I have professed before my love of plain cakes, and I really think that if I did write a cookbook, it would be all about plain cakes. Because there are so many possibilities. Is it made with butter, natural yoghurt, sour cream or olive oil? Flours or almond meal or polenta? A hint of vanilla or a hint of lemon? A light as air sponge or a denser wodge that is almost pudding? See, I class all of these as plain cake.
A plain cake should be able to stand on its own two feet, shine by itself in a quiet, unassuming way. Equally, it should be star enough to play supporting role to say a good scoop of rich berries or dollop of stewed fruit.
This syrup cake started out as a plain cake, made with just enough lemon zest to brighten it up. It included a modest amount of semolina — have you ever baked with semolina before? I’ve used polenta, with very pleasing results, but not semolina (I’m not even entirely sure what semolina is…). It made the fine crust of this cake slightly crunchy, in a very good way.
I thought this cake was pretty good as it was, without the syrup and candied lemon slices that were next in the recipe. In fact, I was loathe to make them in case they ruined a perfectly serviceable plain cake! Even tasting the syrup I thought — if such a thing is possible — that it was too lemony, too acid.
But then I cut a test slice (okay, second test slice — the first was to see what the truly naked cake tasted like), dribbled over some of the syrup, and was wowed. This is one of those occasions when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because plain cake (with nice crunchy edges) plus syrupy sauce equals amazing.
It wasn’t just me who thought that: I took a still-oven-warm slice to my lovely friend A, who I was sure was in need of sustenance; and gave another slice to the just-as-lovely V, with instructions to zap it in the microwave for a few minutes, as this is a cake best served slightly warm. Both were effusive in their praise (not of me, of the cake). V hit it on the head perfectly when she said it was just the right amount of tartness and sweetness. She also said it sent her to ‘lemony deliciousness heaven’, which is possibly an even better way of describing this cake. So maybe it’s not quite a plain cake afterall.
On another note, I’m sharing with you some pictures of my sage, which is growing spectacularly well at the moment, and makes for a wonderful vase in the kitchen. Nothing to do with the lemon cake, it just made its way into the picture.
Adapted from taste.com.au. I used my deep fluted bundt tin rather than the specified deep 20cm round tin. Cooking time still took the same!
- Preheat oven to 180 and prep your chosen baking tin.
- Cream together 125 gms soft butter, the zest of 2 or 3 lemons, and 1 scant cup of sugar.
- Add 2 eggs.
- Fold in 2/3 cup semolina, 1 1/2 cups SR flour, 1/2 cup natural or greek yoghurt, plus the juice of half a lemon.
- Blob into pan and bake for 45 minutes or so until done.
- Meanwhile, make the syrup. Place 1 scant cup sugar, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup water in small saucepan and gently dissolve the sugar. Then add some very fine slices of lemon; enough to ring around your cake as you can see in my first photo (I needed two small lemons). Increase the heat to bring to boil and boil carefully until syrup thickens. Apparently 'without stirring', but I couldn't resist a prod. This took me a good 15 minutes.
- Allow cake to cool a little before turning out. Then while it is still warm, pour some of the syrup over, reserving some. Arrange your lemon slices prettily and serve each slice with a good slosh more of the sticky syrup and a good blob of the yoghurt you used for baking. As before, I think this is best enjoyed warm.