Lemon Cake, Graves, and Julia

Cake.  Cake everywhere.  Cake on your face, cake in your hair.  Cake all around.  Cake up, cake down. Cake…cake……Ugh.  Please no more.  I like to bake layer cakes but right now I would MUCH rather make something like ratatouille, or cream puffs, or this Tian. I’m in the mood for classics, French classics particularly.  This is in part because of Julia Child’s 100th birthday that just happened last week. I had meant to use these beautiful haricot verts from my godfather’s garden to make one of Julia’s recipes.  I was going to post the recipe Monday to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of my blog and tie in Julia’s birthday as well.  Sadly it didn’t happen.  Instead I quickly blanched the beans, chopped some basil and tomatoes from the garden and made a salad.  There was some garlic (actually 4 cloves) as well as olive oil and balsamic vinegar (where would I be without this stuff?).  It was perfect, and tasted like summer.  And you know what?  Last week, when I was working on the wedding cake, I felt like I was paying way more tribute to Julia than I would have had I made one of her own recipes and called it good.  I was adding butter, and more butter, and didn’t have a single panic attack over parts of the cake crumbling, running out of butter, ect.

This week I had to make more cake, which is why I’m feeling slightly bogged down by the confection train.  Yesterday and this morning was yet another chocolate raspberry torte, and this afternoon was making a gluten-free dairy-free lemon cake with 7-minute icing for a neighbor’s daughter.  Actually, the second cake was a joy to make, especially because I got to use the extra gold dragees from the wedding cake to decorate.  The icing was divine, all marshmallowy and not sickeningly sweet, which I feared it might be.  The cake seemed moist enough, and tasted pretty good from the batter and pieces I tried.

This evening I also visited Mount Hope Cemetery for a school project.  We each have to find a grave, at least 100 years old, and write a fictional story about the person(s), contextualized by historic events and life in that time period.  I’m looking forward to it, especially because the grave I chose was for a man who drowned in 1839 in Boston Harbor.  Was it a suicide?  From a broken heart?  His wife (presumably) died 14 years before he did, so perhaps?  Sad, dramatic stories are so much easier to write than happy ones, hopefully I don’t get too carried away.  Well, maybe tomorrow’ll be the Tian…or at least no more cake.

Drowned in Boston Harbor…awful, but it makes for a good story!

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Lemon Cake
Adapted from Living Without Magazine, April/May 2009

Makes two very tall 8-inch layers, you could also use 9-inch pans.  I split the layers to make four.

10 Tablespoons canola oil
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure lemon extract
Zest of one medium-sized lemon
3 1/2 cups of a gluten-free All-purpose blend (I used King Arthur) or:
a blend of–2 rice flour: 1 tapioca starch/flour: 1 cornstarch or potato starch, to equal the amount specified
1 Tablespoon +1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xantham gum
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/6 cups rice milk mixed with:
1/3 cup lemon juice (or for the last two ingredients a close approximation so you arrive at 1-1/2 cups of liquid)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 8 or 9-inch pans with canola oil, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and grease that too.  Dust the pans with flour and set aside.

Heat rice milk and lemon juice over medium-low heat in a small saucepan.  Once steaming, reduce to low.

In a standing mixer beat sugar and canola oil until just combined.  On medium, add the eggs one by one, beating for a minute after each addition.  With the last egg add in the lemon extract and lemon zest.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, xantham gum, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add half of the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.  Beat on low, then on medium until well-combined.  Add in half the liquid and do the same, it may be good to mix it in partway by hand before turning on the mixer so it doesn’t splash out.  Add in the remaining dry and liquid ingredients separately, beating well on medium after both.  Then, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for a minute.  Scrape around the bowl to make sure you have gotten everything mixed in, then divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in pans for five minutes.  Then run a knife around the side of the pans and invert onto a cooling rack.  Remove parchment paper and turn the cakes right-side up.  Allow to cool before splitting.

Lemon Syrup
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice

Combine in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil.  Let simmer for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and use to moisten cake layers.

7-Minute Lemon Icing
Adapted from Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition
Makes about 4 cups

4 large egg whites
2 cups sugar
5 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 Tablespoons light corn syrup (I was scaling this up, so it’s 1 1/3.  Just make it a little more than a Tablespoon)
A little more than 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Zest of 1 medium lemon

Mix all ingredients but for the zest together in a heat proof bowl and set over a rolling boil.  Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture at medium-high for 7 minutes or so.  The recipe says that the mixture should reach stiff peaks, but I don’t believe mine ever did.  This could be because I was beating at a low speed (which was actually quite fast as my mixer is high-powered) or because I’ve scaled the recipe up a bit.  It also says you could do this with a wire whisk, which seems hugely inefficient (and unlikely to get you to stiff peaks), if a bit safer.

Remove from the heat and continue to beat the mixture, presumably on medium speed until cooled and stiff.  This took me about 10 minutes beating at low or medium (but as I said, my mixer is high-powered).  At that point it formed relatively stiff peaks but wasn’t fully at room temperature.  It worked well enough for frosting, and seemed to stiffen up some on the cake, but I couldn’t do any real piping with it because it was a little too soft.  Once you finish beating, you can add in the lemon zest.  Use soon after it’s done.


Once cakes are cooled, split each layer in two.  Place a dollop of icing in the middle of your cake stand and place one of the top half or the cake layers, top side down.  Spoon some of the lemon syrup over to moisten and frost.  Continue to build your cake in this manner, making sure to place the cakes so that the cut side will be up and able to absorb the syrup.  Frost with an offset spatula.  You will not need a crumb coat.


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About Madeleine C.

Hi I'm Madeleine and I am an avid cook and baker! Between school, homework swimming, and everything else in my life, I really enjoy cooking! I am 15 (now 16) years old, and have two brothers, both of whom have celiac disease along with my father. For this reason, I often make gluten-free things that will satisfy them as well as those who can readily consume gluten. I enjoy making the complex and the simple, and enjoy a challenge while cooking. That's just about it!