Glazed Lemon Cake

 

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The cake

Parliament has gone into recess, a new Prime Minister is in place and the schools have broken up, so it’s probably not too soon to say that the political scene will calm down a little following the tumultuous four weeks since the EU Referendum result.  For this news junkie it will mean more time for neglected chores but more importantly, even though we’re not going away on holiday this year, for doing nice things with friends and family.

And now is when it starts.  It’s the time of year again when I make a birthday cake for my eldest son, who is 29 today, which is hard to believe.  For the last three years he’s shared his birthday with Prince George.  Two of his brothers and I celebrated his 26th birthday over lunch in a Cambridge restaurant and I recall that they were irritated with me because I kept glancing at my phone to see if there were any news alerts about the royal baby.  It had been announced earlier that morning that the Duchess of Cambridge had gone into labour.

I can’t remember if I made a birthday cake on that occasion, but I like to bake one for all my boys’ birthdays if it’s practical.  The eldest was on an expedition in Ecuador for his seventeenth birthday and there’s a great photo of him waking up in his sleeping bag to be presented by his friends with a cupcake bearing a single candle.  He lives in Cambridge and a couple of years ago, because we weren’t going to manage to meet up around the big day, I ordered him two cakes from that great Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies.  (If you ever visit, you have to try their Chelsea Buns.)  I couldn’t decide between the chocolate and the carrot so bought both (in the smallest size).  Extravagant, but I knew he’d be sharing them with friends.

When he was small I wasn’t really into baking and anyway, was working full-time and didn’t feel I had much time in my life for it.  But I did usually manage to make some sort of sponge cake and get my husband, who is more creative than me, to cut it up and shape it into whatever the boy was into that particular year, ready for me to slather it in buttercream.  For example, we made a train when he was two and a football pitch when he was five.

This year, not for the first time, I’ve made his favourite Glazed Lemon Cake from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  It’s not particularly quick to make, what with seven lemons to zest and a lengthy icing process, but worth it for an occasion and one cake goes a long way and keeps well in an airtight container.

We are all meeting up in London this weekend to celebrate the birthday.  I will be travelling up alone on the train and have to work out a way to get the cake there without damaging it.  I know it freezes well so I’ve decided to freeze it and let it gradually thaw during the journey.  That way it will be very fresh by teatime and also not too squishy while in transit.

Glazed Lemon Cake

You will need a bundt tin, greased, or a tube tin, as it’s called in The Silver Palate Cookbook, which is American.

Conventional oven: pre-heat to 160ºC

You want the lemon zest to be very finely grated.  I find a Microplane grater is best for this.

Ingredients

  • 7 lemons (you’ll need all the zest but the juice of only 3 or 4)
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 400g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 284ml buttermilk
  • 2 tightly packed tbsps grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon icing: see below

Method

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition
  • Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Add lemon zest and juice
  • Full disclosure: as you know, I’m a fan of the all-in-one method and it works for this cake too.  Mix thoroughly all the ingredients except the zest and juice and fold these in at the end
  • Pour batter into the prepared tin.  Set on the middle rack of a pre-heated conventional oven or on the rack on the bottom rung in the Aga baking oven.  Bake for 1 hour 5 minutes (conventional) or slightly less time in the Aga
  • For Aga baking I check the cake after 30 minutes and turn it, and then check it every 10 minutes to make sure the top isn’t burnt.  It shouldn’t take more than 1 hour in total.  It’s done when a skewer comes out clean

Lemon Icing

  • 450g icing sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tightly packed tbsps grated lemon zest
  • Juice of about 2 lemons
  • Place the sugar, butter and about half the juice in a mixing bowl and gradually blend them using a handheld mixer.  When smooth, mix in the remaining juice and zest.  Note: this icing is a lot runnier than buttercream icing.
  • When the cake has been out of the oven for about 10 minutes, gently pierce it all over using the narrow end of a chopstick.  Spoon over about a third of the icing and allow it to sink in for about 5 minutes before turning out the cake onto a cooling rack
  • Pierce the other side of the cake all over and begin spooning over the remaining icing.  It will slide down the sides and end up on your board/work surface but you just have to keep scooping it up and pouring it over the top again.  This is the boring, lengthy bit: it could take half an hour until the icing has stopped sliding off the cake and  has mostly sunk into it.  See slide show below:

 

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Tarts and Scones

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Making tarts or quiches in an Aga could not be easier because you do not have to bake the pastry blind.  Take the tart above, which I made on Friday.  I used this recipe by Diana Henry but was able to omit several stages and go straight from chilling the lined tart tin to adding the filling and baking it.

