By Austin Raymond
This past week, health complications forced my four-foot-eleven, hundred-pound, 81 year-old grandmother to move all the way from Honolulu, Hawaii to my hometown of Olympia, Washington. After four decades of sunshine and balmy breezes, my poor bachan (that’s Japanese for grandmother, but I call her Bachi) might as well have moved to “Antarctica: Rain-shadow Edition:” good ol’ Olympia gets a whopping 58 inches of rain and a dismal 52 days of sunshine a year.
As you can imagine, my grandmother’s last few days have been all about finding the silver lining in an otherwise cloudy (and drizzly) picture. One such silver lining recently turned up in the most unexpected of places: the local Starbucks. You see, my grandmother loves her some Starbucks lemon loaf. And apparently, Honolulu’s Starbucks don’t carry lemon loaf (seriously, what kind of sick operation are they running over there?). So when Bachi saw those iced slabs of moist, lemony goodness all lined up on display at the neighborhood Starbucks, her eyes lit up like Christmas, and I knew the berry coffee cake and petite vanilla scones just wouldn’t do.
Having heard my grandmother wax rhapsodic about lemon cake and bemoan Honolulu Starbucks’ poor stocking decisions, I knew what I had to bring her as a retirement home-warming gift: a whole lemon loaf all to herself. Boy, did I choose right. When I voiced concern that she wouldn’t be able to finish it all by herself (after all, the loaf was about as big as her head), Bachi inched protectively closer to her prize, and sweetly reminded me that wasn’t the cake baked for her?
Now, I will take a moment to explain this article’s title. I’m sure you read it and were either amused, intrigued, or thought “ewww, grandmas aren’t sexy!!” I am well aware that the words “sexy” and “grandma” don’t usually occupy the same sentence (unless we’re talking about Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda, amiright? Real talk: I only wear sweatpants 24/7 now because I’m saving my stylistic energy for forty years from now when I’m Helen Mirren/Jane Fonda-reincarnate).
But seriously, the recipe below is for sexy grandma cake. No other moniker will do. Reason number one: lemon cake will forever make me think of my grandmother, and my grandmother has recently taken to calling just about everything “sexy.” Take yesterday for example: my dad was showing her the remains of an old-growth tree that fell down near our house, and she smiled and said “ohh yes that’s reaaal sexy, huh?” Given the contexts in which my bachan has used it, I have come to the conclusion that, in her mind, “sexy” equals “coveted,” “desired,” or “in-demand.” If you think of it that way, an uber-ancient tree stump is pretty dang sexy. Folks, this lemon cake is even sexier. I know, it’s pretty challenging to imagine anything more erotic that a rotting tree carcass, but I’m telling you, this cake has major sex a-PEEL (dun dun ch, womp womp, boo get off the stage!). But really: sit this golden-brown, lemon glaze-glistening, sweet citrus-wafting bad boy on your kitchen counter, and it will be “coveted,” “desired,” and “in-demand” by one and all, guaranteed.
Reason two: baking things in loaf pans kind of feels like an octogenarian activity—I mean, what says “granny’s house” more than pound cake and meatloaf?—but with this cake, baking loaf thingies never felt so deliciously erotic. This recipe calls for you to poke the just-cooled cake all over with a toothpick, then brush the whole shebang with a luscious, syrupy lemon-sugar glaze. As I drenched that already-moist, buttery loaf with liquid sunshine, watching the still-warm syrup seep seductively into every nook and cranny, I distinctly thought: “this is definitely the sexiest thing I’ve done in a long time.” Now, I may not get out much (just ask my oven and my Netflix account), but I bet you a million lemon loaves that you’ll be mentally playing the same R. Kelly slow jam I was when you get to step five of this recipe.
So, without further ado, here’s the recipe. Regardless of how you feel about the sexual gravitas of grandmas and/or the definition of the word sexy, you need this cake in your life, my friends. You and your grandmas can thank me later.
Liberally adapted from Foodess
Serves 10 (or one lemon cake-loving grandma)
For the cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened*
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 tbsp grated lemon zest
*Or you can omit the ½ tsp salt and substitute in two sticks salted butter
For the glaze:
· ½ granulated sugar
· ¼ cup lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5” loaf pan and line it with a piece of parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. Combine butter and sugar in standing mixer and beat on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating for about 15 seconds after each and pausing to scrape down sides of bowl before adding the next. Beat in vanilla.
4. With mixer on low speed, gradually beat in half of the flour mixture. Stop mixer, scrape down sides of bowl, beat in milk on low speed, then add and beat in remaining flour mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 45-60 minutes, until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Place pan on wire rack for 10 minutes to cool, then carefully lift the corners of the parchment paper to transfer cake out of the pan and onto the wire rack. Peel off parchment paper.
5. Combine sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. While cake is still warm, poke regularly-spaced holes all over the top of the cake with a toothpick and brush glaze over cake repeatedly until all of glaze is used. Serve your grandma an extra-big slice before helping yourself.
Note: I initially made a confectioner’s sugar-lemon juice icing a la Starbucks in addition to the glaze, but the cake soaked up most of it rather than developing that beloved blanket of crunchy-creamy icing goodness. Go ahead and play around with sugar-liquid ratios (start with a cup of confectioner’s sugar and a few small spoonfuls of either lemon juice or milk, given your preference) and flavorings (vanilla extract and lemon zest are both good options) if you’re an icing fan! May the frosting force be with you, young padawan.
Also, if you happen to have some culinary lavender on hand, try sprinkling a spoonful into the sugar-lemon juice mixture before heating it over the stove (see step 5). Once the sugar has dissolved, let the glaze sit for a bit longer off heat to let the lavender really infuse with the liquid (the stronger lavender taste you want, the longer you should let the glaze sit). When you think lavender and lemon have partied long enough, strain the glaze and proceed with the recipe.