Wednesday, 11 May 2016 11:26

When life gives lemons, we all know what to do

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Hubris.See also: Pride. It’s an expectation that far exceeds the scope of one’s being.

The fatal flaw that causes writers to take on impossible deadline, and leads amateur bakers to think they’re qualified chemists.
It’s also the reason there’s a second lemon poppyseed cake in my oven today, after the first one proved a lesson in humility.
The first cake was not made strictly according to the recipe before me. I tinkered. I meddled. And did these things more than usual. Frivolously. Without due caution and respect for the reactions required when encouraging a cake to rise.
The result? Cake No. 1 rose and then sunk in the centre. It neither resembled the picture, nor released from the pan. After which it had to be dug out into what I’ve decided to redeemingly call “freestyle muffins.”
If Cake No. 2 turns out, it will confirm my own fault, and not the original recipe’s.
My fault for overestimating my chemical intuition in regards to acids and leaveners. For thinking I could swap out milk and add buttermilk, along with lemon juice, without a careful sussing out of how much baking soda to include.
My fault, too, for liberally sugaring the top to add a nice crackle (did I flout gravity, as well?). And for forgetting to flour, and not just butter, the pan.
To avoid a repeat of Cake No. 1, the new pan was buttered, floured and had its bottom lined with parchment paper. And I’m being almost true to the recipe.
But this is not where the story began.
Rather, it began with a smug little thought about life giving lemons, and with them, making lemon poppyseed cake.
At least, that was the plan when, at the grocery store last weekend, I reached for the last mesh produce bag filled with five fragrant, floral, Meyer lemons.
Unfortunately, I forgot the buttermilk and eggs. And the poppyseeds, too.
Also unfortunately, one of the lemons, the one obscured by the label, had at some point turned fuzzy and blue. A squishy little casualty on the way to a perfect cake.
“Buttermilk Eggs Poppyseeds,” I wrote on a list, then arranged the remaining four lemons in a bowl on the kitchen island, and for the next few days breathed their citrusy scent; better than flowers.
“Buttermilk Eggs Poppyseeds,” I typed in a text when I forgot the list I had written.
“Buttermilk Eggs Poppyseeds,” I reminded myself each time I left the house, each time coming back with none.
ButtermilkEggsPoppyseeds. Buttermilkeggspoppy seeds.
By the following Wednesday, I was chanting it in my head. By Thursday, hearing it with music.
On Saturday I checked my prescription label.
When life gives you lemons, make a lemon poppyseed cake, I thought to myself when I finally bought eggs and buttermilk. And again later, when I walked back to the store for a packet of poppyseeds.
Then one more time when I went back for butter.
Though I did not yet have a cake, I had the sum of its parts.
What, I thought, could possibly go wrong?
Lemon Poppyseed Cake
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs fresh lemon zest
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 Tbs poppy seeds
for syrup:
juice from 3 medium Meyer lemons (1/3 cup)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Butter and flour a loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Alternating, add the flour mixture and milk until incorporated (do not over beat). Add poppy seeds.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake at 350F for 50 minutes, until a tester inserted in centre comes out clean.
Let cool, in pan, on a wire rack for half an hour before turning out to cool completely.
Meanwhile, in a small pot, heat together lemon juice and sugar until dissolved. Cool.
Serve slices of cake, each drizzled with the lemon syrup.

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