WELL. Here we are. A handful of days into January and in the thick of winter. The cold, long, sometimes snowy but mostly just icy and blow-y part. Bah. Having left California for the Midwest a couple months back, we knew these days would come. All in all, it’s not too bad. Wait, strike that. What I mean is that when the days are freezing and I’m warm in the house and I can sit in my favorite chair by the front window with a book and watch the snow fall, with a hot cup of coffee and both kids in school, it’s not too bad. Or when the only logical thing to do is make a pot roast and drink a little too much red wine for a weeknight (it’s about survival, after all), it’s certainly not so bad. Cozy and lovely, even.
But when it’s a HIGH of ONE and you have to push your California-grown dog by the rump in order to get him to relieve himself on the frigid lawn instead of in your basement when you’re not looking, or bandage two cranky, bored children in down just to run to the store for milk, prior to cloaking yourself Arctic-style, winter can shove it. I suppose I’ll get into a rhythm with these wintry tasks eventually and it will all seem like just a normal thing one does when you live in a place that actually has seasons, but for now, I’m not quite there.
For example, the first few times I was approaching the outdoor winter dressing much like one would when a plane loses oxygen: secure your parka and ski mask first before assisting children and all of that. But then I realized that yanking children’s winter clothing onto a wriggling unwilling subject, what with all the little thick sleeves and tiny boots and straps and pulleys and levers involved, basically leaves you cursing like a sailor and feeling like you’ve accepted a double dare in a sauna when you’re wearing five layers yourself. So now I dress myself last, while two small people wait by the front door, doing a whiny, hot, highly insulated tap dance. There’s got to be a better way. Until then, I’ve been baking to cope. Reasonable.
This cake is a twist on my go-to pound cake, which never lets me, or anyone else, down. Just swap out half the sour cream (or Greek yogurt) for fresh lemon juice, and add lots of lemon zest. Then chain yourself to something heavy to avoid rushing the oven as a citrusy-vanilla perfume fills the kitchen. The icing is a simple confectioners’ sugar glaze, made thicker and sturdier with a spoonful of meringue powder, which gives body without having to add more sugar and sweetness to the icing. (Not a fan of glazes so sugary they make your teeth hurt? This trick is for you.) Sugar flowers are optional and a bit twee, I admit, but they add a little bit of pretty to an otherwise dreary day. And in mid-January, I’ll take all the pretty I can get.
Lemony Iced Pound Cake
I love the old-fashioned quality of this cake: dense but soft, with a tight velvety crumb. You can easily forgo the icing here, but I love how the opaque, bright-white coating adds even more lemon flavor and plenty of visual interest. To get the almost fondant look to the icing, I whisk in a spoonful of meringue powder or powdered egg whites until the glaze begins to thicken. I like King Arthur Flour meringue powder, or Just Whites, which is widely available in grocery stores.
I got my pretty sugar violets long ago from a cake decorating shop back in San Francisco, but I found some identical ones here.
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 ounces/180 grams) cake flour, spooned and leveled
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups (9 3/4 ounces/275 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup (2 ounces/57 grams) sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/4 cup (2 ounces/57 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the icing:
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces/120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon meringue powder or powdered egg whites (optional)
Position an oven rack to the lower third of the oven, and preheat it to 325°F. Grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, then sift it again with the salt and baking soda. (The easiest way to do this is to first sift the flour onto a large sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, set the sifter over a large bowl, then use the sheet to help pour the flour back into the sifter. Add the salt and baking soda to the flour in the sifter, then sift all the dry ingredients together into the bowl.)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract, and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl a couple of times during beating. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and beat in the eggs one and a time. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and lemon juice. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream mixture. Add the flour mixture gradually, mixing until the batter is smooth. Fold the batter gently by hand to make sure it’s well-blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before transferring the cake to a serving platter.
To make the icing, in a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, lemon juice, and salt until smooth. To give the icing a bit more body and a firmer set on the cake, whisk in the optional meringue powder or powdered egg whites vigorously, until you notice the icing begin to thicken. Pour the icing over the cake, and use a spoon to coax it even over the surface, letting the icing drip luxuriously down the sides of the cake. If decorating with sugar flowers, add them immediately. Let the icing set for about an hour at room temperature before slicing.
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