Lemon cake, tons of fruits and creamy icing – what more does one need to counter the summers?
During my childhood, April was the harbinger of my much anticipated 75 days break from boarding school – a welcome escape from the dusty and dry heat of the North into the cooler environs of Assam. But the most exhilarating part of the vacation was the days spent in the chaotic company of my large extended family and visits to our family farm, days filled with climbing trees, jumping into the cool waters of the pond and gorging on the delicacies of the season.
There was another reason that made these holidays special – my birthday also fell during my time at home. Despite my protests every year that I didn’t want a “big thing”, my parents would still manage to bring together 30 or 40 close family and friends. An elaborate meal would be conjured up within seconds, the centrepiece of which would be the birthday cake, which had a different theme each year.
On my 14th birthday, my mother decided to make a more delicate cake, sans the elaborate designs and colors of the previous years. Like most indolent teenagers, my culinary interests lay in wolfing down my mother’s creations, while absenting myself from the actual cooking process. So when my mother showed me an image of the cake she had planned – a Lemon Gateaux Cake – I walked away thinking that I had learnt a new word (‘Gateaux“), while simultaneously salivating in happy expectation.
Until disaster struck! My mother was unexpectedly called away, and I was told to bake my own birthday cake! In her defence, she had left behind detailed cooking instructions, carefully measured ingredients and all the implements I would need. But what use is that to a 14 year old who doesn’t know the difference between whisk, fold and beat?
I dragged a motley crew of siblings, cousins and friends out of bed and into the kitchen. It took a simple flick of the fan switch for all of us to be bathed in flour and for the precisely weighed butter to happily glue itself to our hands and feet. Our hysterical laughter was interrupted by the stern voice of reason – my brother volunteered to measure the butter, with the help of his school ruler! But the suggestion saved our day – we managed to re-cobble the ingredients, one tablespoon at a time! And then on to the preparation – a finger or two was sliced along with the lemon rinds, the whipped cream icing was botched several times, and almonds were pounded instead of sliced since that was much more fun.
By now, the kitchen had turned into a den of laughter and mayhem, but our naiveté also resulted in impromptu ingenuity. Somehow, the batter made it to the oven, the cake fluffed up at the right time and even the icing held. The final product could not hold a candle to the picture in the book, but it tasted every bit like the recipe had promised. And for all of us who were a part of this culinary adventure, each bite of the cake was like nectar from Heaven!
Perhaps it was the indelible memory of the experience that prompted me to attempt my version of the gateaux two decades later – once for a colleague’s birthday and again on the occasion of the 40th day of birth of my twin boys. Here is the recipe for my Summer Fruit Gateaux.
For the Cake: (adapted from the book: Women’s Day Great Cakes, a 1985 publication)
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 cup Castor sugar
- 1½ cups flour
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
- ¼ cup hot water
- Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
For the Filling:
- Fruit options (3-4 fruits ideal at one time):
- Chopped pineapples – 1/2 cup (fresh or canned)
- Dried Cranberries (rehydrated/ pre-soaked in water) – ½ cup
- Mangoes chopped – ½ cup
- 2 ripe peaches
- 250 gm strawberries
- 250 gm raspberries
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Whipped cream
For the Icing and Decoration:
- Whipped Cream: Yields approx. 2 cups
- 1 cup (240 ml) fresh cream (35- 40% butterfat content)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon (15 gm) icing sugar
- Decoration : As per need
- Fruit toppings: Sliced pineapples, mangoes, strawberries, kiwi, banana, whole cranberries, blueberries
- 1 cup roasted sliced or crushed almonds
For the Cake:
- Grease two 9-inch cake tins and dust with flour, shaking off the excess. Preheat the oven at 180 degree Celsius.
- In a big bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add sugar and beat until thick and glossy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Sift flour, cornflour and salt together. With the help of a wooden spatula, fold gently into the egg mixture. Add the melted butter, hot water and lemon rind and fold gently until well mixed.
- Pour the mixture into prepared tins and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cakes are firm to touch on top.
- Cool in the tins for 2 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack.
For the Filling:
Mix the chopped fruits and cinnamon powder, along with 1 tsp of syrup if using canned pineapples. Set aside.
For the Icing and Decoration:
- In a large mixing bowl place the whipped cream, vanilla extract and sugar. Stir to combine.
- Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator along with the whisk (or the beating paddles). Chill both for at least 30 minutes.
- In another bowl that is large enough to hold the bowl of whipped cream, add ice cubes.
- Place the bowl of whipped cream onto the bed of ice and beat the mixture with the chilled whisk until stiff peaks form. Note: excessive beating could curdle the cream, hence, keep checking the consistency at regular intervals.
- Refrigerate once done.
- Upturn one of the two cooled cakes, with the flatter base facing upwards.
- Spread some of the whipped cream on this layer and add the fruit filling evenly, with lesser quantity towards the edge of the cake.
- Place the second cake on top of this layer.
- Spread the whipped cream frosting on the top and sides of the upper evenly. Save a little bit of the cream in a piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle.
- Push the almonds into the cream around the sides of the cake.
- Using the piping bag, pipe a swirl around the edge. Pipe a rosette (or any other shape of your choice) in the centre, and arrange the fruit slices on the top of the cake, as desired.
- Chill and serve within 24 hours.
Indrani is a market researcher by profession, a struggling mother of 2 year old twins and an aspiring writer whose eternal dream is to look like a demi-goddess while being able to tuck into all the good food the world has to offer! She blogs (irregularly) at Hues&Notes.
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