Friday, August 20, 2010

Baking Exploits: Lemon Yogurt Olive Oil Cake and Key Lime Pie

My First Cake Ever!

My family and my close friends know that I am not a big fan of baking. I love the kitchen and I love cooking, but baking is a whole different story for me. I just really find the need to measure each and every ingredient so tedious. Not to mention, the need to follow each and every step in sequential order. In many ways, I just like to freeform. In my cooking, I usually modify a recipe that interests me so I achieve the taste I know I want out of a dish. Once in a while I'll follow the recipe exactly. That's when it is a dish, cuisine or a technique I'm exploring for the first time, or if it comes from someone I know is an excellent cook or chef. 

In my book bakers and pastry chefs are highly regarded. I think that their discipline and technique is amazing. I just love watching or reading about those who are so comfortable in their art that they can even freeform their baked goods. Amazing!

The thing that freaks me out the most about baking is the the thought that for an amateur like me, there seems to be no way of knowing whether the goods will be perfect or, god forbid, a complete disaster! Not until it's too late. Not until the only way to fix it is to chuck it and start over. My heart hurts just thinking of all the ingredients, time and effort that could possibly go to waste. 
WET ingredients, measuring going well so far...
All together now! Hoping for the best...

Mr. P and I were invited by my godfather to a picnic last weekend. Days have been getting warmer and I thought, hooray, what a fun way to spend what would have been a lazy Sunday. I of course ask what we could bring and while picnic-friendly savoury ideas are running through my mind, I get a text back saying: a cake. A CAKE?! Wow, left field suggestion. God help me, I don't bake. "But you don't bake," Mr. P confirms to me when I tell him the news. We were both laughing. My fighting spirit drove me to take this challenge on, a challenge from my godfather nonetheless. I resolved that I was not going to succumb to a store-bought mix or a bakery-bought cake. I was going to bake from scratch.

I announced on my Facebook page that I was going to bake. My wonderful cousins suggested in jest a donut cake, because that's what our Nana would serve for dessert every Sunday. No, it is not a giant sized piece of fried dough, but rather a regular cake baked in a pan with a hole in the middle. We liked to call it donut cake as kids. I went out to the store and found exactly that pan. I thought that since it was Nana's death anniversary that week, I would make a donut cake in her memory. As I was scouring through my cookbooks and favourite food blogs, Trina and Rachel (some of my favourite food exploring friends) both came up with wonderful suggestions. Two desserts that were fitting for a beginner baker like me.

Trina's suggestion was Key Lime Pie. I absolutely adore anything that involves tart and sour flavours. Reading her recipe here, I thought it would be easy enough. This was definitely going to be my back up in case my main cake did not rise, OR taste good.

"But how will you know that it tastes good if you can't cut the cake until it's time to serve it?" asked the very concerned husband. I think that knowing the potential for an embarrassing situation at the picnic was secretly killing him. "I don't know, I'll just follow the recipe to a T and it should be good, Rachel told me how to do it and she is one of those whose recipes I like to follow exactly." Obviously, I didn't realize that it would rise in such a way that I'd have to cut the top and yes, have a piece to taste before THE day.
Hooray! He has risen!

Rachel shared a fabulous Lemon Olive Oil cake recipe. I read it and it sounded very similar to Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake, only Ina's cake base had less steps. What I loved about Rachel's cake was the inclusion of Olive Oil and the topping of blueberry syrup and mascarpone cheese. So I asked Rach if it would be possible to do a hybrid and she gave me the go signal. Yes! I am going to get on with this cake. I was actually excited! 

Right as I was about to start, I speak to my awesome cook and non-baking sister Mrs. G who asks: "do you have extra ingredients in case you have to repeat?" Gosh, the faith in my baking prowess is apparent with both the spousal and sisterly units!

Here's my hybrid of both recipes:
Lemon Yogurt Olive Oil Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek style yogurt
1 1/3 cup sugar divided
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 170C, grease the pan, dust with flour and line with parchment paper. 

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients slowly into the wet. I did it in three batches. Fold the olive oil into the batter using a spatula. Once all ingredients are incorporated, pour the batter into the pan. For my pan, I just needed 40 minutes in the oven. 

(At this point, I have to confess that I tasted the batter and it was not lemony enough for me. I knew about the next step but the freeform-er (and hard-headed girl) in me just HAD to add a little lemon juice. I just squeezed in the juice of about half a lemon.)

While the cake is baking, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. When the cake comes out of the oven, allow it to cool in the  pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. Cut off the top, hurray for scraps that you can taste test! Pour the lemon syrup all over the cake and allow it to soak through and cool completely.

For the topping:
1 pint blueberries
1 lemon, zested
1/3 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup water
1 pint mascarpone

Combine all the ingredients except the mascarpone in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes until the berries burst and the liquid comes to a jam-like consistency. Remove cinnamon stick and allow to cool completely.

Separately, whip room temperature mascarpone with the zest of 1 lemon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. 

I made my cake two days ahead, covered it tightly in plastic wrap and kept it at room temperature. About 15 minutes before serving, I spread the mascarpone mixture on top of the cake and poured the blueberry mixture over it. 

Finally, here they are. My Key Lime Tartlets and Lemon Yogurt Olive Oil Cake. They both tasted great to me and I think the reactions proved the same. 
Not so great looking but yummy nonetheless.
The real star of the show.


  1. I know exactly what you mean! Cooking has always been easier, and more enjoyable, to me. Nothing quite beats the feeling when your baked goods come out perfect though! Like you conquered a mountain :) This looks stellar! Nobody could have guessed this was your first cake??

  2. Yes, like I conquered a mountain really. haha! Thanks Joey, and thanks too for linking this on your blog news feed. : )

  3. I would have not guessed either. I hear ya.. i feel the same way too.. im not much of a baker but I have decided to try more baking esp for the holidays!

  4. Hi Skip to Malou! Thanks for dropping by. Hope you baking experiments have been going well.