Thursday, October 29, 2015

Legendary Lemon Cake

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
5 eggs
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.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Plenty of Time for Cinnamon Rolls

Last weekend was the slowest one I have had in a long time.  When life is hectic and fast, I don't realize how much I miss all of the great things that go along with having a little extra time.  Sleeping late, drinking coffee in my pajamas while sitting on the loveseat in my office and perusing a cookbook.  Writing shopping lists, planning a menu that may or may not ever come to fruition. But who cares?  The fun part is putting it all together and imagining what delicious food I could be eating by later on in the afternoon, if I'm actually motivated enough to make any of the recipes that I tore out of some back issue of Food & Wine that I'm finally getting around to reading.  I have been dying to bake some serious bread described in The Little French Bakery Cookbook by Susan M. Holding. I was tempted by the "Spicy Round Cheese Bread" with it's crusty cheese on the outside and herby tang on the inside.  I imagined toasting a slice or two or thee and slathering it with butter but realized after snuggling up in a blanket while the cool fall air came in through the window that what I really wanted is a freshly baked batch of  ooey, gooey "Big Fluffy Cinnamon Rolls".

These cinnamon rolls are serious.  They are ridiculously buttery, in the best possible way.  Which means, the amount of butter (only 2/3 cup, so don't sweat it.) in the dough allows the cinnamon rolls to remain soft and springy even after they have cooled, even a few days later when I am shoving the last small end into my mouth before one of the kids gets off the school bus and tries to claim it for her own.  The frosting is literally "THE Frosting".  Whenever anyone describes something that adds to an already amazing idea, plan, gift, outfit, whatever, they refer to it as, "the frosting" .  So, when I tell you that the "Cinnamon Roll Icing" is amazingly rich, sweet and tangy, those words just don't do it justice.  I think I will write Ms. Holding and suggest she change the name of her icing to THE FROSTING.  All caps.  It's really that good.

The process to prepare and bake the cinnamon rolls was a lengthy one.  Not hours spent toiling in the kitchen but of steps that must be performed so that the final product comes out correctly.  And waiting patiently between those steps for the right amount of yeasty activity to take place.  But it's all totally worth it.  I forgot to take the eggs out the night before but managed at least to get them to room temperature with the rest of ingredients, as suggested, by submerging them in a bowl of hot water for a little while.  Once I mixed all of the ingredients together, I began the kneading which took me a good 20 minutes.  Until reading this book, I had never heard of a "gluten-window".  To find out if your dough has been kneaded enough, rip of a piece the size of a golf ball.  Flatten it between your palms, then pull it to make it think enough so that you can see the light coming through it.  If it tares, it's not ready.  Keep kneading, and kneading and kneading some more.  Try the gluten-window test again.  Still no luck?  Keep kneading.  I kept kneading until my arms were about to fall off.  Finally the light shone through the little gluten-window and upon me. Phew! 

1 1/2 hours later, once the dough doubled in size, Ava became interested in my project.  I rolled out the dough probably into a much larger rectangle than the directions described.  I couldn't help myself, imagining how many cinnamon rolls I could eventually be devouring. Gluttonous! By the time we coated it in melted butter,  sprinkled on the cinnamon and sugar and gently rolled it into a long log, the dough measured about three feet!  I also sliced it thinner than instructed.  I really don't know why. That's how I ended up with 24 rolls instead of 12 to 15.  Ava and I kept reaching for yet another pan to accommodate them all. Finally, after nestling each roll into a butter, cinnamon and sugar bath alongside it's brothers and sisters, we wrapped the pans up for the last rise.

While the rolls baked, the centers pushed up and out forming doughy mountain peaks and some were even perfectly stepped like little cinnamon Mayan temples.  By the time they came out of the oven, none of us could resist the smell of them.  The cream cheese frosting with it's crazy amounts of even more butter is the perfect compliment (2 sticks this time, but don't skimp on it or you'll be sorry.  How often do you actually make cinnamon rolls, anyway?) We blobbed it on top of the warm cinnamon rolls and allowed it to slowly melt and drip along the sides.  Since I began this endeavor around 7:00am, the whole thing took until about 12:30pm.  Just in time for the perfect holiday lunch. The kids couldn't believe that I didn't at least make them have some fruit first.  They used their little fingers to pull apart the sticky rolled sweet and popped globs of frosting into their mouths.  I watched as they both absentmindedly wiped their hands on a shirt or a pair of pants.  "GET A NAPKIN!" I yelled.  But it was to late and I really didn't care, anyway.

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