One hour flat including the baking if you are a slow coach with obsessive no-spill compulsion like me – that’s how long this fluffy yet crumbly lemon cake will take from measuring flour to cutting the first slice.
A few technicalities about this recipe; there is lemon juice and dairy- so careful not to over-mix else you will end up curdling the milk. Use cold milk to adjust (explained below) to reduce further the risk of it splitting. The small portion of semolina flour has two purposes- it gives the crumbly texture inside the cake and on the outside it gives you a firm, almost crispy crust which eases slicing. Size of the pan is crucial. A smaller pan will mean a taller cake and hence a longer baking time plus excessive doming. The butter- my promise of one hour does not hold if you are taking your butter out of the freezer. It should be at room temperature but firm and not become runny the second you begin whipping it.
Ready for the take off?
Your dry stuff:
1 cup of white flour (maida)
2 tbsp fine semolina (rava/sooji)
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
Your wet stuff:
¼ cup unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil
½ cup sugar (this much is fine for dessert; a little less if it’s for coffee/tea time or breakfast)
¼ cup milk to adjust (explained below)
1 lemon- zest and juice.
Other things you need:
7-inch round cake tin
Vegetable shortening for greasing
In a small bowl mix your dry stuff well with a fork. In a larger bowl whisk the butter with a hand mixer till creamy. Add in the sugar and continue whisking until fluffy. If your sugar grains are very large, just pulse the sugar in a blender before adding. Mix in the olive oil and egg and the zest of the lemon.
Add in your dry mixture and mix until combined. It will be very dry so use the milk to “adjust” the consistency. To those people intimidated by baking, trust me; this is what cake baking finally comes down to - knowing the consistency of the batter you want and some sense of proportion. You hear only too often people saying the proportions are oh-so exacting. The measuring is so snootily critical. It is not- all that banter comes from just one difference in the cooking method. Unlike your soup or gravy that you can fine tune as the cooking goes on the stove top, in baking you have one chance to mix your stuff and pop it into the oven. There is no adjusting after that and there is no interrupting the cooking. So when you realize that that is the only reason we are measuring more carefully, you will be less worried about whether you got 5/17th cup of ingredient X measured right.
Back to the batter. So you adjust with the cold milk to get the batter consistency right. Go with my measurement of ¼ cup for the first time and you will figure out the right amount in the subsequent cakes. Now there is the last ingredient lemon juice remaining and we will hold off for now. Turn on your oven to 180 degrees C. Grease your cake dish with the vegetable shortening. It is the best thing for greasing- tastes horrible and bad for health if consumed in excess but perfect for greasing. I usually have a stick of the stuff in the fridge frozen and use it like a crayon to grease the baking dish.
Add the juice of lemon and whisk until just combined (but well distributed in the batter) as less as possible. Quickly scrape out the batter into the prepared dish and pop into the oven (I never wait until fully pre-heated). After adding the lemon juice you need to work quickly because the acid in the lemon and the baking soda react very fast. You do not want to lose all that fizz which will make your cake fluffy.