I woke up on January 1st with a long list of broad-brush ideas for improving myself. Phrases like eat less, do more and practice mindfulness twirled around inside of my brain daring me to catch onto one of them and make a commitment. I know that is what I should be doing but that is just not the kind of brain I have. I need clear, measurable results if I am going to embark upon personality changing behavior. Things like don’t eat meat for a month. Don’t buy any clothes this year. Skip the caffeinated tea next time. Stop laughing when my 2-year-old farts and then makes the noise again with her mouth.
And even though I love it when December begins and all I want to eat is foods found on the brown color spectrum, when January arrives all I want to do is toss out the last of the mince pies and Christmas pudding and even the Beef Wellington lurking in the back right hand corner of the refrigerator. My first clear and measurable goal is no more braising. No more stews. Nothing else that is the color of leather. I want fresh, lively zesty foods to celebrate a new year. The challenge is that we are still in England, you know, and it is not like I can offer up a shaved brussels sprout salad with tart green apples and a tarragon vinaigrette at tea time. Oh no. Not without losing a future claim to citizenship. No, around these parts it may be a new year but it is not a new era in humanity. At 3pm tea will be served, with cake (or cookies, we are a progressive family), and my goal is to make that as fresh and lively and zesty as possible. For the sake of the new year of course.
Citrus fruits are in abundance this time of year and I am spoiled by growing up in New Orleans where friends’ Meyer lemon and Satsuma trees would be so full from being overlooked at Christmas that the branches would wilt under their weight. Neighbors call by with baskets of lemons and grapefruits and oranges. Everyone is preserving and squeezing and zesting the aromatic fruits calling one another for ideas and recipes and asking after who might be a recipient of their bounty (in other words, who doesn’t have their own citrus tree?).
It is not quite the same in London but farmers markets and the fresh fruit boxes in grocery stores are still spilling over with coral, orange and yellow offerings. This cake is an ideal way to use some of those gifts and still feel like your head is in the right place in the new year. The zest in this cake adds a sharpness that is well balanced by the creamy butter and milk. It tastes like an old-fashioned cake. Really rich but not overly sweet. Just the kind of thing you can have a slice of without feeling like you need to eat the entire cake to feel satiated (Which is what happens whenever I eat brownies. Am I alone in this?). It just makes you feel a little springy and a little excited about the year to come.
- 2 1/4 cups plain flour (aka all purpose flour)
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- Zest of 2 large lemons (about 2 Tbsp of zest)
- Zest of 1/2 of 1 orange
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
- Preheat oven to 350F/176C and arrange the rack to be in the middle of the oven with nothing on top of it.
- Prepare bundt pan by buttering and then flouring inside so that every bit is covered. I recommend either using a pastry brush dipped into melted butter to make sure you catch every crevice or using a spray baking oil (like Baker's Joy) to make sure you don't miss a spot.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a microwave-proof bowl combine the butter and milk and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave for another 30 seconds. If not fully melted give it another go for 10-seconds at a time. You want the butter melted but not too hot. When it is done, set it aside until needed.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the eggs and the sugar. Blend on high for 5 minutes until the mixture is super light and fluffy. With the mixer still on high, gradually add the vanilla, lemon juice and both zests.
- Turn the mixer down to low and add half of the flour mixture, then half of the milk mixture. Blend for about 30 seconds and then add the second half of the flour mixture and the second half of the milk mixture and blend for another 30 seconds.
- Pour into prepared bundt tin and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes insert a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake. If it comes out clean, remove the cake and let cool for 10 minutes. If is not clean, cook for an additional 5 minutes and check again. (Depending on your oven you may need to bake for up to 45 minutes but be careful not to overcook).
- After cooling, carefully flip upside down onto a cake stand or plate and then remove the bundt pan. Top the cake with drizzled lemon icing or just a sprinkle of powdered sugar and serve.
- If you like the idea of adding a lemon drizzle combine 1 cup of icing sugar or powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Whisk until combined (add more sugar if it is too runny) and then drizzle evenly over cake.