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Sweet and sour: Citrus makes festive spring cakes

Margarita Cake

Margarita Cake

The next time a co-worker drops a bag of surplus oranges on the snack table for the taking, or a grocer practically gives away fresh lemons and limes, pull out all-purpose flour and turn on the oven.

It’s time to bake a cake.

The sweet-sour punch of citrus adds clean, fresh flavors to this baked dessert, proving there are more ways to use the in-season fruit than just pitchers of lemonade or fresh-squeezed orange juice.

“A little hint of citrus goes a long way into making a cake special,” says Lani Greer, a Gilbert woman who turned a passion for baking cakes from scratch into a side business.

Homemade cakes, once a dessert staple, are too often skipped over for those made from a box. The trade-off is quality. Cakes baked from scratch simply taste better.

“They are denser and the flavors pure,” says Greer, a former mechanical engineer and security-door saleswoman who combines her technical expertise with love of baking to turn out one-of-a-kind cakes.

Perking up cakes with citrus can be as easy as adding zest to the batter or frosting, or juice to the batter.

Baking cakes from scratch requires no special skills or expensive equipment. All that’s needed is a hand-held mixer, quality aluminum cake pans, measuring cups for dry and wet ingredients and two hours from start to finish.

The goal is to bake cakes that are delicate and moist. So avoid mixing or cooking too long, moves that produce chewy and dry cakes.

To Greer, a homemade cake should look homemade.

“I think people get intimidated because they think their cake should look like something a pro would bake. Just the opposite is true,” she says. “You want your cake to look nice, but not too perfect.”

Bakers offer the following tips:

• Temperature matters. If your oven temperature is questionable, invest in an oven thermometer. Before mixing the batter, turn on the oven and make sure the rack is in the center.

• Buy the best cake pans you can afford. Shiny pans reflect the heat and are your best choice for cake baking.

• Prepare ingredients at room temperature for best results.

• Grease pans with about 1 tablespoon of fat per layer pan.

• To measure flour, fluff it in the bag then spoon into the dry-ingredient measuring cup. Level off with a knife.

• Speed the softening of cold butter by grating or thinly slicing it and letting stand for about 10 minutes over a bowl of warm water.

• Cool the cake thoroughly before frosting.

Margarita cake

For the cake:

1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 lime, rind grated and juiced to make 1 tablespoon

Lime curd for topping (available in grocery stores)

For lime glaze:

1/2 cup lime juice

2 teaspoons triple sec

1 teaspoon tequila

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

For lime buttercream frosting:

1 cup softened butter

1/2 cup shortening

4 cups sifted powdered sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

lime glaze

2 tablespoons grated lime rind

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat. In a second bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Alternately add the flour mixture and the cream into the egg mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Mix in the lime rind and lime juice. Scoop the batter into 2 greased, 8-inch cake pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake is done when a knife or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake starts to pull away from the side. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes. Turn out onto a cake rack to cool.

To make the glaze: Mix the lime juice, triple sec, tequila and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Set aside half of the glaze to make the frosting (see below).

While the cake is still warm, slowly spoon glaze over the top so that all of the liquid is absorbed. Place a plate under the cake rack to catch the glaze that runs off, and reapply the drippings until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

To make frosting: Cream butter and shortening in a large mixing bowl. Add powdered sugar and heavy cream. Add reserved lime glaze to a medium consistency. Blend well. Sprinkle in grated lime peel.

Frost cake and top with lime curd. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Source: Lani Greer of Lani Cakes, Gilbert, Ariz.

Lemon Cake

For the cake:

2 lemons

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided use

1 cup cake flour, sifted before measuring

2/3 cup water

10 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

7 large egg yolks

Tiny fresh flowers, mint leaves and/or crystallized violets for garnish

For the glaze:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur

Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 325 degrees. Have an ungreased 10-inch tube pan ready.

Remove the rind (yellow part only) from the lemons with a vegetable peeler. Place rind on a cutting board and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Mince rind as finely as possible with a sharp knife.

Squeeze the lemons and set aside one-fourth cup juice for the cake and 3 tablespoons for the glaze. Sift the flour two more times and set aside.

Combine the remaining sugar and the water in a small saucepan, swirling the pan so the sugar is moistened. Bring to a rapid boil; cook 1 and one-half minutes.

As the sugar cooks, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a 5-quart mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until egg whites hold soft peaks. Keeping the mixer running at high speed, add sugar syrup to whites in a very slow, steady stream. Once all of the syrup has been added, continue beating whites until they are cool, firm and glossy.

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until they are light-colored. Add the lemon rind and one-fourth cup juice and mix well. With a large rubber spatula, fold the yolks into the egg whites, making sure they are fully incorporated. Add the flour, in thirds, folding in lightly but thoroughly between each addition.

Transfer batter to prepared pan, then smooth surface with spatula. Tap the pan on the counter to remove air pockets. Bake until puffy and golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Invert pan, resting it on the neck of a slender bottle if necessary to keep it from resting on the counter. Cool completely. Loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a small knife and transfer to a serving plate.

To make the glaze: Combine granulated sugar, cream, lemon juice and butter in a small pan. Heat to a boil, then cook at a rapid boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add confectioners’ sugar, whisking until completely smooth. Mix in liqueur.

Spoon glaze over the top of cake, letting it drip down the sides. Garnish with flowers, mint leaves and/or crystallized violets. Slice the cake with a serrated knife, using a gentle, sawing motion. Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Source: Lani Greer of Lani Cakes, Gilbert, Ariz.

Orange Creamsicle Cake

For the cake:

Vegetable cooking spray

3 cups sifted unbleached flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 small orange yogurt

3/4 cup milk

3 egg whites

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

For orange cream-cheese frosting:

1/2 cup butter

2 teaspoons shortening

8 ounces room-temperature cream cheese

3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup orange juice

Orange-rind curls for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 6-inch cake pans with vegetable cooking spray and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and baking powder; set aside. With mixer, cream together butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy; add vanilla and yogurt, beating well. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture, starting and ending with flour and beating well. In a separate bowl, using grease-free utensils, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, but not too dry. Fold into batter gently along with orange zest. Divide batter into the two pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting: In a large mixing bowl, add butter, shortening, cream cheese, powdered sugar and orange juice. Mix until well blended. Adjust consistency with powdered sugar or juice.

Frost cake and garnish with orange-rind curls. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Source: Lani Greer of Lani Cakes, Gilbert, Ariz.

AP-NY-03-24-09 1125EDT

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