American-Style Lemon Pudding Cake

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This is not a pudding in the UK sense of the word; it's just a cake (sponge) made with pudding (custard) mix to give it a moister texture and stronger flavour. But it is delicious. You know when you go to a chain coffeeshop and want a snack or breakfast, and you just know there's like an 80% chance that any slice of cake, any muffin, any scone you get is going to be dry, crumbly and terrible? And yet you do it anyway because you're already there and what else are you going to do, and then you take that first bite, thinking all the while about how you want your slice of cake to taste and then it doesn't. You know that feeling? This cake is what I always want a lemon loaf from a chain coffeeshop to be: moist, citrusy, sweet, with a crisp crust and plush texture perfect for pairing with a cup of tea. And as so often here in the Recipe Box kitchen, I'll defend this cake to the death as an option for breakfast, as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea or for dessert, maybe with a scoop of macerated berries on top.

If you make this in a mini tube pan, as I did, you'll have enough left for a very tiny loaf pan. Otherwise, this works great in a standard-sized tube pan or, even easier, a loaf pan. If you're looking for a more strongly citrus flavour, this works well with a lemon drizzle poured over it while still warm. It's also great with a heaping dose of poppy seeds thrown in at the end, but as I can't find them at my supermarket currently, you'll just have to trust me on that.

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Make this on the night before you start a new job, when you want something home-y to calm you down in the morning before your first day hitting the grind... Or, you know, for any other occasion, too.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. You know I love a citrus dessert, and one this easy that perfects the snack that coffee shops everywhere so often ruin is the best way to spend a rainy day.

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One year ago: Mocha Cake with Caramel Frosting
two years ago: Battle of the Carrot Cakes
three years ago: Peanut Butter Cookies

the recipe:

Lemon Pudding Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and grease a tube pan (or loaf pan).
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
Add lemon extract, zest and dry pudding mix.
Beat in eggs until smooth.
Add oil and orange juice and beat until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and bake 40 minutes, until golden brown on top and a pick inserted in the middle comes out barely sticky.
If using a tube pan, allow to cool for 5-7 minutes, then turn out.

the ingredients:

2 ¾ c (352g) flour
1 ¾ c (350g) sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp lemon extract
Zest from one lemon
1 pkg (3.4 oz) instant lemon pudding mix
4 eggs
½ c (120ml) vegetable oil
¾ c (180ml) orange juice

Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

This might be the coldest winter we've had in Edinburgh since Judson and I moved here in 2013. It's definitely not the snowiest (last year), but it is cold this year and I don't think the temperature has crested the freezing point in two weeks. It's so bad that last week after catching a late showing of Star Wars at a theatre less than one half mile from our flat, we caught a cab home because it was a straight uphill walk and we didn't want to deal with it in the ice late at night. It's so bad that even when we're just running her out into the garden for a quick outing, we still have to bundle Holtzmann up in her tiny tartan jacket so she doesn't get too cold.

All that cold, alas, has not turned into snow. I still love snow with the relish of a child who grew up in Florida, and despite the fact that I get around solely on foot in this city and am not great at negotiating cobblestones disguised by a layer of ice and snow, it's still worth it when the snow falls on the castle and on these adorably cosy streets. Plus, we really want to see Holtzmann to have a chance to play in the snow. Given the refusal of the temperatures to budge, I'm still holding out hope for a white Christmas.

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

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In the meantime, if it's not snowing outside, at least it can snow indoors... which is how I ended up with a batch of Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses gracing my kitchen this weekend. The Lemon Snowflakes are great- another toasty, nutty cookie that is supposed to be made with pecans and so another chance for me to use pistachios instead (if you're reading this and trying to think of a Christmas gift for me, SEND PECANS!). They're easy and they're supposed to be messy, which takes the pressure off of you if, say, you've spent the last week making intricately decorated wreaths, stars and gingerbreads.

As for the Snow Drop Kisses, these are basically just meringues with fruit mixed in, and the mystifying addition of oatmeal. I'm not very good at making meringues. Probably this is because I had never had one until age 20 when I moved to Paris, but regardless, every time I've tried to make them they've come out tan. Add to this the fact that I'm not really sure what they're supposed to be and you have a recipe for meringues that I enjoy but am too embarrassed to serve to friends. Are they supposed to be crunchy all the way through? Should they have a chewy centre? I don't really know. All I know is that I had a really hard time getting these to be firm on the outside without burning all the fruit in the middle.

Here's where I landed: 15 minutes at 150C/300F gave me a meringue with a soft, marshmallow-y centre with a dry exterior. The meringues were just this side of ivory, but when I bit into one I was pleasantly surprised to find that the oatmeal had become a crisp counterpoint to what otherwise would have been an overpowering soft/sweet mess. The apricots (my supermarket is sold out of mixed candied fruit since everyone is making last minute puddings this week) worked well and added another dimension of flavour, and overall, although these aren't pretty enough to serve to other people, I actually rather like them.

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

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The verdict:
lemon snowflakes:

4 spoons out of five. The frosting really makes these, so don't skimp on it! The heavy amount of cornstarch in the dough gives them a silky crumb, and, paired with a zingy bright frosting to cut through the crunch, they're the perfect addition to any holiday party platter.

