Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lemony Walnutty Cake

I wish I was from the South, so I could say y'all with impunity. I love the word y'all. It's so ... drawl-y and "tipping back my cowboy hat" and such. Sometimes, when I'm a couple sheets to the wind, I develop an odd Southern accent. I know, random. And probably more information than anyone wanted to know about me.


I went off on that tangent because I was picking the photos to post along with this recipe, and while doing so, Paula Deen popped into my head. If you do not know who Paula Deen is, please watch an episode of any one of her shows. She is hilarious. I have never seen anyone attack butter quite as cheerfully or as voraciously as she does, without a single hint of guilt. Butter, cream cheese, heavy cream, bacon, lard- you name any fatty ingredient, the woman's got a way with them all.

I think the reason that I thought of Paula Deen was because I once watched an episode of "Paula's Home Cooking" wherein she made a gooey butter cake using boxed cake mix. First of all, boxed cake mix is not healthy, by any stretch of the imagination. Second of all, DUDE, she added what looked to be an extraordinarily obscene amount of butter to an already unhealthy dessert!

The only recipe of Paula's (we're on a first-name basis, y'all) that I've ever actually made is pumpkin pie. With an entire package of cream cheese in it. Oh, yes. It's delicious and fattening and only acceptable to me because it's a holiday dessert. Everyone in my family really loves pumpkin pie (my sister recently asked me to bake four of them for Thanksgiving this year), so I can get away with such shenanigans. Once a year.

On a normal day-to-day basis, I cannot be cooking Paula-style. I would die of lipid poisoning, I think. Oh- I don't watch "Paula's Home Cooking" regularly. I once saw her deep(!) fry(!) a brick of macaroni and cheese(!!) wrapped in bacon(!!) and almost fainted. After that unforgettable experience, I cannot bring myself to watch any of her shows unless I have the stomach flu and therefore am lacking the desire or will to go fry something and then drench it in butter.

I'm fascinated by Michele Hume's website, Georgia On My Thighs. She's doing a Julie Powell sort of thing, except instead of cooking from the culinary Bible that is Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Michele Hume is working her way through Paula Deen's "The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook." I think it's ambitious. To know in advance how many kilotons of trans fat one is about to consume in the coming months and still do it? Brave. (The website isn't updated very regularly, and she's only posted a few times, but I still think it's a fun little read.)

All this is a circuitous way of getting to some kind of point. The point being, I used boxed cake mix. I refrained from doctoring it up with a couple sticks of butter, a la Paula, but I did doctor it up. I will always love cake mixes because they remind me of my childhood.

We never had a KitchenAid (which I covet) or even a handmixer when I was a kid. (In retrospect, I think we had a handmixer and my mother never let us use it, because making us beat a cake manually kept us quiet for so long.) My mother would hand us a giant bowl that had the cake mix (mm, sweet and sugary flour!), eggs, oil, and water all poured in. My sister and I would sit the bowl down on the floor between us and start beating the thing into batter. I remember that we always counted- it was supposed to be at least 50 strokes. We probably beat the batter about 200 strokes, which is where the beauty of boxed cake mix comes into play- you can't really overbeat it.

I honestly do not remember what those cakes tasted like. I remember what they smelled like and how delighted we would be when those last, lingering, stubborn little lumps of cake mix finally popped, releasing a small cloud of dry ingredients that reluctantly yielded to the goopy batter. I remember how we'd try to get every little scrap of batter into the cake pan, invariably ending up with batter on ourselves, instead. I remember sitting in front of the oven door with my sister, turning the oven light on and peering in, hoping the cake was done. But the flavors of the cakes? No memories at all.

I love Bundt cakes for precisely the same reason as I love boxed cake mix- because they evoke my childhood. My mom baked us a lot of Bundt cakes, which were miraculously prettily shaped desserts that I wanted to wear as jewelry. In memory of my youth and with the knowledge that the cake was not going to be very tasty, I made a Bundt cake from cake mix. Pillsbury lemon, to be precise.

I mixed it up according to the package directions. I beat the thing by hand, managing not to count my strokes. I still delighted in the little clods of cake mix exploding into the batter. Then I poured most of the batter, probably about 80 % of it, into the Bundt pan, which had been greased and floured.

I then sprinkled the batter with a generous amount of finely chopped walnuts. Probably a good 1/2 cup, maybe a bit more. Poured the rest of the batter gently on top of the walnuts, trying to cover them all up (burnt walnuts are terrible), and stuck the cake in the oven, hoping for the best.

And really, it was not that bad! The cake stuck to the pan a bit because I am not a good cake pan preparer, but other than that, it was fine. It puffed up, got toasty brown, and even smelled delicious, just like my memories of those cakes lazing in the oven.

The walnuts added a much-needed reprieve from the sweetness that is pre-packaged lemon cake. I was really glad I threw them in, because the cake was tooth-achingly sugary without walnuts. Not attractive, this cake, but it was perfectly serviceable and I got to relive a bit of my innocent childish days, which made the (little) effort completely worth it.

A big part of the reason I made this cake was because my mother, bless her sainted soul, had two boxes of lemon cake mix neatly lined up in her cupboard. I'm so glad to report that some things? They never change.


Anonymous,  January 5, 2010 at 12:38 PM  

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

jeanny January 5, 2010 at 4:20 PM  

Thank you, that's very lovely of you!