Fresh Lemon Cake
3 medium lemons
6 tbsp granulated sugar
4 whole cloves
2 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (or 1 1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
7 tbsp granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp confectioners' sugar
For the lemon syrup, grate the zest of the lemons; you should have 2 tbsp. Juice the lemons; you should have 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. In a small saucepan, combine the zest, juice, sugar, and cloves. Bring to a boil over moderate heat and cook for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool, then discard the cloves. [The cloves really add something special to this syrup. I was doubtful but now I'm a believer.]
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan or a 9-inch square pan with 1/2 tsp of the butter. Dust the pan with 2 tsp of the flour and set aside.
Sift together the remaining flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a measuring cup, combine 6 tbsp of the lemon syrup and the buttermilk. Add the water to the remaining lemon syrup and reserve.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining 2 tbsp butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well to combine. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the lemon-buttermilk mixture in three additions, mixing until just incorporated; do not overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. To distribute the batter evenly in the pan, beginning at the edge of the pan, move your index finger in a spiral through the top 1/4 inch of the batter until you reach the center, or zigzag back and forth if using a square pan. Rap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles.
Bake for 30 minutes if using an 8-inch pan, 25 minutes if using a 9-inch pan, or until a thin sharp knife or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.
Run a knife around the edges of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack. Let cool completely.
If not filling the cake, pour the reserved syrup onto a large plate with a lip. Place the cake upside down on the syrup. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the top.
The cake is best the day it is baked, but it will keep, well wrapped, for up to 3 days.
-A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider