Being that it’s my birthday week (I get to take over the whole week, right?) it’s only fitting to share one of my favorite sweet recipes. Not exactly a birthday cake, though I wouldn’t complain if you showed up at my house with a few candles stuck in one of these, freshly baked. It’s more of an everyday sweet cake. One that goes with everything from coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon. (Or half-slices snuck from the pantry at any time of the day while your kids run around like crazy people.) And, really, isn’t that the best kind of recipe of all?
Every year when the calendar switches over, my mind immediately turns toward spring. So do the stores, it seems, since everywhere seems to be exploding with pastels and florals. It’s actually depressing to walk through the Target aisles since here in Minnesota we’re still very much in the depths of winter. I grasp what springiness I can in the produce department, through citrus. It’s brightness reminds of what’s to come, hopefully sooner than later, unlike some years when the snow doesn’t melt until nearly May. I’M LOOKING AT YOU 2018.
Brooklyn and Nolan helped me make this cake one afternoon while Caden was otherwise engrossed in some LEGO creation or other. They helped me measure the flour. (I swatted Nolan’s hand away from eating the flour plain as he’s been known to attempt. Blech.) They tried to guess what each ingredient was. “Now it’s time for sugar?” No this is baking powder. “That’s sugar?” This is salt. “Is that whipped cream?” No this is ricotta cheese. I scattered granules of sugar on the counter once it was actually time for that beloved ingredient, for them to dab up with their fingers.
I showed them how I zested and then squeezed out the lemons into a sieve, quizzed them on why you couldn’t just squirt the lemon juice straight into the bowl. I wonder if they’ll remember these baking lessons when they’re older, the same way I remember my mom showing me how to scoop and then level off cups of flour and sugar. (Even if I rarely take the time to tap and level off the cup now. Whoops.) Maybe they’ll remember how I showed them to scoop out a stray piece of eggshell from the batter, by using another piece of shell to break through the gooey white and remove the offending chunk.
I don’t know. Tyson told me the other day that he realized he has memories from preschool. “They could be creating memories right now!” he told me excitedly. I laughed; it’s true. I remember, vaguely, a few of my own preschool experiences. A warm spring day spent picking dandelions outside, sitting on the rug at circle time, a sheet printed with four bears to dress any way we desired, how I vividly remember using shiny foil to make one bear into an astronaut.
Maybe they’ll remember these baking sessions. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll remember, more tangibly, the way the cake comes out of the oven, it’s golden brown top crunchy and sweet. How excruciating it is to wait until the cake is cool enough to cut. And the way a slice of lemon-y pound cake tastes in the middle of a winter afternoon.
Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake
Every time I make this cake for someone they ask for the recipe. It stays magically moist if kept stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. I’m not sure for exactly how long, though, since it’s never lasted more than two or three days in our house. Modified slightly from here.
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (do NOT use the low-fat stuff!)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan well with butter.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
With a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. At this point the batter may be lumpy; don’t worry, it will bake up fine in the end. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until incorporated.
Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (See note below.) If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil while the rest of the cake continues to bake. Let cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool completely on a cooling rack. (Or just forget about it entirely like I do and let it cool in the pan. Your choice.)
I’ve noticed this pound cake bakes very differently for me depending on the type of pan I use. For a metal pan, plan on the 50-60 minutes noted and maybe needing to use the foil. For a glass pan (like Pyrex, which I prefer), plan on 60-75 minutes. I always check it at the 50-minute mark to gauge where it’s at, then set the timer at 5-minute increments so as not to over bake. Once the toothpick emerges cleanly and the loaf appears to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan, it’s good to go.