It is FINALLY spring! Spring means I come out of my annual winter hibernation and start to feel human again. The weather is still unpredictable, but the calendar says I should be gardening and emerging back into the warmth.
Part of that emergence this year is participating in the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardener Volunteer program.
In exchange for the opportunity to help homeowners with gardening questions, I get about 60 hours of education and training in the first half of this year. I haven’t found a perfect volunteer opportunity here in my home county of 4 years, and I feel like this is what I can do for the rest of my life. A leader at a meeting Thursday said it perfectly, “You get out of it what you put into it.” She has been a member since 1997, so she’s doing it right!
Before I can help, I learn to help, and I have class two nights each week through May. We have a 15-minute break in the middle of our three-hour class and we take turns bringing in snacks. Let me tell you — gardeners can cook! We’ve had wonderful chilis, soups, casseroles, sandwiches, and stuffed breads…not to mention great dips and desserts.
Tuesday I brought in taco soup made mostly with local ingredients, and Friday was my turn for dessert. How to celebrate spring? With a bright lemon-yellow flower-shaped cake!
I didn’t plan to make it a flower, but it fits for Master Gardeners, right?
I made a wonderful recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, but I was a little rough turning it in the oven and checking it for doneness, and it deflated a bit in the middle. The rest of the cake was perfect, though — spongy, lemony, light, airy — so I trimmed out the middle, sliced the rest into little “petals” and layered them around a lemon. There was only one tiny half piece left after the class, so I think it was well received!
Here is the recipe I used. If you have a subscription to Cooks Illustrated or the website, you probably have it. Every recipe I’ve used from CI has turned out great. I’ve made this a few times with great success each time (well, except for the sunken middle on this one, but that’s my mistake).
Glazed Lemon Cake
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt 1 1/4 c (8.75 oz) sugar
- 2 Tbs grated lemon zest
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I use homemade)
- 1/2 c (3.5 oz) sugar (for glaze)
- 1/4 c lemon juice (for glaze)
- With oven rack in middle position, heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease 9×5 loaf pan with butter (the buttery wrapper works) and dust with cake flour. Shake out excess.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Melt butter, cool slightly, and whisk thoroughly to reincorporate any separated milk solids. Set aside.
- In food processor, process sugar and zest until combined, a few seconds.
- Add lemon juice, eggs, and vanilla and process until combined, a few seconds.
- With machine running, slowly add melted butter through feed tube in steady stream. Move to a large bowl.
- Sift flour mixture over egg mixture in three parts, folding in gently until just combined.
- Pour batter into pan and bake 15 minutes.
- Reduce oven to 325 degrees.
- Gently rotate pan halfway through baking time. (Don’t move too roughly, or cake may deflate in the middle).
- Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick comes out clean. (45 mins for me. CI says it should take about 35).
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto wire rack.
- While cake is cooling, bring sugar and lemon juice to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 2 minutes. Syrup should be slightly thick.
- Poke the cake’s top and sides all over with a toothpick. Brush glaze on sides and pour over top.
I had some of the sunken part for breakfast, and it is just what I need to start the day.
Now I’m off to the garden to enjoy one day of nice weather. I wish Mother Nature followed a calendar. We are cooling off again tomorrow, but hopefully Tuesday won’t look like St. Patrick’s Day (below)!
Happy Spring and lemony goodness!*** This personal blog is comprised solely of the opinions, views, projects, and travels of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She is lucky enough to have loving family and friends whom she drags along with her on her adventures and whom she puts to work on her little farm. She uses this blog to help promote living in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.**