My soul was flagging a little in the middle of the February Pound Cake Project. For all that I love highly tested, extremely scientific recipes, part of me wanted to bake something comforting and homey, without all those explanatory notes about the chemical reasons for using cake flour rather than all-purpose flour.
It was in this state of mind that I turned to Nigella Lawson, whose outrageously descriptive and soulful prose seemed like a perfect antidote to scientific overload. Also, seeing as the pound cake originated in England, it made a certain kind of sense to try the recipe of this British domestic.
But I ran into a road block, as Nigella doesn’t actually have a recipe for plain pound cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess. But many of her recipes are loaf cakes, which all look to be variations on the classic pound cake recipe. “Close enough,” I thought, happily bending the Project rules to suit my own will.
I chose to make her lemon-syrup loaf cake with a couple of changes, the biggest of which is that I omitted the syrup. I’ve never understood why some pound cakes are drenched in soaking syrup, transforming a perfect piece of cake into a dense, sickly sweet and sloppy creation that shouldn’t be allowed near a dessert tray. In lieu of the soaking syrup, I made my own lemon icing and drizzled it over the cake.
The recipe also calls for self-rising cake flour, which I didn’t have on hand, and which I doubt they even sell in my crappy Giant. So I used the substitution suggested in Wonktheplank’s Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, (add 1 teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of cake flour).
The result was perfection. This cake was definitely different than the first two pound cakes – those had a tender, close crumb, that melted in your mouth. This cake was lighter, without the close crumb, and much more crumbly. The lemon icing and the lemon zest in the batter also added greatly to its appeal – it’s amazing what a little citrus can do for a cake!
Lemon (Sans-Syrup) Loaf Cake
Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, By Nigella Lawson.
1 cup plus one tbs cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus one tablespoon sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 large eggs
4 tbs milk
Approximately 1 cup powdered sugar
The juice of one lemon
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda until combined. Place sugar in a mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment and add the lemon zest, mixing until the zest is evenly distributed (alternately, you can place sugar and lemon zest in your food processor and pulse, briefly, until the zest is evenly distributed. Then place sugar/lemon mixture in your mixing bowl). Add the butter and cream until light and fluffy, 5-6 minutes.
Add the eggs and beat until combined. Gently fold in the flour mixture, and then fold in milk until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Place in oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean – approximately 45 minutes.
While your cake is baking, make the icing. You’ll notice that I don’t have specific proportions for my icing ingredients, and that’s because I never really measure anything when making this icing. What I do is I place half a cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl, and then add a couple teaspoons of lemon juice, and mix together. If the mixture is too thick, I add more lemon juice. If it’s too thin, I add a little bit more powdered sugar. I keep on mixing and mixing it until I get the desired consistency – thin enough to be pourable, but thick enough so that it doesn’t dissolve into the cake.
When the cake is done remove from the oven. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before taking it out of the pan and transferring to a wire rack. Let cool completely before covering with the icing – I like to use a fork to drizzle the icing over in attractive spidery patterns.