experiments in cooking

How cool a name is “lightning cake?” And the original German name, blitztorte, is pretty cool too.

I decided to make this cake last Saturday largely because of the name. Also, I’ve never made a “lemon-scented yellow cake” from scratch, as Joy of Cooking described the cake. It sounded so fancy—but it was supposed to be fast and really easy.

I had the best intentions, but I made a mistake early on by working with cold butter. I was supposed to bring all the ingredients to room temperature, but I started rushing, like I often do, and didn’t pay attention.

I wasn’t sure it would matter. I mean, does it really matter if your butter is a little cold?

Yes, it does. Allrecipes.com states, quite clearly, “If the butter is too cold, it won’t beat evenly; it won’t incorporate air and increase in volume.” And, according to Baking911.com, if there aren’t enough air cells, the cake won’t rise.

But did I listen?

After awkwardly beating a stick of cold butter that kept getting stuck in the beater paddles—because it was cold, duh!—I pushed on. The batter looked fine. But as I watched the cake bake through the oven door, I got worried.

It wasn’t rising.

The color was nice, but this was going to be one dense cake.

I pulled the cake out of the oven when the color was right and it was fully cooked, but I worried that it might be too dense to eat. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried about that—it was dense but moist and lemony, and iced with homemade chocolate glaze (also a Joy of Cooking recipe), it was pretty yummy. It tasted mighty nice with coffee.

But on Saturday afternoon, as I looked at the short little cake I’d made, just after it came out of the oven, I decided I needed a backup dessert in case the cake turned out to taste awful. Because, of course, I had once again decided to serve a new dessert to guests—and I didn’t want to be caught with a dessert that would ruin the end of the meal.

The recipe suggested almonds as a possible topping for the cake in lieu of icing, so I decided to make some almond wafers as garnish for the cake. I figured, if the cake did taste awful, we could eat the wafers.

It’s worth mentioning that the almond wafers were also a new recipe. I guess I love life on the edge. And, as could be expected, baking the wafers did not go smoothly.

It was an adventure worth telling. And that’s a story for another day.

Lightning Cake (Blitztorte)

This is a German Blitztorte, named for the speed with which it can be produced. It is a quite simple lemon-scented yellow cake, delicious with or without the topping, or frost it with any powdered-sugar or quick icing.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour [leave out flour if you intend to serve from the pan] one 8×2–inch round pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together thorough:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat until cream, about 30 seconds:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until lightened in color and texture, 3 to 5 minutes:

1 cup sugar

Beat in 1 at a time:

3 large eggs

Beat in:

1 tsp grated lemon zest [or lemon extract]

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Stir in the flour mixture just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. If desired [and not planning to ice the cake], sprinkle the top with a mixture of:

1/3 cup chopped or sliced natural almonds or other nuts

1 heaping tablespoonful sugar

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper linking, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack. [Note: I iced the cake in the pan and served it from the pan.]

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