British cooking has a lousy reputation, which is only partially deserved. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Yes, I do love it here, but honest, folks, baked beans on toast? Mushy peas?
To make up for that, though, British baking is amazing, and somewhere in the blog fog that surrounds my life lately, I promised to post a recipe for lemon drizzle cake—something I’d never tasted, or even imagined, before I moved here. That sounded simple when I wrote it. I’d translate grams to ounces, milliwhatsits to—oh, god, what did I measure in back in the U.S.? The U.S. measures in a system officially called imperial measurements, but nobody knows what you’re talking about when you call it that and I’m not a fan of empires anyway, so I find myself fishing for a set of words people will understand. You know, something clear, like cups and whatsits.
I’m not inspiring confidence, am I? It’s okay, though. I can count past twelve, and even if I’m not reliable once I get into the high teens, I have an oven and I’m not afraid to use it.
Egg. Drawing by Janneen Love
But before I give you the recipe—actually, two recipes, one metric and one in cups and whatsits—let me shake your confidence a bit more. (If you want to just get to the recipe, scroll down and I will meekly shut up—something I seldom do in person.) A friend gave me a simple lemon drizzle cake recipe and I thought I’d use it, but it calls for self-rising flour. A bit of online research told me that self-raising flour in the U.S. not only has an extra letter but also has salt—an unspecified amount—which it doesn’t in the U.K. Short of investing in a ticket to the U.S. to try out the recipe or asking a friend to mail me a bag, which would inevitably split open in the mail, causing an anthrax scare, I couldn’t predict how that difference would affect the cake. So I looked up substitutions and learned that every cook on the internet has a slightly different idea of how much baking powder you have to add to plain flour to come up with the equivalent of self-rising flour.
I went with a cook whose website sounded convincing, made the cake following her formula, and ended up with too much baking powder. And, oddly enough, a fairly flat cake, as if it needed more baking powder. But it already had too much, something you can tell because your tongue feels like it’s growing fur. So not only couldn’t I add more, I had to take some away.
Screw it. I tried a different recipe. This one is based on Dan Lepard’s version , which isn’t a traditional lemon drizzle but does use plain flour and is damn good. He’s a genius of a baker. Where we’ve diverged is the butter (he uses unsalted and I can’t be bothered) and the sugar.
A word about sugar: The first time I went to buy sugar in Cornwall, I was almost paralyzed by the decisions involved. I’m used to seeing white, brown (I’m not fussy about whether it’s light or dark, which tells you a lot about my approach to cooking), and confectioner’s sugar, but here I was looking at granulated, caster, Demerara (which Word just capitalized for me, thanks, and I’m sure it’s correct but I don’t know why), brown, muscovado, and icing.
Since recipes in the U.K. specify one kind or another and some use a bit of each, and I have, once or twice, messed around with caster and Demerara, but the results haven’t transported me bodily to heaven, so I said screw it and stuck with the three basic kinds I know: granulated, which is what I call plain ol’ sugar; brown; and icing sugar, which is what I learned to call confectioner’s sugar.
There’s only just so much shelf space in the world, never mind in my kitchen.
So I haven’t used the caster sugar Lepard recommends, and I haven’t topped the cake with his lemony sugary topping because I can’t see that it needs it. I like my sweets a bit sour. But I’ll include it for anyone who wants it.
Lemon Drizzle Cake
Metric Ounces Etc.
50 g. butter 2 oz. (4 Tbsp.) butter
50 ml. sunflower oil 3 Tbsp. sunflower oil
Finely grated rind of 2 lemons Finely grated rind of 2 lemons
150 g. sugar ¾ cup sugar
2 eggs 2 eggs
50 g. ground almonds ½ c. ground almonds
150 g. flour 1 ½ c. flour
2 Tbsp. corn flour 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 ½ tsp. baking powder 2 ½ tsp. baking powder
90 ml. lemon juice 3 fl. oz. ( 3/8 c.) lemon juice
[opt.: 75 g. icing sugar] [opt.: ½ c. confectioner’s sugar]
Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade / 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt the butter and pour it into a mixing bowl. Add the oil, lemon zest, sugar, and eggs. Whisk them until they’re smooth a little bubbly. Stir in the ground almonds. Sift the flour, cornstarch (or corn flour—whatever you want to call it), and baking powder into a different bowl. Sift about half of this into the first bowl. If you’re working metrically, add 75 ml. of the lemon juice and set the rest aside. If you’re working in cups and ounces, measure out 1 Tbsp. of the lemon juice and set it aside, then pour the rest into the batter. Stir until they’re well mixed, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.
Oil a small loaf or square pan. Cut a strip of baking paper wide enough to cover the bottom and long enough to lap a bit over the sides. This will make it easy to lift out the cake. Fit it into the pan, then take it out and fit it back in upside down, so the side that picked up the oil faces up. Is that clever or what? Smear the oil around if it’s not completely covered. Convince the batter into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake a loaf for 45 – 50 minutes or a square pan for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
If you’re not adding the sugar, brush the remaining lemon juice over the top. (You could probably skip this step and never notice the difference, because the batter’s already very lemony. Traditionally, you pour quite a lot of lemon juice over the cake, mixed with sugar, but then traditionally you don’t add lemon juice to the batter. When I make the traditional version, I skip the sugar and just add lemon juice, because I like my sweets tart.) If you want a sugary topping, mix the remaining lemon juice with the sugar, let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes, and spread the lemony sugar on top.
And with that I have fulfilled my promise. Enjoy your cake.
At some point (she typed rashly), in the interests of subverting British cooking, I’ll print a brownie recipe and a chocolate chip cookie recipe.