In my mind, there’s a clear distinction between baker’s yeast and chemical leaveners. I use yeast in breads and chemical leaveners in cakes, cookies and other delicate sweet things. I can freely admit it never once crossed my mind to use yeast to make a cake rise.
Nevertheless, when I saw a recipe for a yeast cake, I had to try it. A lemon cake made it even better, since I’m trying to use up a big batch of lemons.
This cake is great for a number of reasons: First is the simple novelty of it. It was quite strange seeing my cake rise. Second is the irreplaceable “yeasty” flavor. It’s subtle, but present. Third, using yeast didn’t change the familiar delicate cake texture. The cake wasn’t doughy or chewy. Finally, the cake isn’t too sweet. Most of the sweetness comes from the lemon syrup that is poured on the cake, and even that isn’t overpowering.
This cake is delicate, which makes the syrup-basting step the most difficult. Ultimately, the cake needs to be flipped twice, which is challenging. Here are a couple pointers that will make your life much easier: Even if you are using a greased non-stick pan, make sure to run a knife around the outer and inner edge of the cake. I only did this for the outer edge, and some of the inner edge stayed behind. Let the cake cool at least 30 minutes before removing it from its pan. Sure, the syrup might not soak in quite as well, but the cake won’t be as susceptible to breaking as you flip it. Turn the cake out onto a greased piece of plastic wrap. I rested my cake on a wire rack while I was basting the bottom of the cake with syrup. This was a mistake, because the wire rack left indentations on the top of the cake. It’s important to grease the plastic wrap because the top skin of the cake is very delicate and can easily pull off.
Don’t let those cautions scare you off. This lemon cake is delicious and unique. It’s the perfect end to a light summer meal.
- 2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 eggs
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
Step 1: Grease a 10-inch tube pan. Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat until the butter is melted. Mix together 3/4 cup (3 ounces) flour, the yeast, sugar and salt. Gradually add the warmed milk and butter to the dry ingredients, and mix for 2 minutes.
Step 3. Pour the batter into the greased tube pan and cover, letting it rise for 1 hour. Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. The cake won’t double in size, like most bread recipes, but it will certainly grow in volume. It will rise even higher in the oven.
Step 5. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the syrup to thicken slightly. Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice.
Step 6. When the cake is still in the pan, baste it with half of the syrup. Then follow the tips above. Allow the cake to cool almost completely. Free it from the sides of its pan and invert it on a piece of plastic wrap (not a wire rack, as shown in these photos). Pour the remaining syrup over the bottom of the cake (slowly, with a spoon or brush, so the syrup has time to soak in). Finally, turn the cake right-side up once again onto its serving plate.