that brought memories of my mom dusting the living room furniture with lemon Pledge rather than something baking in the oven.  Back home, as my sense of smell and taste mingled over a bite of the cake I guessed it was heavily dosed with either lemon oil or extract. It was an overwhelming and unpleasant bite. An assault to my nose as there was no flavor in my mouth. It was all in my nose. I wondered why anyone would want to recreate it, but taste is subjective. Right? I will give it props for the icing. I think it’s a simple mix of fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar.

fullsizeoutput_5228

When it comes to the flavor of our food the sense of smell rather than that of taste is the dominant force. The common experience of pinching our nostrils close to swallow a spoonful of awful tasting medicine during cold and flu season illustrates the point. While the tastebuds distinguish between salty, sweet, bitter and sour the nose is far more sensitive and can discriminate among 100’s of different substances. We smell and taste the flavor of our food at the same time because the nose and mouth share an air passage known as the pharynx. Ingredients like lemon extract and lemon oil add aroma. In small doses it’s a good thing. I think Starbuck’s is using too much of a good thing in their cake recipe. Okay, enough science lets get down to the recipe.

IMG_9143

Second try using lemon pudding mix and a soaking lemon glaze. Taste testers like it. Still not enough lemon punch and a bit dense in my opinion. Find the recipe below.

In an attempt to enhance the lemon flavor I try instant lemon pudding in the next test plus a soaking lemon glaze. This cake bakes up dark and a bit dense. All the taste testers like it, but I don’t love it.

IMG_1214

Buttery light cake with a wallop of real lemon flavor

 

So, onto test #3. This is it. The goal is to eliminate the processed ingredients and create a buttery light cake with that punch in your face, lip-smakin’, pucker power fresh lemon flavor that make your shoulders shiver. It might not be yours, but it is my favorite lemon loaf cake. If you try it I would love to hear your honest opinion. I can thank one of my dessert heroes, Maida Heatter, for the inspiration.

IMG_9190

soaked in glaze

The Best Darn Lemon Cake

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Maida Heatter’s New Book of Great Desserts

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup sugar

grated zest of 2 large lemons

2 eggs

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons lemon extract

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup almond flour

Glaze

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup sugar

Icing(optional)

1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter

½ cup powdered sugar

pinch of fine sea salt

3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350F. Butter an 8 ½ x 4 ½-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a strip of parchment paper leaving a 1-inch overhang. Butter the parchment or use a no-stick spray. In small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add zest and eggs; blend well. Add 1/3rd of flour mixture, alternating with half the milk, blending well after each addition and scraping bottom of the bowl. Add lemon extract and lemon juice; blend well. Stir in almond flour. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 65 to 70 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. The cake should have cracks in the top. Transfer cake in pan to a cooling rack. For glaze: heat lemon juice and sugar together in small saucepan, stirring, just until sugar is dissolved. While cake is still hot in pan slowly brush the glaze over top of cake until it is absorbed. The cracks in the cake are a gateway to the inside, so no need to poke holes all over it unless you are in a hurry. Let cake cool completely before lifting it from the pan using the parchment paper as handles. Makes 8 to 10 slices.

If you like icing just mix the butter, powdered sugar and salt together and then add enough lemon juice to create the desired consistency. Spread over the top and let set.

IMG_1226

Lemon Loaf with Pudding in the Mix

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 (3.4 oz) instant lemon pudding mix

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup canola oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons lemon extract

3 eggs

zest of 2 lemons

1/3 cup buttermilk

Glaze

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Icing

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven 350F. Spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with no-stick baking spray. Line pan with a strip of parchment paper with a 1-inch overhang. Lightly coat parchment with baking spray. In bowl, whisk flour, pudding mix, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In stand mixer, beat butter, oil and sugar until combined. Add vanilla and lemon extract, eggs and lemon zest; blend well. Add half the flour mixture; blend just until moistened. Add buttermilk; blend well. Add remaining flour mixture just until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cover with foil last 10 minutes if browning too much. Transfer cake in pan to a cooling rack. Prepare glaze. In small saucepan, over medium heat, stir sugar and lemon juice just until sugar is dissolved. Brush glaze over loaf while it is still warm. Cool completely. Using parchment overhang as handles lift cake from pan. Peel off parchment and place on serving plate. For icing mash butter, powdered sugar and salt together with the back of a spoon until well blended. Add just enough lemon juice, stirring, to desired icing consistency. I like it lemony. You can substitute milk if you don’t like so much lemon, but then why are you here? (LOL)

IMG_1212

Note that Starbuck’s bakes in a narrow pan to get that height

And as an added bonus for all you Gluten-Free foodies check out my friend Kim’s blog for a delicious dairy free, gluten free version of the best darn blueberry lemon loaf. Just click on this link: The Gluten Free Gathering

Garden Fresh Fig Coffee Cake

fullsizeoutput_4eff

I never dreamed that I would ever be able to grow fresh figs until this move to southeast Pennsylvania. The climate here is warmer and the growing season longer. With a little winter protection my fig trees have thrived. As grocery produce goes they are a pricey commodity, so it’s a great example of why tending a small backyard garden is worth it. Here we are on the edge of November and these fresh figs are ripening fast and furious.

