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Flour Girl: When Basil Met Lemon

Lemon-Basil Tea Cake; read on to get the recipe. (Bill Webster -- The Washington Post)

Foods that cross sweet with savory -- rosemary sorbet, for instance, or lobster with vanilla beurre blanc -- are popular, although occasionally gimmicky.

A recipe for lemon pound cake that I'd clipped from Cooking Light magazine last year piqued my interest. Basil was used only in the lemony glaze; I wondered whether the herb would be odd, overpowering or even noticeable.

Turns out it worked quite well, lending a subtle and earthy butteriness. My experimental tasters couldn't tell that basil was an ingredient in the glaze. When alerted to its presence, they said it seemed to soften the citrus’s acidity.

The cake itself was missing some lemony zing, so I added a teaspoon of lemon oil, found at gourmet kitchen stores. I don’t think it’s worth buying the oil for this one use if you don’t already have it on hand. Instead, you can boost the amount of freshly grated lemon zest to get a more pronounced lemon flavor.

As is true of many rich desserts that receive makeovers to become less sinful, this one falls short of its original recipe name: pound cake. That texture and buttery flavor are just not there. But if you think of it as a tea cake instead, your expectations will be met.

-- Leigh Lambert

Lemon-Basil Tea Cake
16 servings

Adapted from the June 2008 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

For the cake
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly grated zest from 1 large lemon (2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon oil (optional; do not use lemon extract)
3 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
Juice from 1 large lemon (2 tablespoons)

For the glaze
1/4 cup half-and-half
Leaves from 2 stems basil, finely chopped (3 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Juice from 1 large lemon (2 tablespoons)
Dash salt

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease the inside of 12-cup Bundt or tube pan, then dust/coat the pan with 2 tablespoons of the sugar.

Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups; use a knife to level off. Place in a large bowl, then whisk in the baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the remaining 9 tablespoons of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat for about 5 minutes at medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

Reduce the speed to low; add the lemon zest and lemon oil, if using. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition.

Combine the buttermilk and lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup. In alternating additions (still on low speed), add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture to form a batter. Remove from the mixer.

Place the egg whites in a separate large (clean) mixing bowl; beat on high speed just until soft peaks form. Add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold one-third of the egg white mixture into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg white mixture.

Spoon the cake batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 55 minutes, or until the cake just pulls away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to cool for 10 minutes (while you make the glaze), then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool on the wire rack.

For the glaze: Combine the half-and-half and basil in a medium microwave-safe bowl (if bowl is too small, the half-and-half will boil over); microwave on HIGH for 45 seconds. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes, then strain it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl; discard the basil.

Combine the half-and-half, confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice and salt; whisk together until smooth. Drizzle half the glaze over the cake; let it stand for 5 minutes or until set, then repeat using the remaining glaze. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.

NUTRITION | Per serving: 274 calories, 3 g protein, 49 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 116 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 35 g sugar

By Leigh Lambert  |  June 25, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Flour Girl , Recipes  | Tags: Flour Girl, Leigh Lambert, basil, cake, lemon  
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