If there’s one thing I like to keep a constant supply of in my kitchen, it’s lemons. I just bloody love their versatility – a slice is equally at home in a cup of hot water to start the day and in a large gin and tonic to end the day, and their juice livens up everything from cakes to curries. Honestly, without lemons the world would be a very dull place.
Despite the fact that I love baking and run a baking club, I’ve been trying not to make too many sweet treats of late in an attempt to control my weight prior to my wedding in June. I kid you not, I have actually been having anxiety dreams where my beautiful wedding dress, that is currently hanging in the shop storeroom, does not fit on the day. So you may notice that there haven’t been as many cake recipes as there were last year, which makes it all the more strange that there are two today.
This week has been a bit of an exception; although I managed to get through the oft-calorific Easter weekend succumbing only to half a Lindt chocolate bunny and a slice of the chocolate and raspberry tart I made to follow the Easter lunch (more on that later); I did have too occasions on which I had to dig out the cake tins.
The first was a mercy mission and entirely necessary: delivering cake to my friend Naomi, housebound after having a gorgeous new baby boy. Going right to the back of my baking cupboard, I found an unopened bag of poppy seeds that had slipped down the back, so decided to make the lemon and poppy seed loaf from Skye Gyngell’s excellent cookbook, How I Cook. It is a gorgeously robust loaf, made lighter with the addition of some whisked egg whites and made decadent with a syrupy glaze. Quite a snack for a sleepless night.
The second was simply that we are having another Band of Bakers event this evening, this time with a ‘springtime’ theme. I haven’t made an actual cake for Band of Bakers for a while – so far this year I have made a tart (chocolate and salted caramel), scones (cheese, chive and mustard) and miscellaneous puffs (caramelised onion, Gruyère and London Pride) – so it is long overdue. This cake is from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo and caught my eye a while ago due to the inclusion of some booze: a lemon and prosecco cake. What I love about it is that it contains a mere 150g of flour but six whole eggs, with the yolks and the whisked whites added at separate stages, which means that the texture is more akin to a flourless cake than to a traditional sponge. The dominant flavour is definitely lemon, with the prosecco providing something of a fuzzy backnote, but it is totally delicious. As a pudding with a drizzle of fruit coulis (and a glass of bubbles, obvs) it would be perfect for any springtime lunch table.
Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake
For the cake:
- 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 175g caster sugar
- Zest of three large lemons
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 35g poppy seeds
- 275g plain flour
- 2½ tsp baking powder
- 230ml whole milk
- 4 egg whites (from large eggs)
For the syrup:
- Juice of two lemons
- 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 170°c / 340°f / gas 4. Grease a medium loaf tin and line with baking parchment.
Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the lemon zest, vanilla and poppy seeds. Sift together the flour and baking powder and beat this into the mixture. Pour in the milk and stir again.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around one hour, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes.
In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice and icing sugar until you have a smooth syrup. Whilst the cake is still in the tin, spoon the syrup over the top. Leave to soak in for 20 minutes or so and then turn out on to a wire rack. Using a pastry brush, brush any remaining syrup on the top and sides of the cake.
From Skye Gyngells’s ‘How to Cook’.
Lemon and Prosecco Cake
For the cake:
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 100g caster sugar
- Zest of 3 large lemons
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 150ml prosecco
- 150g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
For the glaze:
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4. Grease a 24cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they are light and creamy. Beat in the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla extract. Gently beat in the flour and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, or in a freestanding mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon, then repeat with the remaining egg whites. The batter will be quite loose.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 150°c / 300°f / gas 2 and bake for a further 20 minutes. You will be able to tell that the cake is ready as it will have risen and the edge of the cake will have shrunk away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool in the oven with the door slightly open.
The cake will collapse and condense a little, but this is fine.
Once cooled, mix together the ingredients for the glaze (it will make a very small amount) and brush lightly over the top of the cake.
Adapted from a recipe by Gennaro Contaldo.