The Best Darn Lemon Cake

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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.

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~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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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

Fake News in Recipes

fullsizeoutput_52bcFood for thought or a rant? In the spirit of William I do this. William could recognize a fake, a fraud and a phony from a mile away and he always had the courage to call someone out on it. In fact, he did it without hesitation. Not a great way to make friends, but if you were to run your life being fake he wanted nothing to do with you.

So this is a cautionary tale about food blogging and how to avoid the fake, fraud and failure recipes on the web.

For those who make a living at it, the food blog world is a numbers game. When a blogger has a high number (in the thousands) of followers throughout the social media channels that attracts advertisers and sponsors. It makes sense. The higher your numbers the more opportunities to make money. Most of the excellent blogs have built their businesses on good practice of tested recipes and great writing. Their numbers have grown in a most organic and appropriate way. A reward for honest, hard work is always a good thing and to be admired. A job well done pays off.

Sadly, there are many other ways to build your social media numbers that has nothing to do with creating and sharing good recipes and writing. It’s all about networking and if you can imagine “buying” followers. I can’t tell you how many times I have been offered “hundreds of new followers” for a price or how many people have offered to “follow me” if I simply follow them back. Thousands!

Now here is the thing. While I am 100% opposed to purchasing followers, I am not opposed to following others as long as we share a common interest. However, when I do follow and then shortly thereafter that person unfollows me that just screams fake. That blogger is simply trying to increase numbers in a phony way. Do you know there is an APP for exposing fakers? Right now that App shows about 69 food bloggers who pulled that stunt on me with Instagram in the last month.

Luckily, my blog is not a business, so worrying about numbers is not an issue, but worrying about great content in my blog and others is. So, recently when a non-blogger friend who happens to be an excellent baker posted a failure of a lemon loaf on FB this rant kind of came out of me. The recipe came from a popular blog site and had made its way around the Internet in full beautiful photos. My friend wondered what she had done wrong in spite of following the recipe exactly as written. Well, she did nothing wrong. It was the recipe that was flawed. It was probably never tested. It was clear that the leavening and oil content were way off base and explained why the center of the loaf collapsed into a deep crater. A sad waste of expensive ingredients and time and a sad commentary on that food blog.

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So beware Internet recipes. Know your sources and if on a blog read the comments. If all the comments are like “Oh that looks yummy” you might want to skip it. If the comments give critiques or advice as if real people have tried the recipe it is a much safer bet. If you ever try one of my recipes and there is a problem or success please come back and let me know. It is such a compliment to have you even try the recipe that the last thing I want is for you to be unhappy about it.

Food for thought or a rant? Either way I followed in his light and that is all that matters. Next week I hope to post this lemon loaf recipe without the rant. While I fixed the structure of the cake it still lacks the lemon punch in the face that I love. I think it needs one of those lemon glazes poured over it while it sits in the pan still warm.

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Udon Mushroom Wedding Soup

This is the Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge. I had delicious fun creating my signature soup inspired by my Italian roots and my home-town. I hope you will give it a try on one of these chilly winter days. It’s NOODLEISIOUS!

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Last week I was rushing through an airport when I came upon an Asian noodle bar beckoning me in to build my own soup bowl. Oh, what I would have given to have been able to have the time to sit and enjoy my own personalized noodle soup, but airplanes do not wait. I snapped a couple of pictures and off to Gate 28 I went.

 

Back home to chilly Pennsylvania I can’t stop thinking how great it would be to have that noodle bar right in my own kitchen. Picture steaming hot, flavorful broth, fresh noodles and an array of toppings to satisfy everyone’s tastes served up in minutes. It’s like the perfect restaurant meal only it’s in my house.

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Hello Fortune Udon Noodles. Like the finest fresh restaurant noodles Fortune makes it easy to enjoy a personalized bowl of nutritious and comforting noodle soup at home. Quick soups in five flavors only require your favorite fresh vegetables and/or proteins to top it off. Find them in your grocer’s refrigerated produce section and you will never do restaurant take-out again.

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Being from Kennett Square (aka the mushroom capital of the world) there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to try Fortune’s Udon Mushroom Flavor. It’s earthy rich broth and fresh udon noodles make the perfect base for my blended mini mushroom meatballs. Add a few fresh vegetables to brighten it all up and talk about delicious Udon soup in minutes.

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Udon Mushroom Wedding Soup

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 ounces shitake mushrooms, very finely chopped

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sesame oil

4 ounces lean ground beef

¼ cup panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 package (7.27 oz) Fortune Udon Mushroom Flavor

Garnishes: fresh cilantro, sliced mushrooms, bell pepper strips, sesame seeds

In non-stick skillet, over medium heat, cook mushrooms and garlic in sesame oil for 3 to 4 minutes or until just golden brown and mushrooms have released their liquid. In medium bowl, combine mushroom mixture, ground beef, panko, green onion, egg and salt until well blended. Using a small cookie scoop shape mixture into 12 meatballs. Brown meatballs on all sides in same skillet and continue cooking until fully cooked through. Meanwhile, cook Udon noodles according to package directions for stove top. Ladle noodles and soup into 2 serving bowls. Top with meatballs, cilantro, fresh mushrooms, pepper strips and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. 

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For more information and delicious recipes check these out.

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