Baked Sunday Mornings: Lemon Lemon Loaf

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Sometimes recipes that seem so docile and unassuming provide more drama than I’d care to revisit. If you consider, say, the Lemon Lemon Loaf from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking that we have on the schedule this week for Baked Sunday Mornings, it looks very easy and unfussy… and it should be! I mean, what’s complicated about a lemon cake baked in a loaf pan? And yet, the recipe left me with one of the biggest baking messes I’ve ever (literally) had to clean up. I’m trying not to hold a grudge, I really am, and the lemon cake was perfectly fine and tasty, but I honestly walked away from this one thinking I’d never make it again… at first. But then I came across an Instagram post from Seed + Mill, one of my favorite tahini producers, that suddenly inspired me to try a do-over. They posted a lemon Bundt cake with a tahini-lemon glaze and a garnish of fresh thyme leaves, and I knew this would be a beautiful and unique way to present BAKED’s classic recipe. I decided to make peace with the lemon loaf and give it another try, albeit using a different preparation method to avoid the disaster of the first attempt. Actually, there were two reasons for the redo– aside from the glaze, I was gifted a bunch of gorgeous tiny lemons last week, and I could not think of a better way to use them!

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So what happened, you ask? Unlike most cakes, the batter for this one is made in a food processor, rather than using a stand mixer or hand mixer. On the face of it, this sounds great, right? That is usually an easy process with relatively painless cleanup. We are instructed to place the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the processor and combine them, which as you might imagine, produces a liquid mixture. (I rubbed the sugar and lemon zest together and let them sit for a bit ahead of time to meld together.) Next, you’ll add 4 sticks (four!) of melted butter through the feed tube while the machine is running. This is where things got crazy—I turned my back for a second to grab the sour cream and vanilla to add next, and I was greeted with a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sight: the bottom of the food processor bowl was bleeding lemony butter 360° onto the base of the food processor! I had to do a double-take to believe what I was seeing, the shock of which had me frozen for a moment. I scrambled to remove the bowl and dump the mixture into a regular mixing bowl in the hopes of salvaging it. (After adding the sour cream and vanilla, you have to transfer it to a bowl anyway.)

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Have you ever tried to clean a large quantity of butter off of something that can’t really be washed? Since I couldn’t throw the food processor in the sink and hose it down, I sprayed it with cleaner and wiped it down with, oh, nearly a whole roll of paper towels by the time I was done. And let me tell you, butter has a nice way of seeping into absolutely every crevice, edge, and angle, even on the bottom somehow. Every time I thought I was done, I touched another buttery spot. So you know, that was fun. I was simply shocked at what had occurred in a mere two seconds; this had never happened before with any recipe I’ve ever made in the food processor. I do wish I’d snapped a photo, but it was reeeeally not my overriding priority at that moment!

When I finally got back to making the batter, I worried that I’d lost too much that it would throw the ingredient ratio off, but I had no way to estimate how much batter was sacrificed in the whole debacle, so I just proceeded with the recipe as written and hoped for the best. I ended up whisking in the sour cream and vanilla by hand, then folding in the dry ingredients (cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt) as originally instructed. The batter looked fine, so I poured it into the loaf pans and crossed my fingers.

Color me shocked as hell when somehow the cakes baked up beautifully with that lovely split down the middle! After brushing the warm loaves with a simple lemon syrup made up of sugar and lemon juice boiled together, they were tasty, relatively fluffy, and very well received by tasters at a friend’s birthday party. And yeah, I was like, that’s nice, but I’m never making this recipe again, especially since (with a few exceptions) I’m really not crazy about lemon desserts in the first place.

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But then I discovered that tahini glaze and those lovely lemons came along… Let me tell you a bit about these lemons because I was super excited about them! I’ve always wanted to start a veggie garden and grow fruit, but have not actually done so myself yet, so I am super appreciative when someone gifts me freshly grown produce. The lemons are tiny, some not much bigger than key limes, and the interiors are in fact more of a lime green than a traditional lemon yellow. They had a bright, zingy fragrance and produced so much juice and zest compared to run-of-the-mill supermarket lemons! I might be ruined for regular lemons now; these were literally tree-to-cake lemons and they definitely made a difference in the ease of recipe preparation, as well as flavor.

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Anyway, I don’t like leaving a recipe on bad terms, so I was glad to be remaking it, despite a bit of grumbling; it feels like some kind of weird unresolved business. I think that what went wrong is that the bowl of the food processor was so full with the buttery liquid that it somehow slipped underneath the metal blade in the center and out of the bottom of the bowl that way. I can’t think of any other way that it could have leaked, as the bowl isn’t cracked, and I’ve used it hundreds of times before, and also since. I’m not about to try it again to prove this theory; what I would ideally do is use an immersion blender to combine the wet ingredients. Unfortunately mine is in storage at the moment, so I had to make do with a hand mixer, as the stand mixer felt like overkill. It seemed to work fine, though a little clumsy and splashy. I resumed with folding the dry ingredients in by hand, and for some reason my batter was a little lumpy this time, which I don’t remember from the first attempt.

The other change I made for the second attempt is that I made the cake in a Bundt pan instead of two loaf pans. I’m happy to report that the batter is the exact correct amount for a 10-cup Bundt pan, and it released easily and without any complications from the pan. I brushed the cake with lemon syrup again, and then conjured this gorgeous, satiny tahini-lemon glaze:

  • ¼ cup (60g) pure tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup (113g) confectioners’ sugar, plus more if needed to thicken the glaze

I played with the ratios provided by Seed + Mill, as their version called for a ton of tahini and lemon juice, and the above amounts worked well for me. Whisk together the tahini and lemon juice, then add the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until smooth, adjusting the consistency with a bit more lemon juice if it’s too thick, or a bit more sugar if too thin. It should be thick, but drizzle-able. I then garnished the cake with black sesame seeds and thyme sprigs, and I was positively delighted with the pretty results!

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As for flavor, I loved the tahini glaze as a foil for the sweet lemon cake—they are nicely balanced together. The only thing that was slightly disappointing is that the texture of the cake was very dense. This could have been due to overmixing (or differently mixing?) with the hand mixer, or perhaps I baked it a touch too long. The recipe instructs us to start the temperature at 350°F for 20 minutes, then turn it down to 325°F for another 30-35, but I kept the higher temperature for a total of 30 minutes since I had double the batter in one baking vessel. I kept testing and getting wet batter on the skewer, so I left the cake in for about an hour. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but I’d like it to be a little fluffier next time (like the first version), which I hope to achieve using an immersion blender.

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I’m so glad that I remade this recipe. The finished product was fine the first time, but made special with the substitution of the tahini-lemon glaze, both visually and flavor-wise. Whichever glaze you choose, the lemon lovers in your life will thank you! (P.S. If you make the original glaze, I’d suggest starting with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice at a time.) Head over to Baked Sunday Mornings for the Lemon Lemon Loaf recipe, and check out my fellow loaf bakers’ cakes while you’re there. Hopefully no one else had a similar food processor experience! 😉

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2019.

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