My Latest Interview: Melissa Clark, NY Times Food Writer

Recently Melissa Clark, food writer, author of the NY Times column: A Good Appetite and 38 cookbooks came through town promoting her latest work Dinner: Changing the Game.

I was able to sit down with the recipe maven responsible for creating both sweet and savory dishes for the NY Times on a weekly basis along with helpful and anxiety-reducing cooking videos. You can find my interview on Madison Magazine’s website here: http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/dining-and-drink/cookbook-helps-those-in-a-dinner-rut/424537389.

The following are conversation bits left out of the original article for the sake of word count.

Clark doesn’t plan dinner for her husband and 8-year-old daughter ahead of time. It’s usually 4 o’clock in the afternoon when she gets around to thinking about it. Her family’s dinner staple (which her daughter won’t eat) is pasta with anchovies, garlic and chili peppers.

Dinner is her test ground–the starting point for her recipes. If it’s good she’ll make it again, this time measuring and taking notes. Then she’ll make it a third time to test it. It’s a keeper when her hired taste-tester makes it and approves it.

Dining out is part of her research. She says she will always order the “weirdest thing on the menu” and says, “It’s like a dare” to see if it works.

“I want to push myself. I’m testing. I’m changing. I’m trying to learn. I’m just there looking for what’s good.”

As for those weekly column deadlines she’s managed for ten years now, I wondered if she has a system, a schedule, a plan for getting it done. If it’s become an effortless process.

She answered a resounding No. “It’s always an assault every time. Every. Single. Time. That moment of looking at the empty page and the freezing of the muscles.”

And always she questions “What do I have to say? What do I have to say about this? I said that before. No one wants to hear that.”

Then she begins to talk herself down and instructs simply that you have to fight it.

“You have to. You have deadlines. Deadlines are lifelines.”

Finally, and this is when I think I got an opening into the most relaxed version of Melissa Clark. I told her how I had watched a cooking video where after she shows us how to grill a whole fish, she pops the fish’s eyeball into her mouth and chews it with delight.

I told her that I had to stop myself from gagging and she threw her head back and laughed so hard, a wicked, childlike laugh. At that moment it was like we were two kids out of ear shot from the grown-ups and she had won the What’s grosser than gross? contest.

Last I asked her what comforts her when she’s ill and unable to enjoy food. It’s her husband’s hot toddy and she happily shared the recipe.

  • 1 shot bourbon or brandy
  • 1/4 fresh lemon
  • big glug of honey
  • nutmeg
  • boiling water to fill the mug

She will take this in bed along with her lap top and says she doesn’t miss a day of work.

 

 

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Put a little sugar in these cookies

They’re naked. I know. These sugar cookies went fast. And smelled so good (vanilla with a touch of fresh lemon) right out of the oven that they didn’t last long around here. And now I get to make more.

I don’t know about you, but growing up, sugar cookies came once a year in the shape of Santas, Christmas trees and bells and were covered in red and green sprinkles. Sure, cut-out cookies take a little more effort than dropping your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe by scoopfuls onto a baking sheet, but you can avoid rolling out sugar cookie dough by simply forming it into a log and slicing into rounds.  When something tastes this good, why not consider bringing it to the family table more than once a year? At the very least you and your loved ones deserve to enjoy these cookies throughout the many months and moods of winter.

I have found an excellent sugar cookie recipe and have used it as the inspiration for my own buttery-sugary cookies. I’ve made it several times as Santas and bells, snowflakes and flowers. It’s Dorie Greenspan’s grandmother’s and it’s very good and if it comes from anyone’s beloved grandmother, than it is good enough for me. What’s more, it seems to take very well to a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Dorie Greenspan’s Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies (as spied on The Splendid Table)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (from a large lemon)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder together and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute until smooth. Next beat in the sugar until light and fluffy and pale yellow in color. Beat in the lemon zest.

In a small bowl, gently beat the egg and egg yolk. Add the eggs one tablespoon (eye-ball it) at a time until fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla.

