Cake and Sewing
My intention is that this post is about cake, specifically this great cake from Dorie Greenspan that was featured on the NYT Cooking site last week and that I just couldn’t resist trying. For starters, it is lemon and I do love most things lemon. It’s a breakfast cake and who doesn’t love that idea? Though in actual fact I’ve been having it as a mid-morning snack with a cup of coffee. So civilized. I have an aunt who is a lover of breakfast breads and cakes. Visiting her in Colorado in the summer, her house was a wonderland of varieties of healthy but tasty breakfast cakes. She’s also the one who taught me about ‘trimming the edges’. It’s a way of having little bits of cake, but without the calories. Honest.
But before I get to the cake I want to tell you about my cake and sewing day. I made this lemon cake one morning and then I got to work on a sewing project that I honestly dreamed up in my head. And before you just skim past that sentence, believe me when I say that I don’t do this sort of thing often. I’ve known how to sew most of my life but I don’t do it very often, (Until now, I feel like I may have turned a corner and launched myself into a whole new obsession.) I’ve made many cushion covers, duvet covers, curtains..I’ve mended things, I’ve made a few items of clothing but nothing recently. It’s one of those really handy skills that just sits there in the back of my brain. (Thanks Mom)
Not to bore you with my sewing story but – I MADE MY OWN PANTS! For real! I have a favorite pair of yoga (not-really-for-yoga) pants. They are just the right length and just a bit looser than regular exercise pants but still good stretchy material and are just generally perfect. I’m sure I got them on a sale rack at a Gap outlet at least ten years ago. They are actually doing pretty well given their age, but they won’t last forever. So I got this crazy idea, I ordered some heavyweight jersey and I made my own pants. (Relying entirely on the good juju from Mom’s sewing machine.) I pulled out the baking parchment paper, traced around my beloved pants, cut out the fabric, made it all up as I went along (aided by one ‘aha’ moment regarding elastic while walking the dog) and I have new pants! There are 100 things wrong with them, so you can’t look too closely, but I love them.
Now, about sewing and my mother. (I swear, we’ll get back to that cake.) My mother was an excellent seamstress. (Sewist? Not sure what word is current.) I mean she was crazy talented. When my sister and I were young, she made all of our clothes. She made our prom dresses. She made me my first bridesmaid’s dress. My dad still has items of clothing that she made him when they first married. I have a Little Women doll that she made me when I was young, complete with various outfits and you should see the clothes. Tiny button-down shirts with teeny, tiny buttons. Brocade on jackets. Petticoats. I mean, it’s exquisite.
She was also an outspoken feminist. At the forefront of things in the 60’s and 70’s, a professor of Women’s Studies. I had one of those ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ t-shirts that I wore to death when I was about 10 years old. And these two sides to her don’t seem to sit together naturally. She is a product of her age, she was born in 1937, and so grew up schooled in all the traditionally female skills. She could also write in perfect calligraphy. But she broke out of that traditional mold early on, even though she carried these skills with her. And then I think, does having these skills really tie you down or make you somehow less than? More feminine, therefore weaker? Because, after a day when I made several really tasty things to eat and a new pair of pants I think, how amazingly empowering is it to be able to feed and clothe myself! Screw the idea that these are lesser skills, they are the skills of life! Of things we need and use every day. I know it was just a pair of don’t-look-too-closely yoga pants, but I can do anything! This is perhaps not a new idea at all, just where my mind rambled after a lovely, successful day of sewing and baking.
Anyway back to the cake that is the true subject of this post – it is called Roman Breakfast Cake. And here was another thing that made it irresistible. Roman! The hubby and I had a wonderful trip to Rome a few years ago. Really, truly loved it. We thought we would, I mean who wouldn’t love a trip to Rome, but we loved it in unexpected ways. I was a truly great trip. Anyway, I was taken in by the Rome connection to this cake.
And finally it called for berries and I had just the right amount of the last of this season’s strawberries from Douglas Orchards in the house and so I gave it a try. And wow is it good. It’s light, almost the way angel food cake is light, though creamier and with just enough substance to hold on to those berries. I’m sure would be just as tasty with no fruit, allowing all that lemon flavor to burst though. Really, this was one of the best new things I’ve baked in a long time. And I just love the surprise of something simple, that I had a feeling I would like, turning into something I really love.
Roman Breakfast Cake
All credit goes to Dorie Greenspan for this fantastic cake: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/03/magazine/holiday-cake-roman-lemon-breakfast.html
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 6 eggs separated and at room temperature - FYI - it's easier to separate eggs cold
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup neutral oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp lemon extract or oil optional
- 1 1/2 cups fruit blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries - or leave out the fruit
Heat the oven to 350F. Generously grease a tube pan. This will be easier than a bundt pan, because this cake has a tendency to stick. So also make sure you grease it well.
Whisk flour, baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt in small bowl and set aside.
Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and the remaining 1/4 tsp of salt until firm, glossy peaks form. Scrape the whites into another bowl, there is no need to clean out the mixer bowl.
Now switch to the paddle attachment. Place the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of the mixer and rub together with your fingers until nice and fragrant. Add the yolks and beat on medium for 3 minutes, scraping bowl down as needed. The mixture will be pale and thick.
While the mixer is on medium, slowly stream in the oil and continue to mix for 3 minutes.
Mix in the lemon juice, vanilla and lemon oil.
Turn off the mixer and add the flour mixture. Mix on low until the flour is incorporated.
Add a couple of spoonfuls of the whipped whites and stir them in with a spatula to lighten the mixture slightly. Turn the rest of the whites into the mixture and mix gently with the spatula until incorporated. If you are using berries, add them just before the whites are fully mixed in.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly brown.
Transfer to a rack and wait 5 minutes. Then unmold the cake and leave it to cool.