Friday, May 13, 2011

Lemon Loaf Cake

This was my contribution to Mother's Day. My parents were planning a summery barbeque of beer can chicken, asparagus, and roasted potatoes for their moms, so the only thing left was for me to bring dessert. I saved this recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: from my Home to Yours and it seemed like just the right thing to finish a springtime meal. Plus, I liked that the smaller size made it just right for a dinner party of six guests, with a couple of slices leftover.

Dorie says this recipe is completely fool-proof, and I have to believe that it is. It was so easy to make, that I ended up making a second one as soon as the first went into the oven, and played with some of the flavors and proportions such that loaf #2 was more of an orange bread than a lemon cake. (That one I sent with Will for my mother-in-law.) I didn't actually get to try that one, but Will tasted both on the same day and told me each is worth repeating. For dessert though, definitely stick to the recipe as written for a moist, sweet, and flavorful cake.

French Yogurt Cake with Marmelade Glaze
by Dorie Greenspan, from "Baking: From My Home to Yours" (page 224-5)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
grated zest of one lemon (I used a large one)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup flavorless oil

1/2 cup lemon marmelade, strained
1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter a 8.5" x 4.5" loaf pan and place on a baking sheet.
Whisk together flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt.
Put sugar and zest in a medium bowl and blend together with fingertips until sugar is moist and aromatic. Add yogurt, eggs, and vanilla and whisk vigorously until well blended. Add dry ingredients, then fold in oil with a rubber spatula. Scrape into the pan.
Bake 50-55 minutes, until cake begins to pull away from edges of pan, and tester comes out clean.
Cool on rack for 5 minutes, then invert and cool completely.
Mix together strained marmelade and water and brush over cooled cake.

Trader Joe's sells ground almonds in the baking section as "almond meal" and it makes it so easy for recipes like this one - no food processor needed! Lemons come in so many sizes, and I was at a bit of a loss for how much "zest from one lemon" should be, but I was pleased with the amount of punch from using one large lemon. As for the oil, I decided to go with olive oil; not "flavorless" by any stretch, but often found as a delightful combination with lemon cake. I did not notice the flavor in the finished cake at all, so I was glad I chose this mildly more heart-healthy type of fat.

I was certain I would be able to find lemon marmelade at my trusted Central Market, but surprisingly, they had ultra-high end lime and "3 citrus" marmelades, but no lemon. So I decided to go for the known quality of Bonne Maman orange marmelade, and instead of thinning with water, I used freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 the lemon, so it was probably thinner than the glaze called for by the recipe.) Just a dusting of powdered sugar made this cake charming to serve and delicious to eat. Simple, but so moist, with a lemony tang and a rich texture from the nut batter.

As I mixed in the oil in the final stage, the batter seemed incredibly greasy, and the oil barely incorporated. I felt it was surely a mistake. I was wrong; the finished cake was moist but not at all greasy. Nevertheless, seeing the oily batter is actually what inspired me to make a second loaf, so I could see what happens to the recipe by cutting back a bit on some of  the fat. I mostly followed the recipe again, but substituted tangerine zest for the lemon. Because I figured that would be sweeter than the tart lemon, I also cut back the sugar to 3/4 cup, replaced the vanilla with orange liqueur, and reduced the oil (olive oil) to 1/3 cup. This loaf turned out probably  much more like a quick bread, but deserves on its own merits to stay in the recipe arsenal.

Update: August, 2012 I made the loaf with low-fat vanilla yogurt and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries.

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