I’ve been bitten by the baking bug and it hasn’t been so bad. Baking fills my tiny kitchen with the scent of brown sugar, serves as a lovely gift, and keeps me mindful. And although our kitchen was built for someone about two feet taller than I, it still serves as a darling environment for spongy cakes and French press coffee.
I made Sydney this lemon cake for her birthday a few days ago, selecting the specific flavor based off of Sydney’s taste. (She likes sweet things, but not too sweet…there’s a fine line between delicious and sugary-grit.) After sneakily scanning her Pinterest boards, I noticed there were handfuls of lemon-y desserts set on hold. Social media for the win! Lemon cake wins too. It was bright, celebratory, and simple.
However, this is more a post about morning time than it is about a cake. I too often glaze over the morning, bouncing into my routine of blending a smoothie, maybe going on a run, and flicking through Instagram to see what my east coast friends have posted as they ease into their afternoon. I rarely sleep past eight-thirty, and almost never wake before seven.
Lemon cake changed that outlook. Lemon cake, especially a birthday lemon cake, beckons to be eaten in the morning. I had a vision: the golden light of the Los Angeles sun would dance with the lemon zest, creating a sunny morning for the eyes and the tastebuds. The lemon cake, like a hungry toddler, demands a 6am wake up.
That morning began with One Day Like This, courtesy of Elbow, playing as an alarm, and my body shifted among the mass of pillows I used to create a nest. (I like to sleep in the center of my bed, with a barricade of cushions surround my sleep. It makes me feel like a cross between a princess and a rabbit.) I almost ditched Sydney’s birthday to stay quietly tucked into the sheets, but then I remembered how wonderful she is, and forced myself to walk across the hardwood floor into the kitchen.
The nice thing about baking first thing in the morning is that is spares no room for second-guessing. You are by nature mindful, as the brain is still adjusting the real world. The touch of the plastic bowl, the earthy smell of fresh flour, and the knock of a cracked eggshell. All of these sensations are multiplied when they are the first things you hear.
It’s a comforting practice to spend some alone time in the kitchen as the sun begins to pour through the window. There is no need for music or a podcast. The slight “gloop” of the batter as it is spooned seems melodic enough, and when the cake goes into the oven, a warm and zesty scent mosies it’s way into the morning. It has a rustic look it, and reminds me of something I would it if I were a character in Tuck Everlasting, or if I owned a white wrap-around porch.
I added berries to illuminate color, taste, and texture, and I think those were nice. I also gave the cake a glaze, which was not necessary, but added something special. Sydney and I ate the cake at our kitchen table, still scrolling through instagram, but also enjoying our summer (and her 23rd birthday!) a little bit extra.
Here is the recipe. I borrowed it from surprise, surprise Molly Wizenburg! I used vanilla yohgurt, which was yummy, and a square pan, which was all I had. You can also wish Sydney a happy belated birthday by venturing over to her Disney-inspired blog here.
French Lemon Cake, or Gâteau au Citron
For the cake:
1/2 cup yohgurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup fresh or frozen berries (optional)
For the glaze:
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 jar powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, mix the yohgurt, sugar, and eggs, and stir until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate and stir until it forms a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan, or an 8×8 square pan. (I bet the 9-inch is prettier, and will likely yield a shorter baking time.) If using berries, sprinkle some into the pan halfway in between scrapes and pours.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Check on the cake periodically, as different ovens can be finicky. Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes and hen turn it out of the pan to cool completely.
When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup.
Have a happy day, friends! You all deserve it.