Monday, April 14, 2014

Lemon Pound Cake - for a Friend

Life doesn't just give you lemons. It doesn't hand them to you nicely. It hurls them at you full-speed when you least expect it. They hit you less like lemons and more like bricks, if bricks were sour. Life threw a lemony curve-ball last month.

Kate Hopkins was one of the best people you could ever meet. She had happy eyes and she laughed at everything all the time. She was absurdly photogenic without even trying. She was one of those people who was smart in every subject and good at every sport and was so humble that it never would have even occurred to her that she had plenty of room to brag. If you were having a bad day, you could count on her to say something so ridiculous that you would have to burst out laughing and forget whatever was bothering you. Last month, an accident took her away from us. We all miss her very much. 

The little tree in my parents' yard grows the most perfect lemons. It gets just the right amount of sun and the colors pop like yellow and green confetti against a brown fence. Sometimes I sit under it for no particular reason and it cheers me up when I didn't even know I was sad. It's a bright spot, just like Kate.

I promised her that sometime we would spend a full day baking recipes from Joy the Baker's blog. I'll never get to keep that promise, but this lemon pound cake reminds me so much of her that it's as if she was right there in the kitchen with me while I made it. If you've ever felt a kitchen become instantly cheerful with hints of lemon in the air, you know what I mean. If you don't, you'll have to try this recipe to find out.

So Kate, this is your special lemon cake. I know you would have preferred something packed with chocolate, but trust me on this one. It has just a few blueberries in it, because they added a little splash of purple and a break between lemony bites. It's dense like pound cake but perfectly moist. The glaze is sweet and you would have drizzled it like a pro. It's even better on the second day, once the flavors have had time to get comfortable, but we both know it's hard not to devour something fresh out of the oven. 

Life throws lemons. Zest them, squeeze them, and smile. 



1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries (optional)

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired. I recommend letting your ingredients reach room temperature before starting.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, sprinkling the blueberries in as you pour. Smooth the tops and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them upside-down on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; poke several holes in the bottom of each cake using a fork or a skewer. Spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely before flipping them back over.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten.

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