Lemon poundcake solves several problems at once

Entertaining

Luscious, simple, moist cake handles many engagements

Sunday Gourmet

January 18, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

When I looked at my calendar for the coming week, I couldn't believe my eyes. On Sunday, my women's investment group was having a potluck, for which I had volunteered a dessert. On Thursday evening, there was the buffet at our house for my husband's freshman college class. Good friends were coming on Saturday for a short weekend visit. Add to that a cooking class for 30 midweek, and you can understand my anxiety. I needed simple recipes to tackle all this entertaining.

Since the potluck party was first, I started looking for a sweet confection to take to that gathering. On my desk was a copy of Sherry Yard's new book, The Secrets of Baking (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). For several days, I drooled over descriptions of the luscious desserts created by the talented young baker for Spago, one of Los Angeles' most celebrated restaurants. I searched through the collection for a confection that was easy to prepare.

A lemon poundcake caught my eye. A generous amount of lemon zest was called for to flavor the batter but it was the lemon syrup, made with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar, which was simmered briefly, then poured over the warm baked loaves, that made the recipe sound so enticing. While still warm from the oven, the poundcake was pierced with a skewer or a fork, then the sweetened juice was brushed over the top surface, permeating it with additional taste and making it extremely moist. After my first bite, I was hooked. The texture was tender, the lemon taste was perfectly balanced, and because of the syrup, the cake was incredibly moist.

This poundcake turned out to be an answer to all my week's dessert needs. A single recipe, which didn't require any hard-to-find ingredients, yielded not one but two 9- by 5-inch loaves. I took one loaf to my potluck meeting, froze the second for the student dinner and am planning to make the recipe again for our overnight guests. When you have a winner, why look further?

Lemon Poundcake

Makes two 9- by 5-inch loaves

CAKE:

nonstick cooking spray

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter (softened, if using a hand mixer)

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup finely grated or chopped lemon zest

4 large eggs

LEMON SYRUP:

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

Spray two 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray and line them with a strip of parchment paper, running along the length of the pan. Spray the paper.

Triple-sift the flours, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. Combine buttermilk and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.

Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, beat the butter on high speed until soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Slowly add sugar and lemon zest and beat on high speed until fully incorporated and mixture is fluffy, light and a creamy white color, about 10 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add the eggs, one at a time. Be sure each egg is completely incorporated and scrape down the sides of the bowl before adding the next.

Add one-third of the sifted dry ingredients to the batter and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Add one-third of the buttermilk mixture and mix until just incorporated. Repeat with the remaining dry and wet ingredients, in two additions each. Be sure each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake on center rack of 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pans and set on the rack to cool.

Meanwhile, bring lemon juice and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring. Cook until the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes.

While the cakes are still warm, poke holes all over the tops with a skewer or a fork. Use a pastry brush to apply the lemon syrup. The holes help the syrup penetrate into the center of the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature. The poundcake will last for up to 2 days at room temperature or 3 weeks in the freezer, if wrapped airtight.

-- From "The Secrets of Baking" by Sherry Yard (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

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