If you like lemon cake and lemon bars, you will love this recipe—which has been described as a perfect mix of the two. For my feast with Rob (featuring Beer-Marinated Orange Ginger Flank Steak), I baked a tray of lemon cakes with lemon-vodka sauce that I then topped with whipped cream and blueberries. I’m not the biggest baked sweets person—leftovers often end up sitting on the counter for days—but this was a treat I indulged in for several evenings after making it.
After a quick search on Epicurious.com for lemony desserts, I settled on a combination of two: the cakes from Gourmet‘s April 2005 issue recipe for Lemon Cakes with Basil Lemon Syrup and the sauce from its January 1995 recipe for Thyme Madeleines with Lemon Vodka Syrup (both with some alterations, namely to cut some of the sugar).
Perfect for serving to guests, these cakes can be made the day before, which is exactly what I did.
Resisting the urge to eat the cakes immediately after baking them, I let them cool overnight then sealed them in an air-tight container until the evening. The sauce was simple enough to make while I was cooking the steak and I set it aside while we ate.
Single serving desserts are wonderful in my mind because there are few things I like as much as a number of decorated items lined up next to one another (just see my post on my Homemade Holiday Granola). After putting a spoonful of sauce in the bowl, I added a cake, topped it with two more spoonfuls of sauce, added a dollop of whipped cream (whipped heavy cream with a teaspoon of vanilla extract added in), and sprinkled with a handful of blueberries.
The results were spectacular. The cake was dense, the sauce gave it the perfect hit of moisture, the unsweetened whipped cream cut the sugar, and the blueberries perfectly complimented the tang of the lemon. I must have said, “This is so good!” at least ten times that evening. When I make this again, I’ll probably try it in a loaf pan or small bundt pan so I can serve it in slices and drizzle sauce over more of the cake’s surface area to let it really soak it up but otherwise, this was a total hit. Mmm mmm!
Lemon Cakes with Lemon-Vodka Sauce
(adapted from Gourmet‘s April 2005 Cakes with Basil Lemon Sauce and January 1995 Thyme Madeleines with Lemon Vodka Syrup recipes)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon, melted
3/4 cup cake flour plus additional for dusting
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature (for at least 30 minutes)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 small carton heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
To make cakes:
Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Brush eight muffin cups with melted butter and chill for 2 minutes then butter again and chill for 1 minute. Dust cups with flour, knocking out excess. (Alternatively, you can also make one cake, in a loaf or small bundt pan, which I will do next time I make this recipe so I can serve slices drizzled with the sauce rather than individual cakes.)
Beat together softened butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer or in a KitchenAid mixer at medium-high, until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating until well blended. Next, beat in lemon juice and 2 teaspoons zest until combined. Add flour and mix at low speed until just combined. Set aside.
In another large bowl or in the KitchenAid mixer bowl after you’ve transfered first mixture into another bowl and cleaned the mixer bowl, beat whites with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt until they hold soft peaks. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks. Stir one fourth of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Spoon batter into 8 prepared muffin tins or loaf or bundt pan.
With your fingers, blend remaining 1 teaspoon sugar with 1 teaspoon lemon zest and sprinkle over batter. Bake until edges are golden and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool the cake(s) in pan on a rack for 15 minutes then carefully lift cake(s) out of pan and let cool completely on the rack.
The cake(s) can be made a day in advance and stored in an air-tight container on the countertop once completely cooled.
To make sauce:
In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil while stirring, then remove from heat and let cool. This can be made a day in advance and stored in an air-tight container in the fridge.
In a bowl with electric beaters or with a KitchenAid mixer, beat heavy whipping cream mixed with vanilla extract on high until consistency of whipped cream. Wash blueberries.
Spoon one large spoonful of sauce into a bowl or scooped plate and place one cake or slice (if you baked a loaf or singular cake) on top. Spoon another large spoonful of sauce on the cake then top with a dollop of whipped cream and blueberries. Enjoy!