learning to bake: lemon tea bread

So, I’ve been a bit busy of late, due to an impromptu road trip to Seattle (pix to come), my usual business endeavors, and my new volunteer gig. It’s been difficult to find time to bake. But I’m dedicated so I carved out some time for another installment in my baking journey. Since my goal is to eventually get to a fruity decorated cake, I figured I should try to bake an actual cake with some fruitiness this week. Blueberry tart is fine, but it’s not a cake, and cakes are pretty hard. Enter this lemon tea cake recipe, below.

I was more than a bit apprehensive on this one. It just so happens that I had tried my hand making this cake before. It also happens that it was one of the two cakes that I had tossed in the bin. Normally I wouldn’t throw food away, but this isn’t a healthy salad. It’s cake. I don’t need to force myself to eat cake. And well, it was pretty bad. It came out gummy, dark, and not at all appetizing. Into the bin, it went. So, even though I refuse to let baking conquer me, you can imagine my worry at trying this particular cake again. Breathe, I said. You’ve made pound cake successfully before. This isn’t that different. Breathe and follow the recipe. And… success!

I was a little worried at the beginning. When I’ve made cakes that start with butter and sugar before, the objective has been to “cream” them. But in this case the combination looks fluffy, not creamy. I double checked the recipe to be sure I hadn’t added too much sugar or something, but in fact I got it right. The other trick, I realized, is to start with just about everything at room temperature [I read about this in a book]. I also didn’t overwork the mixture, meaning don’t beat too long once the eggs are in. Finally, I remembered the way my gran taught me to fold the flour and milk into the mixture. Figure 8s rather than round and round. So thrilled with the result! I shared it with some friends last night and we all enjoyed it. Yumm!

Lemon Tea Bread, Little Miss Bent

Lemon Tea Cake in process

Here’s the recipe, taken largely from epicurious. The below recipe includes my notes and photos, notes marked with an asterisk.

  • 2 large lemons
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened (*sit out at room temp an hour or more)
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs (*room temp)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds*

*I looked and looked but could find no poppy seeds and used dried rosemary instead. I was more than a little worried about making substitutions–I’d gotten into trouble with that in the past–but this turned out just fine. Quite good in fact. Now, on with the instructions.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour two 9- x 5- x 3-inch metal loaf pans, knocking out any excess flour. *I haven’t tried this particular recipe with glass bakeware, but it worked fine with my non-stick pans.

Finely grate enough zest from lemons to measure 2 teaspoons. Squeeze enough juice to measure about 1/2 cup. *I keep on hand that “real lemons” juice from the grocery store (in the lemon-shaped container) and had to top off my fresh squeezed juice to make up 1/2 cup.

In a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. *Set aside for the moment, until the butter, sugar, egg mixture is ready.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter, 2 cups of sugar, and lemon zest until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low speed add the flour mixture and milk alternately in batches. Make sure to begin and end with flour mixture, and blend just until batter is combined well. Blend in poppy seeds* and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. *I did the flour-milk-flour part by hand, along with the juice and such, using figure 8s just like my gran taught me. Apparently the motion helps to keep the mixture aerated.

Now you’re ready to pour. Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans, smoothing tops. Bake loaves in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour.  *I rotated my pans about 40 mins in. I don’t think this is strictly necessary but the temperature seems to vary in my oven and I had placed the pans relatively close together. If you choose to do this, make sure to wait until the batter is set (not jiggly), and move them smoothly and carefully.

While the loaves are baking, in a small bowl stir together remaining lemon juice and remaining 1/2 cup sugar until sugar is dissolved.* This takes about 5 minutes, so really, it need not be done so soon. You might also do this when the loaves are out of the oven cooling (see next step).

Remove loaves from the oven and set them to cool in the pans on a rack for about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert loaves onto rack. Turn loaves right side up again and pierce tops all over with a thin skewer. Repeatedly brush lemon glaze over tops of loaves until all of glaze is absorbed.

Cool loaves completely, about a full hour. *Serve and eat! I served mine with strawberries, which played well with the rosemary, I think.

This is also a great item for a party because you can bake ahead. If you’d like to use them later, just wrap them in wax paper and store them in an airtight container for up to 4 days. You might further wrap them in foil and store in the freezer for up to one month, if desired.

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