this is my favourite cake of all time, and probably the reason behind my preference for rustic, homey cakes. it was one of the first cakes I baked (a long time ago, now) and also a recipe from the most amazing Nigella Lawson (also incidentally I have never made a recipe of hers that has not worked – so either I’ve had incredible luck picking the recipes or she’s uh-may-zing)
anyway, this makes a soft cake with an intensely delicate crumb, and it’s topped off with a sharp (because I like it this way) syrup that seeps into the cake and renders it crazily moist. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like this cake, and if my partner is to be believed, this is the cake that hooked him at first. I make this in great amounts for colleagues and friends when there are gatherings, or there is a need to give a gift, but buying something is not appropriate. A slice of cake is always a good thing.
if you have a look at the photos, I used paper loaf liners, and three of them at a time in an 8-inch square pan. this is because I was trying to bake seven cakes quickly, and only had one loaf pan to use. baking a large cake and cutting it up to give away also didn’t really seem nearly as nice as giving away a single small cake, so I chose to do it this way. if you try this, however, you’re going to find that your middle cake might expand a little width-wise and into another cake. I have two tips that might help you if you choose to ever bake this way:
- make sure you weigh your bowl before mixing your batter in (it is one-bowl!, another selling point) so that you know how heavy the batter is, and you can divide it up easily between the loaf liners using a scale.
- measure out the batter into the liners first, plonking them down in the centre of the liner. only smooth out slightly so that it does not infringe on the space of the other liners.
on to the recipe! I’ve also made varying amounts of this in round/square cake tins, muffin pans and etc., so adapt as you wish. always check your oven though (I never rely on timings as temperatures don’t stay constant) and check it often after about half the prescribed baking time.
lemon cake (from Nigella Lawson)
125g unsalted butter
175g castor sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
175g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk
23x13x7cm loaf tin, buttered and lined
juice of 1 1/2 lemons (about 4 tablespoons)
100g icing sugar
- preheat oven to 180C and butter and line the loaf tin well. in fact, unless using a silicon pan, make sure the lining comes up at least 1 centimetre up the sides for easy unmoulding.
- cream together the butter and sugar, and add the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in as well. add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then the milk.
- spoon the batter into the prepared tin and put into the oven.
- while the cake is baking, get on with the syrup: put the lemon juice and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently so that the syrup forms as the sugar dissolves. bake the cake for 45 minutes or until golden, risen in the middle (though it will sink a little as it cool) and an inserted cake-tester comes out clean. as soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top all over with the cake-tester or suitable implement.
- pour syrup, trying to let the middle absorb it as well as the sides, then leave to cool and soak up the rest. don’t try to take the cake out of the tin until it is completely cool, as it will be sodden with syrup and might crumble.