Archived entries for lemon

Hurricane Party: White Velvet (lemon) Cake

It’s a little embarrassing, but it is undoubtedly true: we city mice get a little het up when Mother Nature decides to throw a fit. We forget, here in our concrete and glass eyries, that her wrath is mighty, indeed; and so, when she gets angry, we tend to freak out just a little, because we have NO IDEA what to do. And so, we improvise (once we stop wringing our hands). If you’re the MTA, that means you shut down. If you’re a normal human being, you lay in a supply of water and canned goods. If you are a ridiculous human being, you stock up on vodka and cigarettes. If you are DOUBLE ridiculous, you go out into the storm with a cake.

Guess which category I fell in.


Well, what was I supposed to do? It was the first birthday of the world’s cutest baby. Like I could possibly let that go by unmarked? Pssh. No no. Little C was going to have birthday cake, no matter what Irene had to say about it! And so, I spent the beginning of my hurricane shepherding a pearlescent, violet-covered lemon cake down to south Brooklyn. I was the recipient of a surprising amount of commentary on the way from fans of my “hurricane cake” (Personal favorite: “Yeah, that’s right! We’re New Yorkers! Irene can’t take away our cake, am I right?”); never let it be said that Brooklyn doesn’t know how to appreciate baked goods.

The journey, however, was not the complicated part. The complicated part was digging up a recipe for lemon cake that would satisfy me. You may have gathered by now that I am…the slightest bit persnickety when it comes to cake. I want it dense. I want it moist. I don’t want any of this airy-fairy sponge cake bullshit. No no. I want cake with HEFT. However, there aren’t a lot of white cakes out there that fit the bill; as such, I’m sure you can imagine my elation when I stumbled across a recipe for white velvet cake(!). Given my well-documented obsession with red velvet cake, I could not help but take the discovery of this recipe as a sign from the heavens–and I am going to stick with that assessment.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

You see, this cake was, in a word, BODACIOUS. Honestly. Rich, moist, flavorful, just-dense-enough…completely amenable to a little last minute citrus-related transmogrification… Without question, my new go-to white cake. With. Out. Question. Little C’s mama, Lady A, has remarked on more than one occasion that this cake has been haunting her dreams–it’s that good. Which it is. It really, really is.

Which I guess is the silver lining to an entire city being completely unprepared for a hurricane: fewer people out and about with whom to fight over the last slice!

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Put a little sunshine in my soul: Sticky lemon rolls

The perfect Saturday is an elusive thing, not least because it is so fluid by nature; everyone’s perfect is different, and everyone’s perfect is totally subject to circumstance. Sometimes the perfect Saturday is a sunny barbecue in the park; others, it involves a cup of cocoa, a good book, and a howling rainstorm outside that you don’t have to go out into.

If you’re talking last Saturday, however, I’d say you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better combination than the one I had, which started with a visit to see King Tut with Biscuit (causing my inner Egyptophile to squee with delight) and ended with japanese food and homemade lemon rolls in the company of delightful Lady A. It was a multitiered day, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you which was my favorite part.

So, we’ll just talk about the lemon rolls.

These rolls have been a minor obsession since the first time I stumbled across them on The Kitchn–constructed like cinnamon rolls, these yeasty critters are a direct shot of sticky, sweet, summery goodness, oozing lemon-nutmeg (yes, lemon nutmeg. Unconventional, but so, so lovely) syrup and slathered in a cream cheese frosting; they’re unlike anything you’ve ever tried. They’re light (but not too light), chewy, and delicious. And, I suspect, they’ll freeze pretty well.
At least, I hope they will–these are meant to be my contribution to A’s upcoming baby shower (of which I am, ostensibly, one of the co-chairs), but a smirking god of scheduling saw fit to schedule a very important Band Event in Las Vegas for the same weekend, which will place me in a completely different time zone during what would have been prime baking hours. And so, I’ll be doing it in advance, parking the rolls in A’s freezer, and hoping for the best when I show up at her doorstep, fresh off the redeye, full of travel-induced goodwill and charm.
I’m really not too concerned, though–in my experience, yeasty things such as this tend to do alright in the freezer; just thaw them out in the fridge overnight before baking, if you can. They might emerge a little chewier for wear (which is probably better than I’ll be able to say for myself at that point), but hey. If they stay even half as good as they were fresh out of the oven, I think it’ll still be mighty fine–which will help me ensure that that Saturday makes its way onto the list of perfect Saturdays, leading (with luck) into what I hope will be a perfect Sunday.

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Inheritance: Sunny citrus pound cake

Though ten years ago I’d never have admitted it, the similarity between my mother and me is sometimes breathtakingly apparent. We are both opinionated and perhaps a touch bossy; our tempers are quick to fire and equally quick to cool; we’re the same height and have the same unruly hair. We are, at times, painfully stubborn. Most striking, however (at least, we’ve been told), are the eyes; our eyes are the exact same color, an identical shade of blue that has been sported by generations of women in our family. That’s right: the same golden blue that could laser the truth out of me when I was 14 was turned similarly upon my mother when she was a child, courtesy of my grandmother, Alice.

