Monday, June 15, 2009

STI: Slices of sunshine

June 14, 2009

Slices of sunshine

Keep it simple and brighten your day with a cake that's spongy, light and full of lemony flavour

By Tan Hsueh Yun

Some weeks ago, I wrote about my obsession with celery and gave a recipe for a simple stir-fry that had just three ingredients and four steps.

One of them was not even technically a step, since it was 'Serve with rice'.

I have to say I had a lot of misgivings about the column. The recipe seemed way too simple, I kept fretting to a friend. It seemed like such a cop out. Why would people even need a recipe for such a no-brainer?

But S had tried cooking it herself and was the one who had urged me to write about it. Believe it or not, she is still cooking it.

'People want things they can whip up fast,' she said. 'Basically, some of us are lazy. We want to cook but we don't want to mess with a dozen pots and pans and bowls.'

Well. She was right. I got several e-mail messages about the column, with readers declaring their love for celery and giving me some of their own recipes for the vegetable.

Two people I chatted with after a dance performance at the Esplanade brought it up. One of them had made it for her son. Poor kid, I told her. You made him eat celery. He's going to hate me.

But I learnt something from all this, and it is to keep it simple.

I don't cook many complicated things but sometimes I get carried away.

Take this week's recipe for Lemon Yogurt Cake. I chose it because it is simple and delicious. There is no need to drag out the mixer, no need to wait for butter to soften and no esoteric ingredients. It is basically a dump and stir cake.

But then I started thinking about jazzing it up because, you know, I cannot help myself. Maybe I should add some of that candied yuzu peel I love so much.

'Oh, and where are readers going to find this peel?' asked P. 'People are going to read the recipe and turn the page.'

Gee, thanks. But good point.

Okay, how about making a raspberry coulis to go with the cake?

'What happened to keeping it simple, huh?' asked another friend.

So in the end, I decided not to fuss around too much. I even simplified the original recipe, which comes from American cookbook author Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa At Home.

It calls for both a lemon syrup and a lemon glaze. I'm omitting the glaze because seriously, who needs to blanket a perfectly good cake with a white glaze made from way too much powdered sugar?

The sticky stuff takes away the sunny, lemony flavour that makes the cake a real winner. I also upped the amount of zest and made the syrup less sweet.

The result is a bright-tasting, every-day cake that is good enough for company.

But while it looks like a pound cake, it has an unusual spongy texture from the oil. You will not get the velvety texture of a cake made with butter or the flavour of butter.

The trade off is not too bad though. This cake is much lighter than a pound cake and I like the tanginess that the yogurt brings to it.

It is such a versatile recipe too.

Instead of vegetable oil, use the same amount of good olive oil. Use lime, grapefruit or orange zest and juice instead of lemon. Add bits and bobs to the batter - berries or nuts, say.

Cook strips of citrus zest in sugar syrup and...

Okay, okay, maybe not.


Adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten


200g plain flour

2 tsp double-acting baking powder (below)

1/2 tsp sea salt

250g plain, full-fat yogurt

225g sugar

3 large eggs

zest of 3 lemons (below)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

125ml vegetable oil

For lemon syrup

80ml lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)

2-3 Tbs sugar


1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Grease and flour a 21.5 by 11cm loaf pan.

2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium-sized bowl, add salt, set aside.

3. To a large mixing bowl, add the yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla extract (above). Whisk together until smooth. Whisk in the flour mixture slowly (below).

4. Pour in the oil and fold it into the mixture gently using a rubber spatula. The batter will curdle but just keep at it until the batter is thick and smooth.

5. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

6. While the cake is baking, make the lemon syrup: Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat and set aside.

7. When the cake is done, stand it on a metal rack set over a foil-lined tray and let it cool in the loaf pan for 15 minutes. Using a blunt knife, loosen the cake gently from the sides of the pan. Remove cake from pan and place over the metal rack.

8. Spoon the lemon syrup over the warm cake and let it cool completely before serving.

Makes 1 loaf cake which serves 8 to 10.

Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten, 2006, Clarkson Potter, costs $62.95 with GST at Borders.

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