When life gets distressing, shouldn't we stop and eat some cake? I think that we should.
Somehow, through all of the events of the last few weeks, I found myself eating quite a lot of cake. I say this with a tone of wonder because I have not been baking for several weeks, nor did I purchase any of these cakes. The cakes found me.
Cake found me as I sat on the patio of a restaurant downtown, surrounded by pink bougainvillea blossoms, sharing a friend's anxiety. The manager of the restaurant sent over a tray of mini-cakes. Carrot cake with lemony cream cheese icing. German chocolate cake with fat raisins. Key lime pie cake, a zinger disguised by bland color.
And then, cake found me last weekend at a college football game. A springy chocolate confection, made by a friend's mother.
And again, cake found me one dark afternoon in the kitchen of my office. A dulce de leche slice kept me company as I answered my emails, one by one by one.
So I'd like to share a little cake with you. These cakes should be called cakelets, or baby cakes, or something adorable. Pleasingly tart and sweet, they are sure to become an addiction and make you smile.
Lemon Cakes with Basil Lemon Syrup
Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious.com
For the lemon cakes
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt, plus an additional 1/8 teaspoon salt, divided
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature for 30 minutes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
For the basil lemon syrup
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 (4- by 1-inch) strip fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
8 large fresh basil sprigs
For the whipped cream
1 cup chilled heavy cream
6 fresh springs of basil leaves.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with some butter, or non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of salt until well-creamed. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, until well-mixed. Beat in the lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of lemon zest until mixed. Add the flour in 1/4-cup amounts until it is just blended in. Do not overmix the batter.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and 1/8 teaspoon of salt until soft peaks form. Beat in 2 tablespoons of sugar until the whites hold stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins in 1/2-cup amounts. Sprinkle some sugar and grate some lemon zest over the batter. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees until the edges of the muffins begin to pull away from the sides of the tins and the tops are golden. Set the muffin tin on a rack to cool while making the syrup and whipped cream.
Make the syrup by combining all of the syrup ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow the syrup to boil for 8-10 minutes. Strain into a container and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Lift the muffins out of the tins and place in a shallow bowl. Spoon 1/8 cup of the syrup over the muffin and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.