In three batches add in the flour mixture, mixing on low to incorporate. After the third addition, mix only until it all comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut in half and roll each half, one at a time, between two sheets of parchment to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Place both sheets of cookie dough onto a cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Returning to a lightly floured surface, and working with one sheet at a time (leaving the other in the fridge until you’re ready to work with it) carefully peel back the top sheet of parchment. And gently place it back on the rolled out dough. Now flip the dough over and pull back the bottom (which is now the top) sheet of parchment and set aside. Cut out cookies and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet. You can re-roll the scraps–using as much of the dough as possible–between the same two pieces of parchment. You may have to put the dough back in the fridge for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.

Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until they begin to take on a slight golden brown color around the edges.

Share these with the ones you love.

 

Fig & Walnut Biscotti

I didn’t know she’d died. But then again, I did. I just hadn’t remembered until I began researching the creator of these delicious biscotti. Gina DePalma, a James Beard Award-winning Pastry Chef at Babbo in New York City (Chef Mario Battali’s place) and cookbook author, died of ovarian cancer at 49–a year ago this past December. These are hers.

I recently found her on the Smitten Kitchen website and only then had I remembered reading a touching tribute about her on Adam Roberts’ food blog a year ago.  He had written about the lentil soup with sausage and swiss chard she made for him–the same soup her mother made for her while she was recovering post-surgery. More on this soup in an upcoming post–because I can’t stop thinking about it and as soon as the current snowfall subsides, will be on my way to the market for the ingredients.

But back to these biscotti…they are made for dunking in your mid-afternoon cup of tea or coffee. Crunchy from the walnuts, soft and chewy because of those sweet dried figs, this traditional Tuscan dolce carries in every bite the essence of winter flavors: orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. They’ll last in an airtight container for two weeks, however I truly believe they’ll be enjoyed long before that.

I’m sorry Ms. DePalma is gone. I would’ve liked to have written her. To tell her that she’s inspired me to remain true to my heart which says to always keep desserts simple and to allow the flavor of whole ingredients to come through–without getting all fussy about it. We know this to be true for cooking, but yes, it should be true for baking as well.

She says, You might look at one of my plates and think, ‘Wow, she really just slaps it on there.’  But when there isn’t all that busyness to distract the eye, the beauty of the actual food itself has to shine through.

and…I feel very strongly and quite personally that desserts should not be an object of whimsy or nonsense.

*Both quotes are from her obituary in The New York Times.

And now, Ms. DePalma’s Fig & Walnut Biscotti (Makes approximately 24 biscotti, although I didn’t count before eating them and giving some away; also, I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as author, Deb Perelman, cut the recipe in half and that was enough for me.)

  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, quartered (original recipe calls for Turkish or Calimyrna figs–for a guide to figs, check out Martha Stewart’s website)
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1/2 a large orange
  • 1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with a fork to a froth

Take out the butter to soften. First grate the nutmeg and set aside (that way your microplane will be easy to wipe clean before zesting the orange). On a baking pan (the same one you’ll use to bake the biscotti) toast walnut pieces until fragrant–about 5-7 minutes. In the meantime, quarter the figs. When the walnuts are completely cooled (I removed them from the pan and placed them on a dish to speed up the wait time) finely chop them in a food processor along with the figs (if you put the walnuts in first, it may help the figs not stick to the bottom and the blade).

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, first beat the butter for 30 seconds or so, then add the sugars until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, beat the eggs gently with a fork and add to the butter and sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides, then beat in the vanilla and orange zest.

In a medium bowl, gently whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In three parts, add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture beating each time until just combined. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the walnuts and figs by hand, again until just combined.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator until firm–2 hours or overnight.

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325° and lightly butter a baking sheet. Sprinkle flour onto your kitchen table or other work space and using your palms roll the piece of dough gently back and forth until it becomes a log slightly shorter than the length of your pan (it will expand as it bakes in the oven). Place the log on the baking sheet.