On this occasion I didn’t even make the pastry myself.  I bought some good quality all butter shortcrust in sheets, which meant minimal rolling out was required.  Once I’d lined my tin with it, I put it in the freezer to firm up, as Diana advises, but I did not prick the pastry with a fork; this is not necessary if you are not baking it blind.

I’m not sure how long mine was in the freezer for, but probably no longer than half an hour.  I did a bit of washing up (I’m one of those cooks who clears up as she goes along) and prepared the filling while this was happening.  So then all I had to do was put the crab/salmon/Thai ingredients in the pastry case and pour over the cream/egg mixture and cook my tart.  This I did by placing it straight onto the floor of the Aga roasting oven and leaving it there for about thirty-five minutes.  I checked on it after twenty though.  It was done when the filling was golden and no longer wobbly.  I removed it and let it rest while I roasted some new season English asparagus to go with it.  A nice green salad would have been a good accompaniment too.  We thought this tart was delicious.  I have resolved to make more such things during the summer.  A tart makes excellent picnic food and if you have any left over, it keeps well in the fridge and is available for any peckish moments.  I’ve just remembered a rather delicious smoked salmon one I used to make.  Must dig out the recipe.

On Saturday I did absolutely no cooking, which was a treat.  We were in London for the day and went out for a lovely family lunch at our favourite Italian restaurant, fittingly called La Famiglia.  The reason for the gathering was that one of my cousins had come over from Norway to visit his aunt, my mother.  All my boys were able to join us and together with one girlfriend and one fiancée there were ten of us round the table.  My husband, youngest son and I didn’t get back to Bristol until about 8.30 in the evening (in time to catch most of Eurovision).  We weren’t really hungry but managed to squeeze in a little slice of the tart all the same.

On Sunday afternoon I made scones for afternoon tea.  I cannot think of anything quicker to bake than scones and I just love them.  The recipe I chose was this one by Thane Prince which uses buttermilk.  The scones are light and not at all rich.  If you want a richer scone, there are plenty of recipes which use eggs, like this Mary Berry one.

Update: BBC Food Website

Following the devastating news today that the BBC is to remove all 11,000 recipes from its food website, I need to update this post.  The Mary Berry scone recipe link above will soon no longer function.  It was probably a bit lazy of me merely to give you a link anyway, so I’m giving you below one of her scone recipes in full.  It’s one I’ve used many times.  And don’t worry, I have no plans to remove any recipes from my blog so it will be here for you to use forever!

Mary Berry’s Very Best Scones

  • Makes about 20
  • Pre-heat conventional oven to 220ºC
  • You will need two large baking trays, lightly greased or lined with bake-o-glide

Ingredients

  • 450g SR flour
  • 2 rounded teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g butter, at room temperature
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • about 225 ml milk

Method

  • Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and rub the butter into it with your fingertips, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  You can pulse this in a food processor if you prefer
  • Stir in the sugar (and pulse again if using food processor)
  • Beat the eggs together and make up to a generous 300ml with the milk, then reserve 2 tablespoons of this for glazing the scones later
  • Gradually add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring it in until you have a soft dough.  Again, this can be done in a processor
  • The mixture should be on the wet side, sticking to your fingers, as the scones will rise better
  • Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten it out with your hand to a thickness of 1-2 cms.  Use a 5cm fluted cutter to stamp out the scones by pushing the cutter straight down into the dough (as opposed to twisting it), then lifting it straight out
  • Gently push the remaining dough together, knead very lightly, then re-flatten (you could use a rolling pin) and cut out more scones
  • Arrange the scones on the baking trays and brush the tops with the reserved beaten egg mixture to glaze
  • Bake, one tray at a time, with the tray on the third rung in the Aga roasting oven, or in the pre-heated conventional oven, for 10-15 minutes, until well risen and golden
  • Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool