Lemon Bliss Bundt Cake
Working at the New York Philharmonic certainly had its benefits. For one, the people I worked with were very well connected around town and when David and I wanted really good seats to a Broadway show, a few phone calls could be made and before we knew it we are sitting second row at Dreamgirls, or Ain’t Misbehavin’. Another benefit was that on the occasions where I had to work late for some reason, they would offer David a ticket to whatever the orchestra was performing that night, so he could enjoy the show while I worked. These tickets we generally acquired from patrons who donated extra tickets when guests didn’t show up, or maybe there was an illness and someone couldn’t come. For David it meant he was often seated, in his best blue jeans, between Manhattans “Upper East Side” elite in their very proper symphony attire. I am sure there were times that the people around him might have wondered how security let him in, but for an hour and half or so, he would sit back in his seat, close his eyes and listen to the program, not caring how he looked sitting in among the uber-rich. On some occasions he would arrive right from his job, building scenery for a stage company. On those days he had the benefit of using the showers that were backstage next to the dressing rooms so he could clean up before the show got under way. The showers were also a benefit for me when, during lunch break, my office mate and I would go run a few laps around the reservoir. In the summer going back to work after a few laps meant a shower was an absolute necessity.
Somewhere in my time there, I was asked if I wanted to join the running club, a group of about three dozen staff and volunteers who were training for an upcoming 5k run around Central Park. Not understanding exactly how far 5k was I said I would think about it, then each day I would go out at lunch and run around the park for a bit. Now I have mentioned before that I am no good at long distance running, I have to stop and walk… a lot. This didn’t make any of the team at all upset, their attitude was always just do the best you can. We don’t care about the time, we’re not avid competitors, we just want to get out and have fun. Oh and there is a big picnic for the runners at the end… … picnic?… Definitely count me in! So I practiced as much as I could, every day trying to run/walk as far as I could go before my lungs gave out. I would then hobble back to work, take a shower and sit back down at my computer for the rest of the day, my leg muscles sore and seizing up. Day after day, I ran at lunch, sometimes with a friend, sometimes on my own never realizing the 5k that I would eventually run was far more that I had ever run during my so called lunch hour “trainings”. On the day of the race, after taking the obligatory photos, I lined up with my teammates at the starting point, happy, energetic, and raring to go. All we had to do was follow the path that had been marked out with signs and try not to fall down at the beginning lest you would be trampled.
I started somewhere in the middle of the pack but it wasn’t long before I started falling behind and before I knew it I could no longer see my teammates. I tried really hard to match the pace of the people passing me, but that was no good, so I would slow down and try to find another person who seemed to be going slow and match their pace. Soon I found myself running alone, a few people behind me, but the majority of the people ahead. Occasionally during the race I would hear some voice from the side of the park call out, “Go James” and I would look over to see who it was only to be met by a crowd of unfamiliar faces. This would spur me on though, and I would quicken my pace for as long as I could before eventually slowing down to a walk again. Eventually I found a rhythm in that I would run for several minutes, and then walk for several minutes (usually grasping at my cramping sides) while trying my best to look like I wasn’t dying. During the race, the only things I could think about were the pain in my sides and how is it possible that I have run for what has clearly been 400 miles and I am still not finished? Every time I made a turn I fully expected to see the finish line, but it was never there as I wanted it to be. There were a good number of times I thought I should just drop out and filter into the crowd but usually that’s when I would hear someone clapping and cheering me (or other racers) on. As I came up one particularly steep hill, half running, half speed walking, there was a large crowd of spectators standing on the side and I could hear David yelling at me from the crowd telling me I was almost at the end. The sweetest words I could have heard and sure enough just a few hundred yards or so down the road I could finally see the finish line and the big clock that stood next to it counting the hours, minutes, and seconds since the start of the race.
That last few hundred yards I did my best to keep my pace up and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I slowed down wanting to just stop moving altogether but there was a crew of people who kept telling everyone, “keep moving, keep moving… don’t stop in the path”. There was a line of ribbons marking a pathway from the end of the race to a large grove. All the runners had gathered there and it was surrounded with booths from sponsors, more photo opportunities, and a bunch of other things I can no longer remember. As I made my way down the path towards the grove there were stations along the side and people kept handing me things. The first person I passed gave me a Lime FrozeFruit bar (like an ice cream bar but made completely of fruit juice – popular in the 80’s), then I was handed a T-Shirt, a cheap cap, a small towel, a cup of water, a few other trinkets all emblazoned with whatever sponsors logo was responsible for that item. The whole time all the people passing out the items were complimenting the runners on doing a great job. It really felt like a victory walk, and for me, that was honestly what it was… I had finished… and I wasn’t last. At the very end of the path, just as you stepped into the grove there was one last station and there they handed everyone a small carry-all bag… yep, the last station is where they give you the bag that you really needed first. After I thought about that for a while I was glad it came last because it forced the sponsors to hand you something. They actually reached out to you and said “congratulations”. They would help you adjust your belongings so you didn’t drop anything and for me that made it so much more personal and rewarding. I don’t remember what my finish time was, but it doesn’t really matter: I made it to the picnic!
