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lemon walnut rosemary cake

I’ve never understood why the phrase is “easy as pie” as opposed to “easy as cake.” Pie, in my mind, equals not so easy. Getting a crust right is a tricky thing; at least, it can be for me, though at this point I sort of get how to do it. Mind you, I worked in a pastry shop for a summer and took a Zingerman’s pie making class; a magazine I was working for paid for it, which helped. Then there’s the filling, involving cutting fruit up, no big deal with bananas, a 2nd circle of hell thing with cherries.

Cake, on the other hand, is easy peasy lemon squeezy—in this case, literally, because of, well, the lemon. True, a sponge cake can be a little gnarly, given the whole separated egg thing, but we’ll save that for another day. This Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler. It’s really lovely for springtime. I split this recent one between two good friends, Steve, and my son, and they all made kind of a big deal about it. The kid had to pick out the walnuts, but liked the rest so much he didn’t mind.

Baking Tips

Note that exact ingredients are below, as is required for baking. Baking is not an improv thing unless you’re some sort of baking genius. Which I am certainly not.

  • You can make this in a Bundt pan, which I like because 1) they’re pretty in a frumpy way, and 2) I also like the way they portion out. But you can also use a flat glass pan, like a casserole dish. Should you use the Bundt pan, you MUST apply first a generous layer of fat—coconut oil, butter, or non-stick spray—followed by a good dusting of flour, which you then tamp out so there’s no excess. I skipped the flour and you can see the result below. The top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. As long as the cake is still hot, this isn’t a complete disaster; you can just scoop it out and press it back in place. Still, if you’re trying to impress someone, and just to circumvent a case of severe kitchen frustration, do the flour.
lemon walnut rosemary cake with mangled top
  • Use a whisk to combine dry ingredients. A great trick I learned during that summer in the pastry shop.
  • If you have leftover buttermilk, freeze it in little muffin cups. It’s super handy, I always have to buy more than I can use, and voila, no waste. You can always sub it for milk in any baking recipe; it has more body and flavor.
buttermilk for the freezer
  • This is an oil-based cake rather than a buttery one. Use what’s known as “tasteless” oil. This doesn’t mean oil used by fans of Baywatch. Snort! This means oil without a taste, so olive is out. But sunflower, grapeseed, canola, even avocado work fine.
lemon walnut rosemary cake
  • For this type of cake, add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in layers. Start by putting a third of the dry ingredients into the oil/sugar mix, then add half the buttermilk. Etc, until both are used up. You want to start and end with dry ingredients, so that’s why they’re in thirds and the buttermilk in halves. Why? I don’t know!
  • Fold in the walnuts at the very end. The walnuts are finely chopped, so distribute fine. If you have a walnut hater, wait til the cake is in the pan. Gently add the walnuts to the pan, leaving them out of however much of it the walnut hater will eat.
lemon walnut rosemary cake folding in walnuts
  • Make the syrup ahead—even a day or three if you’re serving the cake as part of big do and you want to advance prep. You want to pour/brush cold syrup on the hot cake, the better to infuse the cake with the flavor. Do this with the cake on a rack over a plate after you’ve poked a bunch of wholes in the cake with a skewer; I reuse my cake tester to dandy effect. You’ll end up with syrup on the plate, which you then add to the cake, getting as much of the syrup in there as you can.
  • Serve with lemon sorbet for a little lemon madness or really good vanilla ice cream to counter the lemon. Or raspberry or strawberry sorbet for crazy color contrasts. And of course, since it’s a coffee cake, coffee.

Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake: The Recipe

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Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake
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Servings
Ingredients
Syrup
Cake
Servings
Ingredients
Syrup
Cake
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Make the syrup: Add all ingredients except for lemon juice (but including lemon peel) to a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking until sugar is completely dissolved and syrup has a good lemon/spice/rosemary perfume. Remove from heat and whisk in the lemon juice. Cool. Can be made ahead 2 days.
  2. Preheat oven to 325º. Grease and generously flour a Bundt pan, tapping out excess flour. (Alternative, cake can be baked in a square glass pan, which should also be greased and floured.) Whisk together dry cake ingredients (through ground cloves). In a large bowl, beat sugar with oil until blending; beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, incorporating, then 1/2 of the buttermilk. Repeat, then add last third of dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan, and bake about 35 minutes, until tester comes out clean.
  3. If using Bundt pan, let cake stand 5 minutes, then remove onto a rack over a plate. If using square pan, poke holes in cake with skewer (I use the cake tester). After 5 minutes, pokes holes all over Bundt cake, then carefully paint on the cool syrup with a pastry brush, or carefully pour. Syrup that falls through the center onto the plate below can be reused until as much syrup as possible is in the cake.
  4. Can be made one day ahead. Serve with lemon or raspberry sorbet or vanilla ice cream.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from a recipe originally published in the April 2004 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

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