We’re skipping ahead a bit and we’re also going rogue. Week 5 is supposed to involve gluten-free and vegan things, and we decided it was more important to respect butter. So we went freeform.
The bake: Whatever we want. Something we’ve always wanted to do but just never got around to.
I read about Smitten Kitchen’s Poppy Seed Lemon Cake at least a year or so ago, and I was immediately intrigued. I loved the mini poppyseed muffins from King Soopers when I was a kid (almond more than lemon, but they were all delish), and I loved the updated take on the retro classic. Here’s how Deb describes the cake, “I can assure you, this is the cake I’d been looking for all along: a zillion tiny cracking poppy seeds, fragrant with lemon and loud with butter.” Cue drool. I had to make this.
She was worried about the proportions and ingredients (8 egg yolks, only 1/2 cup flour, an ENTIRE bottle of poppy seeds, no leavener) and I also worried a tad. But I do trust in my food bloggers to know a thing or two, so I forged ahead without changing a thing. I did have to buy a bunt cake pan because apparently I’ve been adulting for approximately 15 years (if you count 18 as the official I’m An Adult Now age) without one.
I’m always too quick on the draw when it comes to creaming butters and sugars together, so I made sure to set a kitchen timer for 8 minutes to get the required light yellow and fluffy sugar and mostly-egg yolk mixture. Cornstarch, lemon zest and the enormous amount of seeds went in, and I immediately was taken by the color. That many tiny seeds mean the batter is almost black flecked with light lemon, not the other way around.
This tastes exactly like the above description. Everything should be “loud with butter,” by the way. This was a perfect cake to have with coffee or tea, or just shoved into your face when the mood strikes. I don’t know when I’d have an occasion to make this cake again, but I can imagine I should try to invent one. If only to use the bundt pan again.
Brooke & Kelsey
Fresh off a jaunt in the United Kingdom, we decided to make a treat that’s often invoked by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books, but that we never did encounter while eating our way through the U.K., treacle tart. Treacle tart is Harry’s favorite dessert, and a classic British treat, but apart from the vast quantities of it that Harry consumes the American reader never really gets any context for what treacle tart actually is. Now, I knew that treacle was a sugary syrup in the vein of molasses, but not as dark, so I assumed that this thing would end up a bit like a pecan pie. I wasn’t totally wrong.
I initially pulled up Mary Berry’s rather labor intensive sounding recipe, but conversions aren’t our friend when we’re not jetlagged, so to preserve our collective sanity, I told Kelsey we were going to take the path of least resistance, for once. Enter, this recipe. The only other ingredients to track down once you have your Lyle’s Golden Syrup (thanks, Cost Plus!) are breadcrumbs and a single lemon for zesting and juicing. Easy enough. Oh, and pastry ingredients if you’re doing the proper thing, we copped out and bought a prepared one from Whole Foods. #SorryNotSorry.
Anyway, it occurs to me now that it may have been beneficial for us if I had lingered a bit longer on Mary’s recipe, as she specifies “white breadcrumbs.” The recipe we ultimately used had no such distinction, so we used Panko breadcrumbs. Our end result was still quite edible, but I see how a more absorbent bread would make for a poofier, more cakelike outcome. Let’s just call ours treacle tart lite, yes?
Anywho, the actual process was easy as pie. Preheat the oven, mix all the things, add them to the waiting crust and bake. The treacle tart carried the lemon beautifully, the actual tart was not nearly as overwhelmingly sweet as we feared based on the massive amounts of golden syrup, but actually had a bit of tangy zing that worked quite well with the recommended accompaniment of vanilla ice cream. The breadcrumbs gave the final pastry a nice chew that was a bit reminiscent of an oatmeal cookie. Almost certainly not as intended, but I’m not really mad about it either. We’ll do the thing properly someday, perhaps, but I wouldn’t mind having this version again either.
I’ve always been intrigued by the lemon meringue pie, but it always seemed like a daunting task. I went with the recipe in my Harry Potter Cookbook because it felt apropos.
The crust called for vegetable shortening and I have no use for that, so I just double downed on the butter. The dough is to be refrigerated, but for some reason I put it in the freezer. When I realized my mistake two hours later, I put the now frozen dough into the fridge and decided to call it a day. I had done enough for one day.
Day 2, the dough was ready to go. Then I came to the realization that I don’t own a rolling pin. Cue the montage music. First I tried the handle of a long ice tea stir spoon, but it was too skinny. Next I tried the handle of an ice cream scooper which worked a little better but was too short. Finally I settled with a small Nalgene water bottle which seemed to do the trick. Did this result an uneven crust? Yes it did. When I pulled out the baked crust, some edges were shorter than others.
The filling requires vigilant stirring over the stove. I felt like I had been stirring forever, which was probably 10 minutes, but nothing was happening, so I decided to call my mother for moral support. As in, to ask her how long I would have to stir this thing. She revealed that lemon meringue is kind of my grandmother’s thing and that my great grandmother was the queen of pie crust. I felt like I was letting them down, so it wasn’t much of a mood booster. Once I got off the phone, I just cranked up the heat and a few seconds later the whole thing thickened up no problem.
The meringue was the most satisfying part of the experience. I whipped it by hand at first, and it was a great tension reliever that I would recommend to everyone. After 10 minutes, it was time to break out the hand mixer. I don’t think the peaks were stiff enough because it did not pass the bowl-over-your-head test. However it had been a couple of hours at this point, so I was fine with it.
My proudest achievement is that the lemon filling and meringue kept their distinct layers; the meringue didn’t shrink and the lemon didn’t seep through. The meringue probably could have risen higher and I need to work on my swirling technique, but it didn’t look too shabby. I was excited to try it so the first piece ended up as a blob because it had not finishing setting. No regrets there. The fresh lemon packed a nice tart punch, and I liked the addition of vanilla in the meringue. One day I may try making a meringue pie again, but I’ll have to mentally prepare myself. And buy a rolling pin.
Next time, we’re back on message as it were. We’ll explore frangipane in Week 6, just like the real British bakers!