fullsizeoutput_4ef9

Once picked figs don’t last long. They are quite perishable. We love them sliced and caramelized in butter with goat cheese and balsamic glaze, but we can only eat so many that way. Simmering a large pot of figs with honey and orange yielded two nice jars of jam. Still so many figs, so I baked a fresh fig cake recipe that I present today.

fullsizeoutput_4efb

This is a dense fruit cake filled with toasted pecans, chopped dates, dried cranberries and the fresh figs. It’s flavored with cardamom, citrus zest and a little orange liqueur. It is a moist cake that is delicious for breakfast topped with plain Greek yogurt or can be served as an elegant after dinner dessert topped with whipped cream.

fullsizeoutput_4efc

Garden Fresh Fig Cake

1 cup dried sweetened cranberries

1/2 cup pitted dates, quartered

2 tablespoons orange liqueur or orange juice

3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups canola

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

3 eggs

1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

 

12 ripe figs, quartered

Heat oven to 350F. Spray a coffee cake pan with no-stick baking spray. In small bowl, toss cranberries, dates and orange liqueur or juice; reserve. In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cardamom; set aside. In large mixing bowl, beat sugar, oil and orange zest on high speed for 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; blend well. With mixer on low speed gradually add flour mixture blending just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in pecans and reserved dried fruit mixture. Spread half the batter evenly over bottom of pan. Evenly space half the figs on the batter. Spread remaining batter over figs. Top with remaining figs. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate and then invert again on to a cooling rack. I prefer the fig side up.

fullsizeoutput_4efd

I prefer to flip this over and serve it fig side up

 

Following In His Light Creates A Winning Recipe

IMG_6744

Recipe contests aren’t what they used to be. In the olden days (going back 30 years) I could create a recipe, type it up and snail mail it to the sponsor. On occasion, I did need to include a UPC symbol as proof of purchase, but that was about it. All of my creative energy actually went into developing a tasty recipe and finishing it off with a clever name. There were big cash prizes, fabulous vacations and even a Harley Davidson to be won back in those times.

fullsizeoutput_43ea

Over the years entering recipe contests has gotten more complicated, time consuming and competitive. Social media and the economy have played a huge part in how a sponsor may present a contest. The expectations are much higher. The work much greater. If I wanted to be in it to win it then I would need to stop living in the past and make some big changes.

fullsizeoutput_43f4

Learning food styling and food photography is paramount if one wants to enter recipe contests these days. Just about every contest now requires a photo. Eat with your eyes first has a whole new meaning, but what it takes to capture a truly stunning, mouth-watering, I want to eat my computer food photo is so much more than a click on the iPhone. Professional food stylists and photographers earn every penny and have my utmost admiration.

IMG_6746

Truth be told food photography is not only difficult, but also expensive. Cameras, lenses, tripods, lighting, props….the list is endless. I resisted investing in it and sadly myself for a long time. It was not only the money that held me back, but more a total lack of confidence that I could actually learn to take a good picture. Like everything else these days it’s technical and I am not wired that way. I knew it would be a difficult challenge.

IMG_9151

Quite frankly it scared me, but a great teacher changed all that. A gentle motivator and filled with kind encouragement Christina leads and facilitates a food photography group on Facebook. I lurked in her group for months reading and learning from the members. They range from amateurs to professionals and are a generous group when it comes to sharing food photography tips and tricks. Christina also has a blog covering just about every food photography subject one can imagine and in language one like me can understand. The more I lurked the more I thought it might be possible for me to upgrade from my iPhone and get on the fine food photography band wagon.

IMG_6832

I still have a long way to go when it comes to food photography, but I have been so over the moon since Eggland’s Best chose me as their grand prize winner in their “foodtography” recipe contest. As always hard work pays off. I’m just really proud of myself for stepping outside the comfort zone to learn something I never thought I could. Following in his light has its rewards.

Thank you Eggland’s Best for this challenge. Thank you Christina for being the most encouraging teacher. Thank you to all my family and friends and even strangers who voted for my photo and helped get me into the winner’s circle. Thank you always to my children who inspire me beyond words. These days it does seem to take a village to win a recipe contest.

fullsizeoutput_43e4

Thank you Eggland’s Best

I love this cake for its ease of preparation and deliciously healthy ingredient list. Decorate it with your favorite fresh fruit and own artistic flair. Send me a photo please!

Fruit & Yogurt Smoothie Bowl Cake

1¼-cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup almond flour

1-tablespoon chia seeds plus additional for garnish

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 Eggland’s Best Eggs

1-cup sugar

1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt (I use 2% fat), divided

½ cup canola oil

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 to 1 ½ -tablespoons honey

fresh sliced fruit and chopped toasted chopped almonds for garnish

Heat oven 350F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with no-stick baking spray. In large bowl, whisk flour, almond flour, chia seeds, baking powder and salt until mixed. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar,1-cup yogurt, oil, lemon zest and almond extract until well blended. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk until batter is smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap pan on counter a few times to remove any air bubbles and evenly distribute batter. Bake cake in center of oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out cake and cool completely. Mix remaining ½ cup of yogurt with ½-tablespoon of honey; spread over center of cake leaving about a 1-inch border. Decorate top with sliced fresh fruit, toasted almonds and chia seeds. Drizzle with remaining honey.

img_7480.jpg