Brush with the frothy egg white and sprinkle generously with sugar (I used about 2 tablespoons). Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.

Allow the log to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. Here’s the tricky part, carefully, using two spatulas, move the log to a cutting board. Mine broke in half, which really wasn’t a problem. Using a serrated knife, slice into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet in a single layer; return biscotti to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes until toasted and crisp. Centers will continue to be soft.

 

 

Dear Mr. Sifton

Dear Mr. Sifton,

Your story about clam chowder pizza “American Pie” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/magazine/why-clam-chowder-pizza-is-the-best-kind.html?_r=0  that appeared in this week’s New York Times Magazine has the calming cadence of an anxious heart beginning to catch its breath. It is tender, vulnerable and honest; an offering to those who are perhaps confused and hurt by our country’s current state of disarray.

Bacon fried and rendered in butter, leeks softened in the richly aromatic fat, wine and clam juice added until it becomes a syrup finished with heavy cream and tender clams–these warm flavors fill the kitchen at home before being baked into a crisp and charred pizza. This is a comforting thought. I believe thoughts such as these will be a balm, a grey flannel blanket to wrap ourselves in for the days ahead when winter just feels like a bit too much.

A recipe brings an order of tasks to complete one at a time–chop, fry, render, combine, simmer…In this piece especially, I read your words and hear the rhythm of your voice. It will be okay. It will be okay. All will be okay.

Because, yes, Mr. Sifton, Cooking is a practice, a kind of devotion, a form of mindfulness.

And now more than ever, we must

Practice.

Practice with our hands, so that the beating of our hearts remain steady.

With gratitude,

Kathy Brozyna

 

 

Orange-Scented Molasses Cookies

There is an ice storm passing through and every shape outside from earth to sky–only grey–a heavy, wet, chilling shade of grey. Every once in awhile, a neighbor burdened with the task of catching the downtown bus, walks cautiously past my kitchen window, skidding, catching himself at the last minute. I’m so lucky that I get to be home today and having cancelled a couple of appointments, here is where I shall stay.

One of my favorite issues of Cook’s Illustrated magazine is one that I happened to pick up while in line checking out at the grocery store 5 years ago. It’s the 2012 Holiday Baking issue and I’ve referenced it often (read: pages are flour-dusted with pen-scratched notes in the margins) from buttermilk biscuits, Christmas morning cinnamon buns and to these very addictive chewy gingerbread cookies that while baking, fill my kitchen with the fragrance and aroma of a more pleasant winter’s eve–cinnamon, cloves and orange.

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar PLUS 2/3 cup for dipping
  • 3 teaspoons grated orange zest (2 teaspoons for dipping; 1 teaspoon for cookies)
  • 2 1/4 cup (11 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine, freshly ground pepper
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 12 pieces, softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (measure in a liquid measuring cup) light or dark molasses (not blackstrap–too strong)

Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Then, in the little bowl that came with your food processor, that if you, like me, haven’t used before, process 2/3 cup granulated sugar with 2 teaspoons grated orange zest until a lovely and fragrant pale orange (10 seconds ought to do it). Next pour sugar into an 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda (as molasses has a bit of acidity to it, it needs a bit of baking soda, an alkalai, to react with it and provide lift) salt, and spices together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter for a 20 seconds or so, then add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium-low and add egg yolk and vanilla. Increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds.

Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses beating until fully incorporated (20 seconds), scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with a rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting and add flour mixture slowly, mixing until just combined, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl again, once.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final stir with the rubber spatula, making sure to really get to the bottom of the bowl. Dough will be soft.

Scoop and form 1 1/2-inch balls (using a tablespoon as a guide may help), dropping 6 at a time into the cake pan with the sugar/orange zest mixture. Toss balls in sugar to coat and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet. (I spaced 3 across and 4 down–my pans are 17″x 12″).  Bake only one pan at a time for about 10 minutes (cookies won’t bake evenly otherwise), turning the pan once half-way through baking. 

