Here's the story as told to me: Mrs. Evelyn Stearns baked numerous cakes from this recipe for a prominent restaurant in town as well as created quite a business selling them to hostesses to serve at baby showers and late afternoon teas. The cakes were incredibly popular. Ridiculously moist, lemon Bundt cake with a sugary lemon glaze that added to the sweet/tartness. Each slice held together well enough that perfect ladies could pick it up to eat it without having it fall to the plate in a crumbled mass after the first bite. Legend has it that many asked her for the recipe but Mrs. Evelyn Stearns NEVER gave it away.
In later years, long after Mrs. Stearns no longer produced her famous lemon cake for the masses, a similar type of cake was discovered to be featured on the side of the box mix for Duncan Hines lemon cake mix. However, in the photo that accompanies the cake mix version of the recipe, the cake appears to have more of a frosting than a glaze. Hmmm. After a bit of sleuthing, and prodding my grandmother, Edie, woman about town to reach out to some of her "contacts" (ladies who lunch and were clearly in the know), somehow Val came up with the famous recipe. To this day, Val still has the recipe card in her file labeled, "Evelyn Stearns' Lemon Cake". I now open the vault and share it with you, although it isn't much of a secret anymore. And to Mrs. Stearns' credit, it is not the exact same recipe. She adds an extra egg and turns the temperature of the oven down 25 degrees. Once the cake cooled for many hours, she slathered it with her signature glaze then wrapped it up tight in plastic wrap to seal it all in. So, the recipe is decidedly hers. After all, isn't that what we all do when we create something of our own? Take an idea, riff on it, add this, subtract that and produce something that is entirely new but comfortingly familiar? Legendary, indeed.
Evelyn Stearns' Lemon Cake
makes one Bundt cake
1 package Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme Cake Mix
1 package Jello Instant Lemon Pudding Mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and flour a fluted cake pan.
Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer and beat well for 5 minutes. Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until a pick inserted comes out clean. Let rest on wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove cake from pan onto wire rack and allow to cool for 4-6 hours more.
2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
juice from one lemon
Combine sugar and lemon juice. Wisk until smooth. Place cake on a large piece of plastic wrap. Pour glaze over cake and wrap tight. Let glaze absorb into cake for a few hours before serving.
Speaking of tweaking, here's my own personal riff on Mrs. Stearns' cake. Since I prefer my frosting to be the type you can actually peel off with your fork and I absolutely love a particular lemon cake featured at Starbuck's, I created a frosting instead of a glaze. You can take your pick and adorn your lemon cake however you like.
Tart Lemon Frosting
frosts one Bundt cake
2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon butter, softened
zest from 1/2 lemon
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
hot water, if needed
Sift sugar into mixing bowl. Blend in softened butter. Add zest and lemon juice. Combine to create a thick frosting that is barely spreadable. If the frosting is too thick, add more lemon juice or hot water, one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly after each addition as not to create a frosting that is too runny. Dollop frosting on top of cake and gently spread with frosting knife just over top of cake allowing for frosting to gently slip down the sides of cake, leaving approximately 1 inch at the bottom of the cake exposed. Allow frosting to set at least one hour before serving.