5.26.2009

turn life into cake.

I'm a believer. Not just in the tooth fairy or Santa Clause, but in cake. I'm certain that for every mood that could ever strike, it could be expressed in some combination of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. It goes beyond, "Hey, I'm in the mood for some German Chocolate cake" or "You know what would be really good right now? A slice of red velvet with cream cheese frosting." It's about making someone feel what you feel, and doing it at 350 degrees. Because to me, it's much easier to explain the way I feel in baked goods than it is in words. If it's a dark chocolate flourless g√Ęteau, served bare naked (save for a little confectioners sugar on top), that says "I look like I'm not thinking about much, but it's much more complicated than that."

Where do I get this knack for flipping moods into sweets? I have no clue, but I can assure you it's not from my father. He's too easy for that sort of thing, his tastes are too simple. There are two things in life that will turn my rough-around-the-edges father into pliable putty faster than you can say "buttercream": his girls (Mom, me, baby sister) and the whirring sound of the Kitchen Aid that brings him shuffling into the kitchen in his untucked t-shirts to find out what's in the mixing bowl. Not to say that his palate is all that refined, I've found noisy plastic liners holding stale Oreo cookies underneath the seats of his truck, their black crumbs forming a small army next to the gear shifter. He's generally not impressed with complicated desserts, he's a fiend for the basics: apple cobbler, double chocolate cake, and sugar cookies.

But in his constant flip-flopping between diet and dessert, he too often trades in the protein shakes and barbells for a fork and cold milk. So while waiting to have my teeth cleaned last January, I found a recipe in Family Circle magazine for Moist Lemon Cake. The picture alone made my mouth water (good thing the dentist office is well equipped for situations like this). I thought of my Dad, who has a knack for the lemony zing of
Martha Stewart's Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies, and how much he might like it. When I whipped it up the next day, he happened to be back in Barbell Mode, and loudly complained: I'm really trying to watch what I eat. You know that's my favorite cake! I grinned, especially considering I'd never even made that cake.

Needless to say, around 11:32 p.m. that night, his sweet tooth got the best of him and I could hear this thick feet padding across the kitchen floor and the gentle snapping sound of the plastic Tupperware lid coming unlatched from over the cake. To hell with self-control.

I've made a couple of tweaks to this recipe to make it more lemony, Dad likes his flavors big. Like muscles on protein.


Moist Lemon Cake
Inspired by Family Circle magazine

For the cake:

1 lemon (use zest for the cake, juice for the frosting)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
6 ounces lemon yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon extract (I use
Watkins, the other brands tasted chemical-ish)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 3/4 cups white sugar
3 large eggs


For the frosting:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
16 ounces confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from cake)
3 drops yellow food coloring (optional)


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line pans with parchment paper; spray paper with more cooking spray.

In medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a measuring cup, whisk together milk, yogurt and vanilla. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. On low speed, beat flour mixture into butter mixture in three additions, alternating with milk mixture. Beat well after each addition and then fold in the zest. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans.

Bake layers at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until cake springs back when pressed lightly. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully invert cake layers directly onto racks, remove and discard parchment paper and let layers cool completely.

To frost: Once layers are cool, beat butter, 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar and the reserved lemon juice (about 2 tablespoons) in a large bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in remaining confectioners' sugar until it's smooth and creamy wihout lumps. (I whip it at full-blast for about 3 minutes after each additional cup of sugar.) Tint with a few drops of food coloring, if you have skeptics who are not convinced white frosting could be lemon flavored. To frost cake, place one layer on a plate or stand. Spread top of layer with 1 cup frosting. Stack second cake layer on first and frost sides.


Note: Dad likes his with sweetened shredded coconut on the top and sides, but Mom will fight him to the death on it. We usually settle for half.

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