Do not over bake. Cookies are done even though the centers are still soft and in between the cracks appears to look raw. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash soup with pear, ginger & jalapeño

The first time I made this soup it was Fall 2008 but chances are pretty good that it was several years before that when I clipped the recipe from Country Living magazine.  This soup reminds me of long days in our first home with a baby or two. Of stroller walks on colorful tree-lined streets to Whole Foods Market–all of us bundled against the crisp air.

When what I was hoping for was a long stretch of nap so I could make this soup and have it on the table for dinner –whatever time that could be. When the sound of a train whistle in the distance announced that the husband would be rounding our corner at any moment, hungry and tired, carrying the scent of a lower Manhattan autumn day. Of Penn Station roasted nuts and subway steam pushing up through rusty sidewalk grates.

These days I am inclined to take my bowlful of soup outside, along with my long quilted winter coat, a heavy blanket and wool mittens and sit on the front porch glad for the twilight and the chill against my cheeks.

  • 1 large butternut squash or 2 small ones (3-4 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion (1 large onion)
  • 1 chopped shallot (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 11/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (about 2 cups: I used Bartlett)
  • 6 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (leaves only)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and place seeds up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in a 400° F oven. Add about a 1/4 cup of water to the pan and roast until tender, until easily pierced with a fork. Should take 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the seeds with a spoon. Scoop out the flesh, leaving behind the peel, and mash coarsely. At this point you may refrigerate the squash overnight and continue making the soup the next day.

In a Dutch oven or 6-quart saucepan, heat oil and add onion, shallot, ginger, jalapeño, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until onion is soft and begins to turn light brown (10 minutes or so). Add pears and cook another 5 minutes. Measure 3 cups of mashed squash and add to the Dutch oven and cook another 5 minutes.

Stir in the stock, honey and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Purée in batches in a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender–way less work and mess–and return to the pot. Stir in cream and keep warm. Do not boil.

 

 

 

Sunday’s Caramel Tart

This morning I’m up at 5 to see the husband and Auggie off on a long drive north for a day of championship mountain bike racing. As soon as I hear the truck pull out of the driveway, I pour a cup of coffee and take the caramel tart I made yesterday out of the refrigerator.

It was late last night (know that these days “late” for me means somewhere around 9 pm) when the tart had cooled enough to be put in the fridge for at least a 2-hour chill. By that time I was tucked in and fast asleep.

When the Hubs saw the pre-baked tart shell he said, “Is that for apples?” When I answered No, that it would be filled with caramel. He whined, “Caramel?”

Yes Dear. Caramel. Dorie Greenspan’s from her book, Baking Chez Moi. And with that, he was back in the living room watching the Badger football game. He was going to be okay.

So this morning, alone, hours from daylight, I peel back the layers of Saran wrap, quietly cut a slice and enjoy every smooth mouthful all along considering this a very good first breakfast (no need to set a good example–there no signs of Fritz or Harriet stirring in their beds at this point).

It tastes as it should (I am encouraged), a rich caramel filling uncomplicated in its most basic buttery-ness. The shortbread crust is pleasantly sweet with good crunch and somewhat forgiving in that, by choosing to piece the dough together in the pan rather than rolling it out, I’m sure I overworked it a bit.

The first time I made the caramel for this dessert, I forgot to add the warm cream at the end. This soon became a clumpy mess (alarmingly so) when I attempted to add the caramel mixture (minus the cream) to the bowl of creamed-together sugar and eggs. I had to start over which wasn’t too bad–well having to get dried caramel off of the pan, and off the spatula and whisk was a pain in the ass–but then it was only a matter of boiling sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice to get things rolling again.

One more misstep ensued. In my haste to get this into the oven and get dinner started, I forgot that this recipe calls for a 9-inch tart pan and I have an 8-inch. Because I overfilled the pan, the baking time increased by almost twice as much,  which resulted in a slightly browned top (not the autumnal sunset color I was hoping for). At least I remembered to place the tart on a parchment-lined baking sheet otherwise I’d be subjecting my family to the assaulting stink of burnt sugar for a long, long time.

