Last week I was sat in a coffee shop in Calgary before I started work, sipping on a cup of coffee that was somewhere between insipid and heart-attack creamy, picking at a lemon cake tenuously. The place I happened to be at was not my usual (if I can even call it that) haunt for coffee, but it was convenient, warm and had free wifi – a necessity of a traveller with no phone plan. So I sat, sugar syrup stuck to my fingertips, feeling quite sick and generally unfulfilled. I missed the days of tart lemon syrup, soaked into soft, billowing sponge. Alas, it’s not the same, and whenever I enter these moments of disillusionment, I find I end up back at the same place in my brain, where I realise that it’s generally just easier gathering all the information that I can find, and doing it myself.
I can deal with bad food, I don’t like it, but I can deal with it. The thing that I hate most of all is boring food, food that is labelled as, lets say, lemon, but tastes more like sugar that once-upon-a-time may have spent a night sat next to a bottle of lemon juice in the cupboard.
This is where I make a stand, if you don’t have lemons, you cannot make this cake. If you don’t have unwaxed lemons, you’re going to have a tough time making this cake. Lemon has become a staple sweet flavour in so many places, and yet I still find myself disappointed every time I eat a slice/hunk/spoonful.
The recipe I am going to bequeath unto you today has been through so many revisions and notes, that it is entirely newbie-proof. If you follow the instructions! It has been in the baking-rotation since I was 17, it is very, very well seasoned recipe, and I’m glad to say that it is totally butch, in the lemon department. As a lemon cake should be I suppose. The name is still a nod to a good friend of mine, whom named it 2 years ago.
Makes enough for a loaf or 2 dozen small chunks (ish)
230g self raising flour
230g golden caster sugar, you can use granulated if that’s all you have.
230g softened unsalted butter
Rinds and juice of two un-waxed juicy lemons (pick your mind up out of the gutter!)
Three tablespoons caster sugar (this one, however does need to be caster)
This cake is ridiculously easy to make, and quite quick to boot.
– Firstly, preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4/160C (fan assisted oven) and line a square tin. It doesn’t really matter how big the tin is, if you want smaller bites, use a bigger tin, if you want more of a thicker cake, use a smaller one, or you can make a loaf.
– Cream the butter and sugar together until it’s nice and creamy. Add the eggs one by one, mixing in between. If it starts to curdle at any point whip a bit of flour in there to help if combine a little easier, it helps to keep the batter smooth and to keep the doubtful “Is it really meant to look like this?” thoughts at bay.
– Fold in the flour, if you were using an electric mixer up until now, it’s time to use a human touch, just so you don’t knock every ounce of air out of it.
– When the flour is almost completely gone, add in the rind and stir in until all is well combined.
NB on the rinds by the way: if you’re grating with a box grater, use the smallest one you have at your disposal, otherwise you might end up chewing on a big chunky bit of rind, might be nice for some, possibly not for others, so make sure it’s nice and fine.
– Pour it all into the prepared tin and bake for about 35-50 minutes, depending on the size of your cake tin. If it’s quite a shallow, keep an eye on it, checking every two or three minutes after the 35 minute mark, it shouldn’t go too dark brown. It should be a light golden colour.
– Once cooked to perfection, take a wooden skewer, or a thin knife and poke lots of holes in the top, to help the syrup soak all the way to the bottom.
– Mix the caster sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl. Spoon liberally over the cake, getting it into all the nooks and crannies. It’ll probably run to the side of the cake tin but it’s not a big deal.
– Leave to cool completely in the tin and until the sugar syrup has crystallised and set. You can add a second simple lemon and icing sugar drizzle over the top for decoration if you’re that way inclined.
Optional extra: If, by some minor miracle, there is any of this cake left and it’s starting to go a bit stale (usually around 4th day), you can pop it under the grill to toast lightly, it’s not a bread so it won’t be crunchy, but some of the sugar will caramelise lightly on the top and it is delicious with fresh berries and simple whipped vanilla cream (don’t burn it!). If I was a lady of leisure, I would brunch the hell out of this loaf.