I experienced some important baking lessons when making this cake–stuff I already knew and yet stuff that it was good to be reminded of. First, tiny changes really do make a difference in baking. I was forced to use the wrong size pan and wrong flour for this cake and poof! the cake sunk way too much. Second, at the end of the day, don’t ever let tiny problems stop you from baking because the cake was still awesome.
This second lesson may seem obvious, but it can be hard for someone of my obsessive compulsive nature. Just ask my sister who fielded 80 billion questions (not really but it may have felt like it) about whether the cake would work with my subs. The funny thing is–and no disrespect to my sister, an excellent baker in her own right–I probably bake more cakes than she does by a lot. Mrs. Gabriel warned us of the evils of reassurance questions back in the 7th grade, questions that we know the answer to but still need reassurance about. Guess I should have listened better.
As soon as I saw this cake on Epicurious I knew I was going to make the cake part. I was not sold on the lavender whipped cream (floral plus honey just does not do much for me in a dessert) and I was planning to sub a locally made lemon curd I had waiting for an appropriate occasion for the filling, but the cake alone was definitely intriguing. Based on a Provencal style cake, it has no leavening, only eggs, and is made with extra virgin olive oil. It is moist, lemony with an extra added something from the extra virgin olive oil, and, in a word, delicious. It is good on its own, but spectacular with the lemon curd and whipped cream. The strawberries on the side turned out to be irrelevant.
I am calling the cake rustic–who knows if it would have been so ugly (sunken, etc) without my forced substitutions. It is certainly a more plain (in appearance) cake. It still looks yummy to me, but I like homey, rustic, un-frosted cakes–and not just because I have some of the worst hands ever for decorating. I like the fact that these cakes are delicious without frosting, moist and fragrant. It remains one of those great ironies that some of the dishes I am most excited about take the worst pictures–because I have guests waiting. So please excuse the photos; I was in a hurry.
Provençal Lemon Cake With Lemon Curd & Whipped Cream
Adapted from Epicurious
2 T unsalted butter, melted, for brushing pan
5 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil*
1 1/2 T lemon zest
3 T lemon juice
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 t salt
1/2 -1 cup lemon curd (depends on which size pan you use–larger pan gets less layers)
whipped cream, lightly sweetened
* use a good but not super expensive olive oil, neither too strong nor too light; I used an imported Greek olive oil, Liohori (not a kalamata oil). When we poured it into the cake, Alex said “OH! It smells like olives!” which made me mildly nervous, but it was perfect.
Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle. Brush inside of 8 inch springform pan (I used 9 inch–ok but 8 is better) with melted butter, then chill 2 minutes to set. Line the bottom of pan with a round of parchment paper, then brush the pan and parchment with another layer of melted butter and chill 2 minutes more. Dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Beat yolks with 1/2 cup sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. It will make ribbons. At medium speed, beat lemon zest and juice until just combined. Add the olive oil in a drizzle and mix until combined. Sift in flour and mix at low speed until just combined. Using a clean bowl and whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with salt in another large bowl until foamy (on medium speed), then add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until whites just hold soft peaks (on medium high speed). Do not overbeat.
Gently fold one third of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Transfer batter to springform pan, smoothing top, and gently rap against counter once or twice to eliminate any air bubbles.
Bake until golden brown (top will crack slightly) and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes (if you end up using a 9 inch pan, check the cake at 35 minutes; mine was done at 40). Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, during which time the sides of the cake will shrink in (see pictures-the left is immediately removed from oven, the right is 10 minutes later). If you had to sub an unbleached AP flour with corn starch, as I did, and use a 9 inch pan, the top will probably collapse as well. After 10 minutes, remove the sides of the pan and cool cake to room temperature.
After the cake cools, slice it into thirds (only slice it in half if you used a 9 inch pan). Place the bottom piece onto the cake plate, cut side up. Spread the lemon curd over the top, leaving a 1/2 inch edge, place the middle layer onto it and spread the rest of the curd onto it, again leaving a half inch edge. I reserved some curd to drizzle over the cake because we liked it so much. Place the top layer onto the cake, cut side down. Press gently to help the curd spread to the edges.
Dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving. Serve with whipped cream and additional lemon curd if desired.