Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lemon bundt cake

Before anything else, I would like to thank everyone who wrote such kind words on my previous post. My heart is very much warmed.

In the 1950s H. David Dalquist created an aluminum baking pan that was based on the cast-iron kugelhopf molds of Eastern Europe. The baking pan was relatively unknown and sales were slow until the 1960s when a slew of Pillsbury contests that eventually spawned bundt cake mixes, pushed it out of obscurity. Fast-forward to the 1980s and 1990s, the bundt was seen as quaint and eerie, somewhat reminiscent of Stepford Wives. The bundt mixes were discontinued, and the pan once again gathered dust in kitchen shelves everywhere.

However, for the last half decade the bundt has been enjoying a small renaissance of sorts, gracing magazine covers, and appearing in well-loved tomes such as the popular Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan which devoted a section to it. The new affection is well placed. bundts are generally easy, feed many and need no decorating (or maybe just a simple dusting of powdered sugar). What's not to love?

An inviting option for spring and summer - no temperature-sensitive buttercream or frosting, which can be cloying in warmer weather, is needed - bundts pair well with whatever fruit is in season. At the earliest opportunity for a picnic I will be sure to serve slices of lemon bundt with some sun-sweet fresh Okanagan berries. Incidentally, I recently served a new favourite lemon bundt as a goodbye gift to a really cool co-worker.

One of two persistent problems often come with lemon cakes: either the cake loses the bright citrus taste of the juice added in the batter, or if the lemon flavour is preserved invariably by the addition of more lemon juice, the cake becomes so tender it falls apart with the slightest nudge of a fork.

Cooks Illustrated solved these problems by creating a recipe that relies on a generous amount of lemon rind to take advantage of the natural limonene and other oils in it. I decided to tinker with this recipe even more to make the process easier and the results more consistent.

Here is my take on CI's Lemon bundt Cake (January 2006 issue).

Preheat your oven to 350 °F. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. Zest and juice three medium organic lemons. Mince the zest to a paste (there must be two tablespoons of this paste) and add three tablespoons of the juice to it, reserving the remaining juice for making a lemon syrup later in the recipe. Allow the mixture to stand for 10 minutes to soften the fibrous texture of the zest.

Use organic lemons to avoid unwanted chemicals in the cake. Inspect that the lemons are ripe but not soft and that there is no visible mold (which happens quickly with organic lemons because of the absence of those protective chemicals).

After 10 minutes, add 3/4 cup of low-fat buttermilk, three large eggs, one large egg yolk, one teaspoon vanilla extract, and half a teaspoon of lemon extract to the zest mixture and whisk together until fairly homogeneous. This mixture needs to be at room temperature.

Whisk all the dry ingredients - 15 ounces of all-purpose flour (I used bleached though CI specified unbleached), 14 ounces granulated sugar, one teaspoon baking powder, one-half teaspoon baking soda, and one teaspoon table salt - in a Kitchen Aid stand-mixer bowl. Add 18 tablespoons of room-temperature butter and turn KA to stir speed for one minute until the mixture looks pebbly and sandy all through out.

Add one-third of the liquid ingredients to the dry, and set KA speed to #6 for two full minutes. Stop the mixer. Add another third of the liquid, stir for a few seconds, then beat for one minute at speed # 6; repeat for the last third of the liquids. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl and beater well. Finally, return to speed # 6 and beat to aerate for one minute. Scoop the batter into a well-greased and floured bundt.

In my oven, this baked perfectly after 57 minutes.

To make the syrup, take the remaining lemon juice and add an equal volume of sugar stir both in a measuring cup and zap it in the microwave for one minute or until it is bubbling. Keep a close eye on this process to avoid a messy clean up. Take care, this syrup will be very hot. Immediately brush the syrup all over the unmolded, warm cake. Let the cake cool for a minimum of two hours, longer is better. When completely cooled, it is ready for its dusting and close-up:

This cake is fluffy on the first day and will be more like pound cake the next day. I prefer to serve this cake after a day's rest. If the syrup is used and the cake is well-wrapped, it can be kept at room temperature for four days.

CI's version used the traditional creaming method but I opted for the two-stage method. I found no difference in the outcome of taste and texture. The advantages of my choice are ease (less bowls to clean) and consistency of results (the success of the creaming method depends on one's skill at maintaining the emulsion of creamed butter and liquid ingredients, so results can be variable for an occasional baker).

It is important in the two-stage method that all ingredients are at room temperature (65 °F to 70 °F). The batter will not form a proper emulsion otherwise.

Temperature is important as well should you choose the creaming method. If the components are not at the same temperature, the batter will curdle (e.g., the cold eggs will cause the creamed butter to solidify and lose all the bubbles worked into it). This is not a disaster because the batter will come together on the addition of flour but the cake will not be as light or lofty as it would be if the batter remained well emulsified all through out. Invariably, the difference is discernible only to those who eat a lot of cake. (Needless to say, I cannot tell the difference).

Read this page from Baking 911. It is full of tips when working with bundt pans. Make sure to read the tip on unmolding cakes at the bottom - it works magic!


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A perfect looking Bundt Cake! Such a wonderful flavor!



Peabody said...

A lemon Bundt...a super yummy classic.

Anonymous said...

What explicit instructions, Julius. You should write your own book, you explain techniques very well! The cake looks wonderful , lemon is my favourite flavouring for cakes, I often make a lemon drizzle cake in a loaf tin, I must be braver and attempt

one in my new but unused bundt tin! Jeannette.

Brittany said...

Lemon bundt- a classic that I have not made in WAY too long. Yours looks perfect as always : )

Mara said...

I am going crazy for lemon right now, so this is right up my alley. Love your photographs and so true that a bundt is an easy way to make something look fabulous.

The Rastafarian's Kitchen said...

I've been looking for a good, creamy lemon cake recipe. This seems perfect! More thanks for the super detailed instructions!