Monday, January 22, 2018

Lemon crunch cake for the Lunar New Year

I grew up in the San Jose area, and if there is one dish we San Joseans can call our own, it’s burnt almond cake. I have no idea why this is such a big deal there. 

A couple of local bakeries—namely Dick’s and Peter’s—now lay claim to the best of the best of the best, but in my memory, the champion cake was made by Greenlee’s.

This has a lot to do with hometown pride and neighborliness, for the Greenlee family lived a couple of houses down from my mother’s parent’s house in the Rose Garden District, right near the Rosicrucian Museum. 

A pile of gold
My mom’s family never was rolling in wealth (to put it mildly), so we rarely got to eat bakery goods. And so, it was cause for celebration whenever we actually found a paper bakery box hanging out in Grandma’s kitchen.

My favorite cake was always burnt almond, which is strange, because in all other areas I was a die-hard chocoholic. 

Something about this cake, though, was totally addictive to me: pure white cake sandwiched the custard filling, and then the outside plastered with buttercream and sugared, sliced, toasted almonds. Nothing about it was burnt, but it was sheer heaven, false advertising notwithstanding.

The start of caramelization
I was wondering lately whether I should make this cake for a trip down memory lane, but I can’t handle super sweet cakes anymore. So, I crossed those old memories with a Chinese preference for dialed-back sweetness to make something suitable for the Lunar New Year. 

I ended up with a Taiwan-style lemon chiffon cake as the base. What makes this really Taiwanese is that I added the absolute minimum sugar I thought I could get away with both there and in the fresh cream frosting. And then instead of the custard filling, we have more whipped cream. 

The result is this super light, lemony bit of fluff covered with crispy caramel shards. My husband even gave it the perfect Chinese name, which means “10,000 taels of gold,” turning this into a wish for wealth for all who get a slice. Sounds good to me...

Candy lava
In many ways, this is like the famous Blum’s coffee crunch cake. Which is wonderful, no question. With this lemon crunch cake, though, I can easily eat half of it in one go and still eye the rest of it with eager plans for it later on in the day.

This would be the perfect cake for Chinese New Year, which is coming up on February 15th this year. Happy Year of the Dog!

Lemon crunch cake chez Huang
Huángjiā huángjīn wànliăng dàngāo 黃家黃金萬兩蛋糕
Serves 6 to 8

Break up the candy into shards
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
¾ cup | 150 g sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 70 g cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
4 large egg whites at room temperature
½ cup | 100 g superfine sugar, divided in half
3 large egg yolks at room temperature
Fresh lemon zest
¼ cup | 60 ml flavorless oil, like canola
6 tablespoons | 90 ml water
Zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon lemon extract

2 cups | 450 ml chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 teaspoons lemon extract

1. First make the candy: Have a baking sheet lined with either Silpat or oiled foil ready. Sift the baking soda to remove all the lumps and set it near your stove. Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a clean wok and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring it occasionally with a silicone spatula. Boil it for a few minutes until it starts to caramelize, then swirl the syrup around and wait until it is a faint golden color. 

Lighten the batter with the whites
2. Remove the wok from the heat, wait 10 seconds, and then sprinkle the baking soda over the top of the syrup. When you stir these together, they will foam up into an impressive mound of lava, and once it starts to deflate, scrape all of it quickly and efficiently onto the waiting baking sheet. Use your spatula to smear it out into a thin layer. It will harden in just a few seconds, so don’t get distracted while you are doing this. Once the candy has hardened, break it up into small shards, but not crumbs. Pile the candy into a container, put on the lid, and refrigerate it until just before serving. Soak the wok and spatula to remove the candy residue.

2. Now get ready to make the cake. Set a rack just below the center of your oven and heat it to 350°F | 175°C. Line the bottom of an 8-inch | 20-cm tall springform cake pan with parchment paper—you don’t need to cut the paper into a circle, just clamp it onto the bottom of the pan. Do not oil the cake pan.

A super light chiffon cake
3. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small work bowl. Use a stand or hand mixer to beat the egg whites until they are foamy, and then sprinkle in half of the sugar before beating them until they are stiff but not dry. Scrape the beaten whites into a clean bowl. In the same mixer, beat the yolks until they are light, and then beat in the rest of the sugar and then the oil, water, zest, and extract. Finally, beat in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth.

4. Fold about a third of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten it up, and then carefully fold in the rest of the whites until you don’t see more than a few streaks. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, gently smooth the top, and slide this into the oven. Bake it for around 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Take the pan from the oven and invert it onto a cake rake to help prevent it from deflating. When the cake is completely cool, unlock the pan to release the sides and peel off the paper. The cake can be wrapped in plastic at this point and refrigerated for a few days, or even frozen for longer storage.
Dust the center with more shards

5. An hour or so before serving, whip the cream with a stand or hand mixer until you have soft peaks, add the sugar and extract, and then beat the cream until it is stiff.

6. Cut the cake horizontally in half with a bread knife. Spread about a quarter of the cream on the cut surface, sprinkle on the smaller shards and all the candy dust, and replace the top of the cake. Frost the tops and sides with the rest of the cream. Press the remaining candy evenly into the tops and sides of the cake. Serve cold.

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