Sunshine Stand In
February 18, 2008
In the first eight days of February, Chicago had eleven minutes of sunshine. Eleven. Out of almost 12,000 minutes. Ten days later, the situation has not improved. It’s precisely this travesty that I think explains my recent lemon lust. If the skies refuse to cooperate, I simply have to find my sunshine elsewhere.
And I think a fruit the color and brightness of the allegedly-still-in-existence sun seems to be just as good a substitute source as any. You see, I tried a couple other citrus fruits. The lime made a brief and must-ballyhooed appearance in January. And then there was the ill-fated attempt at grapefruit sorbet a brief while later.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
But I guess it took the extreme sun deprivation that has been February for me to find the sunniest citrus fruit of all. The one that would have me closing my eyes, savoring each bite and day dreaming of flip flops, sun glasses and a hot, smoking grill. The fruit that would have me envisioning long evenings, cool drinks and winter coats stashed deep, deep in the back of the closet. The yellow wedges that could make baseball games, SPF and open windows seem just around the corner.
I told you, it’s a severe case of lust. So, after the cheesecake that begat this love affair, I was thrilled to find another use for the lemon. And this lemon poppy seed pound cake was a wonderful showcase for my sunshine-stand in. The lemon asserts its bright tang through the lemon zest that infuses the loaf as it bakes. And then there’s the lemon syrup that drenches the cake just as soon as it comes out of the oven. Not only does it make for a glistening loaf, but it also permeates each crunchy-poppy-seed bite with a sweet lemony-ness. Who needs the sun with a cake like this?
Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake
The Cake Bible via Epicurious
All ingredients should be at room temperature.
3 tablespoons milk (1.5 ounces = 45 grams)
3 large eggs (scant 5 fluid ounces = 5.25 ounces = 150 grams, weighed without shells)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla (6 grams)
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder (3.7 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon loosely packed grated lemon zest (6 grams)
3 tablespoons poppy seeds (1 ounce = 28 grams)
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, must be softened (6.5 ounces = 184 grams)
1/4 + 2 tablespoons sugar (2.75 ounces = 75 grams)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 ounces = 63 grams)
One 8-inch by 4-inch by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan (4 cups) — most attractive size — or any 6-cup loaf or fluted tube pan, greased and floured. If using a loaf pan, grease it, line the bottom with parchment or wax paper, and then grease again and flour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl lightly combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients, including the lemon zest and poppy seeds, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 minute to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.
Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. The batter will be almost 1/2 inch from the top of a 4-cup loaf pan. (If your pan is slightly smaller, use any excess batter for cupcakes.) Bakes 55 to 65 minutes (35 to 45 minutes in a fluted tube pan) or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with buttered foil after 30 minutes to prevent overbrowning. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
To get an attractive split down the middle of the crust, wait until the natural split is about to develop (about 20 minutes) and then with a lightly greased sharp knife or a single-edged razor blade make a shallow mark about 6 inches long down the middle of the cake. This must be done quickly so that the oven door does not remain open very long or the cake will fall. When cake splits, it will open along the mark.
Shortly before the cake is done, prepare the Lemon Syrup:
In a small pan over medium heat, stir the sugar and lemon juice until dissolved. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, place the pan on a rack, poke the cake all over with a wire tester, and brush it with 1/2 the syrup. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a spatula and invert it onto a greased wire rack. Poke the bottom of the cake with the wire tester, brush it with some syrup, and reinvert onto a greased wire rack. Brush the sides with the remaining syrup and allow to cool before wrapping airtight. Store 24 hours before eating to give the syrup a chance to distribute evenly. The syrup will keep the cake fresh a few days longer than a cake without syrup.