As my lovely friend and pastry chef extraordinaire Kathleen says, and as all good home bakers know, all sweets are formulas. Desserts are pure food science, which is what makes them so fun and so maddening.
One of my favourite formulas is the pound cake. In its purest form, a pound cake is a pound of eggs, a pound of butter, a pound of flour and a pound of sugar. I’ve never actually made a classic pound cake, although I love its OCD wacky precision. But a bastardised version of a pound cake is my go-to recipe when, like on Saturday, I need to whip up something sweet and don’t have a lot of time to spare. Chances are I have all the ingredients I need in my cupboard. (And chances are you do too.) This cake has a LOT of lemon in it, both zest and juice. I don’t deny that the lemon drizzle cake I spied, but didn’t get to eat, at Department of Coffee and Social Affairs on Friday may have been the reason I made this cake. It’s a nice cake. It is not low-fat.
For the cake
Two and ½ cups sifted all purpose flour plus additional flour for the cake pan
Two cups caster sugar
5 eggs, brought to room temperature
100 grams (or ¼ pound) softened unsalted butter plus additional butter for the cake pan
1 and ¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (plus or minus) crème fraiche
Zest of one whole lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the glaze
1 and ¼ cups icing (powdered) sugar
50 grams unsalted butter
Juice of ½ lemon
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit) and butter and flour a large bundt pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, lemon zest, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Separate eggs. You’ll need a medium bowl for the yolks and a good sized one for the whites, as five egg whites take on a lot of air. Beat the egg yolks with a hand held mixer until slightly thickened and pale yellow, about four or five minutes. Slowly blend in one and a half cups of the sugar. When the sugar is fully blended add the butter, lemon juice, and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, making sure your beaters are absolutely clean, whip the egg whites. Once they get to the creamy stage, but not before, gradually add the remaining sugar, and continue beating until whites are stiff and glossy.
Thoroughly combine egg yolk and flour mixture (you can do this with your mixer on its lowest setting, but at this point I usually like to switch to a rubber spatula). Add crème fraiche and stir in a third of the egg whites to lighten the batter. Then, carefully fold in the rest, being careful not to overmix. Depending on the size of your eggs, your altitude, and other random factors your batter may not be as wet as it should be. It should be soft and gloopy but not liquid, almost the consistency of crème fraiche itself, if crème fraiche had flour. Add up to an additional ¼ cup crème fraiche if needed.
Turn the batter into your greased and floured cake pan and bake on the middle rack of your oven for 50-60 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. (If you don’t use a bundt pan, you can test the cake for doneness with a toothpick.) Allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least ten minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.
For the glaze
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the icing sugar and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved. Pour over cake while cake is still warm.