Friday, June 5, 2009

Nathan’s Lemon Cake: A Thing That Makes You Go Mmmm

My little sister Linda turned the big 3-0 yesterday, meaning three things: she’ll soon develop a bizarre affection for Werther’s Originals, Andy Rooney will suddenly start making sense, and when her students start wearing retro-‘90s grunge fashions, she’ll be all like, “No way, kids. I did that the first time around.”

To celebrate, I wanted to make her dessert. Though Lin’s tastes are somewhat fussy, she’s a big fan of lemon-flavored sweets. Lemon meringue pie from Junior’s in Brooklyn is her all-time favorite, not least because the meringue itself is roughly ten feet tall. You have to be careful of grazing it on the kitchen ceiling when you take it out of the box.

Sadly, I’d never made that particular pie before, and didn’t want to ruin Her Most Significant Birthday Until She’s 35 and Can Run for President. Instead, I did a quick search on the Cooking Light website for something vaguely similar-tasting, and discovered Nathan’s Lemon Cake. The picture was appealing, the reviews were promising, and … you know, the lemon thing. So, I printed out the recipe and commenced Operation: Hey, Your ‘20s Suck Anyway. (Not really, but … positive spin!)

Zesting lemons is always a bit time consuming, but NLC came together unexpectedly quickly, mostly because the directions were to-the-letter perfect. About an hour after beginning, I had two moist, lemony cake layers cooling on the kitchen table, plus all the icing ingredients ready for assembly. Last night, after it’d been thrown together and spent a few hours in the fridge, we affixed some candles, sang the requisite day-of-birth celebration song, and dug in.

And? HOLY WOW NEW FAVORITE CAKE. We looooooved this thing. The icing should be distributed as an anti-depressant, because that’s how tasty and happy-making it was. I had a piece last night, and then ate another for breakfast this morning. Odds are I’ll have at least two more before I go to bed tonight. Then, I’m pretty sure I’ll dream about it. Tomorrow, my plan is to make another batch of icing and bathe in it. Stickiness be damned.

My only advice to you is: bake this now, especially if you know someone who’s turning 30, likes lemons, and needs softer foods for her teeth. She’ll appreciate it, and maybe give you a Werther's Original.

(P.S. Fat and calorie numbers came from Cooking Light [with a 0.1 g fat per serving adjustment for 1% buttermilk], so only the price is calculated below.)

Nathan’s Lemon Cake
Makes 16 good-sized servings
From Cooking Light.
Note: I bought 7 lemons for this, and used 5.

Cooking spray
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 cup nonfat buttermilk (I could only find 1% and it worked fine. – Kris)
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon lemon rind
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Lemon rind strips (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 2 cake pans with Pam. Cut circles out of wax paper and line the bottom of each pan with it. Spray the wax paper with Pam. Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the pans, shaking them so everything is coated and tapping out any excess.

2) In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk it all together.

3) In a separate large bowl, combine granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter. Beat on medium until it's thoroughly mixed. (This will take 5 minutes or so.) Add one egg and keep beating. Add the other egg and keep beating. Add a little flour mixture. Beat. Add a little buttermilk. Beat. Add a little flour mixture. Beat. Add a little buttermilk. Beat. Keep doing this until both are all gone, ending with the flour mixture. Add 2 tablespoons lemon rind and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Beat it in.

4) Evenly distribute batter between the pans, tapping them both to get rid of air bubbles. Bake 32 minutes, or until the cakes pass the toothpick test. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes in the pans. Flip the pans and sit the cakes on a wire rack until totally cool.  Take off the wax paper if you haven't already.

5) While cakes are cooling, make the icing. In a large bowl, combine all the rest of the ingredients BUT the lemon strips. Whisk it together.

6) Put the first cake layer on a large plate. Pour half the icing over it. Top with the other cake layer. Pour the rest of the icing on it. Eat any leftovers. Keep in the fridge.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
317 calories, 9.6 g fat, $0.35

Cooking spray: $0.10
2-1/8 cups all-purpose flour: $0.21
1 teaspoon baking powder: $0.03
1/2 teaspoon baking soda: $0.02
1/2 teaspoon salt: $0.01
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar: $0.48
3 large eggs: $0.39
1 cup nonfat (or 1%) buttermilk: $0.65
3 cups powdered sugar: $0.97
5 large lemons (for all juice and zest): $2.00
3/4 cup unsalted butter (for cake & icing): $0.75
TOTAL: $5.61

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