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!

Food Stories

Note to Self on Writing About Food

Food writing is not for the meek, befuddled, or the self-absorbed.  It’s for those who can cook up a feast from a few simple ingredients: effective words, good grammar and, organized thoughts–mis en place.    Combine these with a mouth-watering idea and create a masterpiece sans pareil.

The command of proper grammar is a major ingredient–word usage, its salt.    A hard copy of a thesaurus is a great tool, or the internet version works just as good.  Some of those great adjectives learned in high school can finally be rediscovered.  Put them to use, if they fit.

In order to develop a strong, flavorful story, it must be reduced multiple times without mercy.   Use one color highlight for sentences that should be omitted and another for those that just need reworking.   With a watchful eye, monitor word count.  Too many unnecessary words leave the reader wondering about the point being made.

Now let the story rest:  Walk away from the draft version for at least 12 hours, gain perspective then come back to edit again—without ego.    Show no favoritism for words or, sentences that do not support the main idea.   These will only produce a story with no distinctive taste.

Respect the reader’s need to be full and satisfied but always leave them wanting more.  Bon appétit!