A Heavenly Lemon Drizzle Cake
Plum cakes (pronounced 'ploom cake' in Italian) have always caused great confusion in me - 'a ploom is a fruit, no?' 'why is there nootella (that's 'nutella' in Italian again) in the plooom cake?'. Even after all these years, juicy, plump, violet plums still swim around in my head every time I hear the word 'plum cake'.
In actual fact, here in Italy, loaf cakes are simply called 'plum cakes' and come under the same category as breakfast cakes because they are easy to prepare, taste great with a cup of warm milk, and probably, I think, because they can stay put for a few days on top of the fridge and still taste amazing, meaning a few days in a row of eating cake for breakfast. And yes, in case you didn't know, a slice of cake qualifies as breakfast in Italy. (Just don't get me started on cookies for breakfast.)
And that's how this simple lemon drizzle cake ended up in the hands - and mouths - of, say, about 10 people over the course of four days last week. I made two loafs and shared them in various situations with friends and strangers, and learnt a few things:
- an unexpected act of kindness i.e. cake-giving, can make you feel happy all day and more (so happy that I forgot to eat more cake myself)
- breakfast cake works perfectly as a pre-party meal alongside red wine at 11pm on Saturday night with your girlfriend
- handing out cake can result in more diversity of food products in my own home (e.g. homemade tomato sauce from Campania, courtesy of a satisfied cake-eating neighbour, sparkling red wine from another)
It's just a win-win situation.
Living in Italy means there are some great bakeries on every block with shop displays full of wonderful pastries. But when I'm craving home, I always come back to something simple like this lemon cake with icing. Icing of course is often lacking in Italian cakes, so this makes it qualify even further for my cravings for Sydney.
Sure it is richer than your usual Italian plum cake, but I find this recipe from The Violet Bakery Cookbook makes one of the most balanced loaf cakes, with just the right amount of sweet. The addition of lemony syrup right after it comes out of the oven intensifies the lemon factor that of course makes me feel less guilty about eating it slice after slice.
It's the best way to show off some great lemons you picked up at the markets (thank you Italy for your amazing lemons from Sicily!), so please use the best you can find.
A few notes:
- 3 lemons in the recipe means that lemon is important: use the best lemons you can get!
- butter and eggs should be at room temperature: be patient, wait for your butter, because cold butter, or eggs, may result in a split batter once you start beating the eggs in. It will still come out tasting fantastic though (if not a bit bumpy in texture) so if it happens, don't freak out too much. Listen to some Drake and keep going.
And there you are. Get some sunshine in your day. Surely if you are in Europe right now with the Siberian winds flowing/freezing our asses off, you're going to need it.
LEMON DRIZZLE CAKE
Makes one 25x10 cm loaf cake
Slightly adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook
250 g butter, room temperature
250 g sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
250 g plain flour (or 00 flour in Italy)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
100 ml milk
Lemon syrup drizzle
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs water
2 tbs lemon juice
150 g icing sugar
2 tbs lemon juice
Set the oven to 180C / 160C (fan-forced). Butter and line the loaf tin with baking paper, leaving a few centimetres of overhang (this will make it easier for you to pull the cake out of the tin later).
In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream your softened butter and sugar together, just about 5 minutes until it looks lighter in colour and texture.
Zest the 3 lemons directly over the bowl. Mix to combine.
Add the eggs one at a time, with the mixer going at low-medium speed, making sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add half of this to the mixture, and beat just enough to combine. As it is beating, add all of the milk, beat the whole thing so that the milk looks incorporated, and add the rest of the flour mix. Mix to combine, just so that you don't see any dry bits around the bowl.
Scoop + pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin.
Bake on the middle rack for about 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Make the lemon syrup
Whilst your cake is baking, add the sugar and water to a small pan and simmer until the sugar is melted. Add the lemon juice and give a stir.
When the cake is out of the oven, still warm, poke around some holes all around the cake and pour the syrup all over. Let it absorb it all while the cake cools around 20 minutes in the tin.
Turn out of the tin and cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the icing
Squeeze your lemon juice first into a small bowl and set aside.
Sift your icing sugar so that there are no lumps.
Add the lemon juice to the icing sugar, maybe just half of it first and stir it around. Keep adding little by little until you get a thick, drizzle-able consistency. I find that it's always better to have a bit less liquid than I think, when I am aiming for a cute rounded drizzle like I did for this cake. You may need more lemon juice or less, find out what works for you.