Despite the uniformly grey skies today, it’s finally starting to feel like spring has arrived for real here in the city. The snow is melting (although slowly), the grass is beginning to turn slightly green in places (although it’s mostly a dull, dusty beige colour everywhere else), and the geese are returning from wintering in the south. In fact, a lot of the migratory birds are passing through the city again to new locations for warmer months. All these things point to spring properly settling into the city. I’ve been sitting here, looking at the blinking cursor in this Word document for a good fifteen minutes, and I cannot find the words to adequately express how relieved I am that the grip of winter over this city is finally starting to slip.
While I might not be able to express in words my relief over winter finally letting up, I can definitely express this feeling through food. When I think of spring, I think of new, clean starts. I think of brightness, clarity, and cheer after months of chilling, bleak weather, shapeless and heavy snowdrifts, stinking street grit, and arctic winds that cut down to the bone despite the thickest, warmest parkas. I think of bright lemon, and of the nearly floral nature of the scent of lemons. Lemons (like spring) are an uplifting thing—from their sunny yellow colour, to their sharp sourness, and their clean, fresh scent. And the first few weeks of spring are nothing if not uplifting after a bitterly cold winter.
According to Kathi Keville’s article on lemon’s uses in aromatherapy, lemons have antiseptic, antidepressant, and antiviral qualities. And as I decided I would bake a sweet lemony treat this weekend to celebrate the coming of spring, it makes sense that my associations of clean lemon flavour with feelings of bright cheerful feelings hold up. After the gloom of winter, the antidepressant applications of baking a delicious cake with a strong lemon element could only raise one’s spirit further.
The cake I decided to make came from Deb Perelman’s smittenkitchen.com. Specifically from a 2006 recipe that she in turn adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, and which bears a strong similarity to my mother’s own recipe for lemon pound cake. Making use of 6-8 lemons worth of zest and juice, this cake is astonishingly bright with clean citrus flavour. The sourness of the lemon is tempered by the sweetness of the crackling glaze icing that runs in small rivulets off the edge of the bundt cake, but that sourness helps to keep the cake from being overly sweet. There’s a really lovely balance between the sugar and lemon, and it results in a cake that has just the right level of tartness.
The cake doesn’t get too dry either thanks to the lemon syrup that is spooned over the hot cake almost immediately after being removed from the oven. Perelman ran into a bit of difficulty when she added the syrup and glaze to the cake after letting it cool almost completely—but I found that it was a little easier (and more effective) to add the syrup while the cake was still hot but removed from the baking tin. The syrup soaked into the still-warm cake pretty well, so I waited until the cake had cooled further to drizzle the glaze over it as well.
If you’re looking for a cake with a bright citrus flavour—one that will reflect the relief of a harsh winter finally letting go of a quiet prairie city, this is the cake to go with. The aromatics as this cake bakes is amazing—the clean, bright, sharp smell of lemons will waft through your home and even if it’s still pretty grey outside, the house will still feel as though it were full of springtime sunshine.