Baking · Food Stories

Stuck on Lemon

lemon ricotta ingredients
Lemon ricotta ingredients

So I started this baking obsession with chocolate cake but, soon found that most days my love for citrus flavors was much stronger.   The most challenging part is combining multiple flavoring components to create depth,complexity and yes, swooning.  Admittedly  I’m no flavorist though—that takes a calling from above like a priest, kindergarten teacher or, Jedi.   I do take great pride when someone raves about the flavors I create and this was no exception.

I waited for that. I was all ears.

After experimenting with Meyer lemons,  I returned from a trip to find a few moldy ones in my basket.  Que será, será: I convinced myself that regular lemons would do just fine.  The tartness would be a nice contrast to the ricotta.   I used the juice of 3 lemons, zest of three lemons, lemon flavor and a dash of vanilla as a flavor enhancer.

The ricotta was strained in cheesecloth for 3 days until almost dry.  It tasted slightly sweet with the concentration of flavor and richness.    I also used a combination of cake flour and whole wheat pastry flour (2-to-1 ratio) because I would need some extra strength with the addition of the cheese.  I never used to think about these things until multiple failures became my Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Over years of baking I still stand by the thought that the cake should stand alone.  Its flavor and texture is the ultimate baking test long after the icing is scraped off to the side of the plate.   You just can’t make a not-so-great cake taste spectacular with icing—my cake house rule #1.

I expected a light, spongy cake because I gently folded the ricotta into the batter.   The cake had some small pieces of ricotta in the slices.  Since I love lemon, I decided to make a glaze by boiling fresh lemon juice and sugar then garnishing with lemon drenched lady fingers and strawberries.

Cake house rule #2:  Resist the temptation to overdo it.  That was a disaster.

A small dollop of lemon curd or mascarpone cheese would have been genius.   My greatest regret was not using the Meyer lemons.  Surely Yoda would call that a double-edged sword.

While others try to slay red velvet or chocolate decadence, I’m stuck on lemon.   My favorite local baker and baking guru, Barbara Merola used to say: “A beautiful cake taste better,” but I believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder–the one eating the cake!    No journey is without challenges and only perseverance gets you through the trials.  That’s why whether it’s a rabbit hole or, dark, ominous cloud,  I must and you must, keep going.

In the words of Darth Vader (to Obi-Wan): “You underestimate my power.”

Stay tuned for more adventures on my journey to the best lemon cake—ever!

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