A year or so later David and I were standing alongside the road during the New York Marathon cheering as loudly as we could to all the runners passing by. I remember how that had spurred me on when I raced my little 5k and maybe because of that we were a little louder than most. As we cheered, one of the runners veered over to the side of the road and without breaking his stride took off the hat he was wearing and handed it to David as he ran past. We’ve never been sure why he did that. We didn’t know him and we never saw him again in our lives, but we kept that hat as a keepsake for over thirty years.
Now, for all you people who have made it this far I want to congratulate you on a job well done and I wish I could hand you a piece of this Bundt cake, but alas, a printable recipe is the best I can do.
So why a Bundt cake? No reason really, perhaps their circular shape reminds me of jogging around the reservoir in New York City… or maybe I just like the way they look. I like the shape; I like the different designs of Bundt cake pans; I also like the texture of Bundt cakes. David really like the ends of the cake and it should go without saying that every piece of a Bundt cake has that great edge. Yes, you have to have a Bundt cake pan and I suspect that may be something that not everyone has in the cupboard, but one can be purchased pretty easily or if you don’t want to spend money on one… ask your grandmother (or a friend’s grandmother) and I’ll bet they’ll let you borrow it. I will also say when working with Bundt cakes, it’s good to “know” your pan, that is to say, be aware of how your pan behaves. There can be real problems when turning over a pan that has not been thoroughly prepped beforehand as the cake can stick to the pan leaving you with a broken mess. I strongly recommend a good non–stick spray like Bakers Joy or Bak-Klene ZT (that’s what I use – so if you want to be like me… … … - crickets -… These products will give you much better results than shortening and flouring your pan, but here is a link for some other tips on greasing your pan if a spray is out of the question.
This Bundt cake was King Arthur Flour’s recipe of the year back in 2017 and it’s a really nice lemon cake that is even better when you add the lemon glaze and icing (you can see the original recipe here). Besides the Bundt cake pan, you’ll need a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, and a stand mixer (or an electric mixer) to mix them. Use the link above if you don’t have a kitchen scale and you can get the recipe listed by volume instead.
Here’s the recipe:
No-Stick baking spray (such as Baker’s Joy) for prepping the pan
For the cake
14 ounces granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter room temperature (65°F – 67°F)
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
12¾ ounces all-purpose flour
8 ounces whole milk
zest from 2 medium to large lemons (zest using a fine microplane for best results)
For the Glaze
2⅝ ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
5¼ ounces granulated sugar
For the Icing
6 ounces sifted confectioner’s sugar
pinch of salt
1 to 1½ ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the Cake
As with most baked things, start by preheating the oven to 350°F with the rack in the center position.
Mix together the 14 ounces of sugar and the teaspoon of salt.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use an electric mixer) and beat on medium speed just to loosen the butter. Add the sugar and salt and continue beating on medium speed until fluffy and lightened in color, about 2 minutes.
Next, add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition then when all the eggs are mixed in scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat briefly to re-combine any unmixed bits.
Whisk together the baking powder and the flour to combine, then add the flour mixture to the batter in three parts, alternately with the milk (starting and ending with the flour). Don’t worry if the batter looks a little curdled when you add the milk, it will smooth out as you add more flour. Mix until everything is well combined; the batter will look a bit rough, but shouldn't have any large lumps.
Stir in the lemon zest so that it is evenly distributed, but don’t overwork the batter.
Thoroughly grease a 10 to 12-cup Bundt pan then spoon the batter into the prepared pan, leveling and smoothing the top with an offset spatula or knife.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, between 45 and 60 minutes. A pan with a dark interior will bake quicker so start checking at 40 minutes.
While the cake is baking make the glaze.
For the Glaze
Stir together the lemon juice and granulated sugar then microwave (or heat in a small saucepan over a low heat) only briefly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. You should not “cook” the lemon juice, so microwave just until very warm, not uncomfortably hot, about 1 minute depending on your microwave. Set the glaze aside.
When the cake is done
Remove the cake from the oven and very carefully run a knife between the cake and the pan (as far down as your knife will reach) all around the edge. Place the pan upside down on a cooling rack. If the cake drops out of the pan onto the rack, simply remove the pan. If the cake doesn’t drop onto the rack, let it rest for 5 minutes, then carefully lift the pan off the cake. If the cake still feels like it's sticking, give it another 5 minutes upside down, then very gently shake the pan back and forth to loosen and remove it.
Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze all over the hot cake, both top and sides. Let it sink in, then brush on more glaze, continuing until all of the glaze is used up.
Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.
For the Icing
In a small bowl mix the sugar and salt, then mix in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, adding just enough additional juice (only if necessary) to create a thick glaze, one that's just barely pourable.
Drizzle it as desired over the completely cool cake.
You can store this cake, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days.
This is a perfect cake to serve on one of those nice warm evenings when you really just want to sit outside with a friend or loved one and talk about what you’re binge watching on Netflix. Or you can eat it all yourself, that what we usually do.