Snow drop kisses:

3 spoons out of five. I'm really only deducting spoons for the fact that they're not very pretty. If you like your meringues soft and sticky on the inside, make these for yourself asap.

One year ago: crazy crust apple pie
two years ago: Meltaway Cookies & Hot Cider

The recipe:

Lemon Snowflakes

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and butter two cookie sheet.
Cream butter until fluffy.
Gradually beat in ½ c powdered sugar, then the cornstarch and flour.
Chill at least one hour or up to overnight.
Shape into walnut-sized balls.
Spread chopped nuts on waxed or parchment paper.
Place a ball on the chopped nuts and press gently and evenly with the bottom of a glass until a thin disk is formed.
Place cookies, nut side up on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to turn light golden.
While cookies cool, make the frosting: beat remaining powdered sugar, melted butter and lemon juice until mixture forms a thick paste.
Line cookies up in rows and pour frosting over the cookies by moving back and forth in quick motions.

the ingredients:

½ c butter, softened
1 ½ c powdered sugar, divided
¾ c cornstarch
1 ½ c flour, sifted
1 c pistachios, very finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp lemon juice

The recipe:

Snow Drop Kisses

the directions:

Preheat oven to 150C/300F and grease two large cookie sheets.
In a very clean bowl, beat egg whites until frothy.
Add vinegar and vanilla and beat a few seconds more.
Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Continue beating until mixture is stiff and glossy and you can no longer feel any grains of sugar in it (this will take at least 10 minutes).
Gently fold in fruit and oatmeal with a spatula.
Using a teaspoon (for firmer meringues) or a tablespoon (for softer ones), drop onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake 15-18 minutes until the outsides are dry but give slightly when you poke them.

Best eaten fresh. May also be served with whipped cream like mini pavlovas.

the ingredients:

3 egg whites
½ tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
½ c diced mixed candied fruit, or dried apricots
½ c oats

Lemon Cake

Here’s another easy one since it’s hard to muster up the energy for anything difficult in the kitchen when you have 18 hours of daylight at your disposal every day. This time of year in Scotland is just my favourite, but it does mean I’m subsisting on little-to-no sleep because who wants to go to bed when it’s still light outside… even if it stays light until 11 and gets light again at 4am?

I was holding out high hopes for this cake because it’s a typed-up recipe card with the title ‘LEMON CAKE (Hunsinger) Good’, so I really thought that it would be, you know, tasty. I made this assumption for two reasons: 1) Eleanor’s opinions haven’t generally let me down and 2) the cakes involving fruit that I’ve made so far have always been ace (see banana, date, coconut and… are we counting pumpkins and carrots as fruit?). Also, I am pretty sure I’ve heard family stories about Mrs. Hunsinger and her baked goods, so I assume this recipe came from her and was hoping for great things.

But I was disappointed. It could definitely be user error, but I felt the cake lacked flavour and the glaze was too thick and sickly-sweet to properly match the soft and fluffy sponge. The glaze was much brighter and zingier than the cake itself, which was also really distracting. I think part of the problem could be that lemon drizzle cake is practically an institution in the UK, so I’ve tried a lot of really good lemon drizzles since moving here and this one just didn’t measure up. I’d hazard an educated guess that part of the problem is probably the fact that it has no syrup poured over it to moisten the otherwise-fluffy-but-dry cake. Further, it’s not a recipe problem so much as a personal opinion that the other issue is that it contains peach juice (I’ve never been able to find apricot nectar in Edinburgh, so we’re condemned to peach nectar over here in the Recipe Box Kitchen)but no discernible reason for this- it doesn’t change the colour of the cake, the flavour, or add any much-needed moisture. Finally, my cake was made from scratch (partly because that’s how I roll and partly because my grocery store doesn’t sell lemon cake mix), so it’s also possible that 1960s lemon cake mix would have been moist and perfectly lemony and I just don’t have the necessary time machine to make that happen, but homemade is always better, so I kind of doubt it.

All of the above notwithstanding, I took this cake into work and got loads of compliments on it, so maybe my standards are a bit high (or maybe my coworkers are just going easy on my ego).

The verdict:

2 spoons out of five. It wasn’t awful, but it sure wasn’t awesome. But it deserves some credit for being hella easy and pretty adorable.

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Two years ago: Self-Frosting Chocolate Cake

The recipe:

Lemon Cake

The directions:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F and line the bottom of a tube pan with parchment.
Lightly oil sides and stem of the pan.
Mix flour, caster sugar, butter, baking powder, zest of one lemon, lemon extract, oil, and nectar.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, until mixture is smooth.
Bake 25-30 minutes until light golden and a wooden pick inserted in the centre comes out barely sticky.
While cake is baking, make the glaze: beat together powdered sugar, juice from 1 lemon and remaining zest until mixture is thick but pourable (add additional lemon juice, a few drops at a time, or powdered sugar one spoonful at a time if mixture is too thick or too thin).
Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes in the pan on a cooling rack.
Remove cake from pan and spoon or pour glaze over the finished cake while still warm.

The ingredients:

¾ c flour
¾ c caster sugar
¾ c butter, softened
1 tsp baking powder
Zest of two lemons, divided
1 tsp lemon extract
¾ c vegetable oil
¾ c peach or apricot nectar
4 eggs
1 ½ c powdered sugar
Juice of one lemon (zest it first)