Riffling through some old recipe clippings, circa 1989, I came across a recipe for Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake. I had previously skipped over it because while the cake looked luscious in the photo, the recipe had more pitfalls than the Matterhorn has crevasses, and the experienced baker/mountain climber in me was afraid of falling into an abyss. But today I gave it a try, and it’s delish, a type of cake that the British would call squidgy–very, very soft and moist. The flavor explodes with tart lemon, and then tails off into mellow butteriness. There is no eggy or floury flavor note. I have navigated the crevasses so that for you, the reader, the recipe will be like a walk in an alpine meadow.
Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake
2 large lemons
3 tablespoons sugar, for topping
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup flour
6 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8 x 4″ metal loaf pan, line with parchment, and lightly grease again. Finely grate both lemons–this should yield about 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons of grated rind. Juice one lemon (should yield 3 tablespoons juice) and combine the juice with the 3 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Stir and then set aside.
Thoroughly cream the butter with the 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, to the butter mixture and beat with an electric mixer for about four minutes. The mixture should be light and smooth. Stir in the grated lemon rind. Sift in the flour and stir briefly. Add the milk and beat only until combined.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes. The center of the cake should spring back when pressed gently in the center. Set the hot cake (still in the pan) on a folded towel, and pierce all over with a skewer. Stir the lemon juice-sugar syrup and spoon all over the cake. Allow to cool, and remove from pan to plate.
Baking notes: Take the butter, eggs and milk out of the fridge and allow to sit on the counter at warm room temperature for at least an hour. This is important. Chilled ingredients will result in a curdled batter and a small cake. I beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl for about a minute–they should be light and foamy. One of the major pitfalls of the recipe is that it specified beating the batter for a long time after adding the flour. In my experience, this leads to a gluey batter and tough cake. You can beat the butter, sugar and egg for at least four to five minutes, but just stir in the flour until incorporated. Before adding the milk, test it with the tip of your finger: it should be tepid. A few seconds in the microwave could help it warm up.
Not all lemons are alike. If your lemons are not real juicy, you may have to use more than one lemon for the 3 tablespoons juice.
This sounds like a lot of work, but if you remember to take your butter, eggs and milk from the fridge beforehand to warm up, it’s a snap!
Yesterday I ran across a book you might like, especially if you are a fan of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, like butterflies, or old-fashioned botanic art. It’s called The Butterflies of North America–Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript. It’s wonderful to browse through! Ask for it at your Library.
The squirrels are up to their usual shenanigans.
Only the sparrows braved the cold yesterday.