Still Dorie’s caramel tart, of which I adapted not a single thing, tastes divine as it should. A dollop of chantilly cream and a few shavings of bittersweet chocolate on top solves the less-than-perfect aesthetic issue. I would serve this smoldering dessert to dinner guests without apology.

If you’d like the recipe, feel free to leave me a message in the comments. I’d love to share it with you.

Epicuriously yours,

Kathy

 

Rosé, you make me blush

Summer for me means time on our deck, looking out over the vegetable garden, the flower bed and the lawn, green, but for the brown divots leading up to our kids’ soccer net. This holiday weekend, I plan on spending an evening or two leaning back in my chair, watching the bats dive for mosquitoes in the twilight and ducking soccer balls all while sipping a cool glass of rosé to the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra.

I recently learned a bit about this delightfully crisp and chill wine, so very pretty to look at. According to the article “Everything’s Coming Up Rosé” in the June issue of Food & Wine magazine, author Ray Isle, tells us not to think too deeply about this summery wine, but to enjoy it thoroughly. My favorite quote from Isle is “(If, at a party, someone starts talking to you about the raspberry nuances and subtle spice notes of the rosé you’re drinking, you’re officially allowed to push him or her into the pool.)”

IMG_8595

Provence is where rosé calls home, but, lucky for us, rosé can be pleasantly and inexpensively produced just about everywhere. Here’s why, according again to Isle: “Producers simply need to pick grapes on the early side (to keep acidity high and alcohol low) and allow minimal skin contact during fermentation (hence the pink hue), and that’s most of the rosé in the world.”

This weekend (beginning tonight) I’ll be opening a bottle of the “Blushing Rose” a local American semi-sweet rosé from Wollersheim Winery of Wisconsin. Made from the Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch grapes of New York, this wine wants to you desire a picnic basket of cold fried chicken, your favorite cheese, Rhubarb Blueberry Mint Kissed Jam and a loaf of bread.

Epicureously yours,

Kathy

Apricot Pie and Ruth Reichl

Dear Friends,

Last June I interviewed writer, chef, cookbook author, past restaurant critic for The New York Times, and past editor-in-chief of the sorely missed Gourmet magazine, Ruth Reichl (http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/dining-drink/meeting-ruth-reichl/33385840). I believe I promised to only take 40 minutes of her time. At the end of those agreed upon minutes, she offered to continue our conversation as we had gotten on the subject of fresh apricots and how they signal the beginning of summer and how now it was time to bake them into a pie.

IMG_8411

Oh just slice them in half, Reichl began, remove their pits, but leave the skin on and lay them in a pie crust. Make a streusel topping, pour it over them and bake.

Just like that?  Voila?

But how do I make a streusel topping I wondered later when reviewing my notes. How long should the pie bake for?

IMG_8412

Spring came and went, summer too, fall, winter–all without a trace of apricot pie. And then, not too long ago, Reichl actually re-posted a recipe for her apricot pie on her blog: http://ruthreichl.com/ and it happens to also appear in her book, Comfort Me With Apples, which although I’ve read, I missed. I made it and my baking repertoire has since expanded to include this method for just about any stone fruits coming into their season this summer.

And it couldn’t be easier..

  • 2 pounds of apricots (Trust me, get more. When ripe, they are irresistible eaten out-of-hand.)
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • grating of fresh nutmeg

 

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Roll out your pie crust, or use the frozen kind (Hey, it’s summer and life should be easy, right?). Place crust in a 9-inch pie plate, then pop it into the freezer for 15-30 minutes. Remove from the freezer. Using your fingers, break the apricots in half (this is rustic living, y’all), remove pits, and lay them down all snug-like. 

On the stove top, over medium-low heat, melt the butter, then combine the brown sugar, flour, salt and nutmeg. Spoon this all over the apricots (Oh my…is right).

Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 375° and bake for another hour or so, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is nicely browned. Remove pie and allow to cool for at least an hour.

Serve with fresh cream drizzled on top.

By the way, in the summer 2016 issue of Saveur magazine which just arrived in the mail yesterday, there is an encouraging article (Sweet Slice of Summer) about making pies as a way of preserving the bounty of the summer harvest. Authors Mitchell Davis and Laurent Gras give such nurturing instructions as “A good rule of thumb when making pie dough: Stop working it sooner than you think.”

IMG_8417

Epicureously yours,

Kathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luscious Lemon Bombshell Cakes

The husband loves this cake. Of course he does, at the end of the day, you’ll wind up zesting and juicing around a dozen lemons. I was only experimenting with this one. I thought for sure he would reject the pucker of it all, so when he said, “This is my favorite lemon cake.” I couldn’t believe it. He’s right (don’t tell him I said so). This cake is delicious. It’s buxom–the Mae West of dessert.

Before we begin, I need to ask you: Do you have it in you to zest and juice, while muttering to yourself, “This is too much lemon!” “This better taste good–all this friggin’ zesting and juicing”?

Are you still in? Then “getcha getcha lips wet, cuz it’s time to have Pep. On your mark, get set, go, let me go, let me shoop…” (A little Salt ‘n’ Pepa rhyme for you.)

First you’ll notice 1/3 cup of zest. What? That’s too much. Can’t be right. Next up is the full cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Is she out of her mind? She wants me to stir it into the batter at the end? That’s too much liquid. It won’t incorporate. It can’t!

Stay with me, Grasshopper. That’s just the cake. Then there’s the lemon soaking syrup and boiling it for an extra 5 minutes does indeed turn it a glorious shade of gold. And I’m going to ask you to poke holes in the still-warm cake and spoon this syrup over the top, soaking the cake, not once, but twice. No mas! you’ll cry out.

The cake is done once the icing (more fresh lemon juice and zest) is on the cake.

adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (from 4-5 large lemons)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (from 5-6 large lemons)

For the lemon soaking syrup

  • 3/4  cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (another 5 lemons or so)

For the lemon icing

  • 2 cups confectioner sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Before we do anything else, let’s take out our buttermilk and unsalted butter and bring to room temperature.

I made these into mini bundt cakes, but feel free to use two 9×5 inch loaf pans instead. Butter them and lightly dust them with flour. Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt; set aside. In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, if using a hand mixer), cream the butter and granulated sugar for 7-10 minutes, until pale in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until each is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg.

Add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the loaf pans firmly, but carefully (I still have pumpkin pie filling stains on my ceiling from Thanksgiving) on the table to remove any air bubbles from the batter.

Bake for 50 minutes to an hour. My mini bundt cakes took approximately 12-17 minutes to bake. Always stay near the kitchen and begin checking as soon as you smell something delicious baking.

Poke the cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean (a few moist crumbs clinging to it is ideal) then the cakes are done. Cool the loaves in the pans for about 10 minutes (any longer and they will steam) then release them onto a cooling rack.

Make the lemon soaking syrup in a small pan on top of the stove. Combine the granulated sugar and the fresh lemon juice and cook over low heat while stirring often. Once the sugar dissolves, continue cooking until the syrup turns a deep golden yellow (and it will) in about 5 minutes.

When the loaves are cool enough to handle, place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Poke holes in the cake using either a fork, or if you have a wooden skewer on hand, use that. Pour the lemon soaking syrup all over the tops of the cakes. Repeat until the cakes are completely moistened. Let the loaves rest for at least 10 minutes so the syrup is absorbed.

To make the lemon icing, combine all but the juice at first into a small bowl. Stir until nicely blended together. Next slowly add enough of the lemon juice to make it smooth and creamy (I used 3-4 Tablespoons only). Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the tops of the loaves, allowing it to drip down over the sides.

A sprinkling of lemon zest over the top is a nice touch. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The loaves will keep wrapped in clear wrap at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Shoop, shoop ba-doop.