Perfect Lemon Cake

26 Mar

I noticed yesterday that the leaves on the Japanese red maple tree outside my dining room window have burst open from their buds. This makes me a bit giddy for two reasons: First, I wanted a Japanese red maple for years and finally received one as a Mother’s Day gift, and it’s right outside that window where I can see it from both my dining room and my kitchen, turning my happy place even happier this time of year (I am not a gardener–things that spring alive with color year after year without any intervention on my part are my favorites). And second, it’s the last tree in our yard to leaf out. When its little red leaves pop open, spring is officially here. And that, my friends, means it’s time for lemon. Lots and lots of lemon.

I become a lemon freak when the weather turns warm and the trees get their leaves and things seem lighter and fresher all-around. Salmon with lemon. Pasta with lemon. Asparagus with lemon. Lemon everywhere, and especially mixed with flour and sugar and butter and eggs, because lemon cake is among the most perfectly perfect desserts this time of year. This one I especially like because it’s light and airy and doesn’t put me into a food coma half an hour after eating a slice (or two).

I made this for dinner with friends on Friday night. It took about 10 minutes to put together the cake, which I cooled, wrapped in plastic, and let sit on my counter overnight; this is a great trick with anything lemon, because it lets that amazing citrus flavor develop and shine. The next morning, the icing came together in five minutes (Side note: this is the most amazing lemon frosting I’ve ever tried. I could easily eat it all by itself with a spoon and be very very happy). The cake was frosted, wrapped gently, and put in the fridge to await dinner.

This really is best served cold. It also dries out after day 3, mostly because you only frost the top of the layers, leaving the cake’s sides exposed. I doubt eating it all before then will be a problem. The recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, and I haven’t changed a thing except some of the more onerous directions that seemed pointless to me (we’ll talk about that soon). Definitely worth adding to your personal recipe box–it’s a favorite around here. To make it, you need:

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar mixed into enough regular milk to measure 2 cups)
The zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
The zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray two 8-inch round baking pans with Baker’s Joy or another flour-added spray.

Beat sugar and butter together until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in your eggs.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour and all of your baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then mix in your buttermilk (or substitute), and then mix in the last cup of flour–stir in the flour on your mixer’s lowest speed so it stays light and fluffy and doesn’t activate the glutens. Finally, stir in your lemon zest and juice.

Split your batter between the two pans. Give each one a good, firm whack on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles (this helps you get an even-topped cake). Bake for about a half-hour, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let cool, wrap, and leave on your counter overnight (if you have overnight–if not, just let them cool all the way before you frost them).

To make the frosting, dump all of your ingredients into your mixer and let it beat it all together. Gently frost the top of your bottom cake layer, then carefully stack the layers and frost the top of layer #2. Wrap carefully and store in the refrigerator.

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One Response to “Perfect Lemon Cake”

  1. Ali March 26, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    This sounds delicious!! Happy Spring and all things lemon to you!!

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