Lemon pound cake

The color of our eyes was not the only thing Alice passed down. It’s from her that I got my artistic tendencies; she was a painter, and did many beautiful renderings of my grandfather Harold’s beloved orchids. It’s from her that I also got my hypochondria (though hers was, admittedly, a more pronounced case that I hope is not my legacy) and, I suspect, my love for the sound of the German language. She had a penchant for fuchsia lipstick and blue jewelry that has recently made itself apparent in my own tastes, and an enthusiasm for cooking with sour cream that is replicating itself in my ever-growing obsession with Greek yogurt. While some of her sour cream experiments were…well…a bit on the more esoteric side (bacon-wrapped sour cream chicken, anyone?), she had one recipe that remains, to my way of thinking, the entire POINT of sour cream–an elegant, chewy, divine citrusy pound cake.

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More Winter Citrus: Meyer Lemon Pasta with Seared Scallops

A craving hit about 4pm. There was no way around it. I needed Meyer lemons, and nothing else would do. They’d be perfect in Amanda Hesser’s recipe for creamy lemon pasta with arugula. Imagine my delight when the first display in Whole Foods was a basket full of lemons and a big sign—Meyer lemons on sale! I happily snagged two…or so I thought.

In the grocery store, I often give myself permission to alter recipes beyond recognition. Creme fraiche is three dollars and packed with fat—no problem, I’ll use Fage yogurt! Real parmesan and arugula beyond my budget? (And I often feel like cooked arugula is a touch too bitter.) No worries, we have other hard cheese and vegetables at home. This continues until I have pretty much nothing a recipe calls for, except those precious Meyer lemons.

People who don’t live in New York may not have to wait in line 20 minutes to buy groceries. But that is not a rare occurence here, and I guess I’m getting used to it. The line at Trader Joe’s snakes around the entire store, and Whole Foods is a madhouse at prime hours. We have tiny refrigerators. We shop daily. So we wait in line with everyone else. When I finally reached the checkout counter, there was no turning back.

To my dismay, it turned out some of the lemons nested in that display, despite any signage to the contrary, were NOT Meyer lemons at all. I was heartbroken. I should have looked closer when I grabbed them. But with one tiny Meyer lemon, and one boring Eureka lemon, I had to soldier onward.

What I’m saying is this: this slightly disappointing meal was not Amanda Hesser’s fault. You should probably try her recipe, not mine. And you should check your lemons carefully before you wait in line.

The sauce wasn’t quite creamy or lemony enough. The peas and scallops didn’t really integrate together, and though each element was nice enough, it just didn’t cohere. But there is potential in this one, it’s worth trying another variation. A little salty proscuitto would certainly help. Or follow the recipe exactly for once.

Meyer Lemon Pasta with Seared Scallops
Adapted from Amanda Hesser

1 pound angel hair pasta
4 scallops per person
1/2 cup grated hard cheese + additional for serving
2 Meyer Lemons (I only had one, but you really should use 2)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed according to package directions.
3 slices proscuitto, in 1 inch pieces (recommended)
1/2 cup greek yogurt (or creme fraiche)
salt and pepper to taste

Zest the lemons and juice one of them. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta and prepare pasta (al dente) according to package directions. Remove small side muscle from scallops and discard. Heat a cast iron pan on high heat with a bit of olive oil. Salt and pepper scallops. Sear scallops to desired doneness (about 2 minutes per side, depending how hot your pan is.) Remove scallops and toss proscuitto strips briefly in hot pan. When pasta is cooked, reserve one cup of the pasta cooking water and drain pasta. Return pasta to cooking pot, add back in pasta water, yogurt, and toss to coat. Add lemon juice, zest, proscuitto strips, cheese, and peas, stirring and tossing to distribute sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with scallops on top.

Weekend Loafing: Meyer Lemon Poppyseed Yogurt Cake

I must confess, I have a weakness for Meyer lemons. The floral scent! The sweet juice! I nearly squealed when I spotted them at Whole Foods on Saturday.

I really try to buy only local produce, but I simply cannot resist these, even if they come from whatever faraway place (must be paradise.) I love them squeezed into salad dressing instead of vinegar, I love them mixed with fish or shrimp and avocados, I love them in a glass with seltzer, and pretty much any way they can be eaten/smelled/enjoyed. When it’s winter (which it is becoming, fast) you just need a little citrus pick-me-up.

Since I spotted cheap poppyseeds in bulk at an Indian grocery this morning, I knew that the second half of my prized Meyer lemon would have to appear in dessert. (The first half did its duty in arugula salad.) This delicately lemony loaf cake would also be a treat with raspberries (or raspberry sauce) on top, if you happen to have any in your freezer. Don’t skip the glaze, though, it gives an essential infusion of citrusy brightness. If you have extra lemons you could make the glaze all-lemon. I didn’t, so the glaze was a three citrus mix.

If you are a tea-taker, or a cake-for-brunch eater, this loaf would work for that, too.

Meyer Lemon Poppyseed Loaf
Adapted from Ina Garten and Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
one small container Fage Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated citrus zest (I used Meyer lemon and clementine)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 T poppyseeds
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed citrus juice (I used a mix of Meyer lemon, clementine, and lime juice)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 3/4 cup sugar, the eggs, oil, lemon zest, 1 T lemon juice, and vanilla. Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, making sure it’s all incorporated. Fold in the poppyseeds. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup citrus juice and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the glaze over the cake and allow it to soak in. (Deb suggests using a pastry brush works great for this, and making tiny holes with a toothpick to draw the syrup in better). Cool before serving.

Note: I’m sure you could use whole-milk yogurt to great success. But isn’t nonfat Greek yogurt miraculous? Such density and richness.

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