It’s BUNDT week, bakers!
Okay, maybe that’s not actually a thing. But this week, I was very excited to pull out my brand spanking new Bundt pan and bake my first Bundt cake.
And thank goodness I had something to look forward to, because our semester officially ended on Friday, and it has been without a doubt the strangest, longest, most unpredictable semester in my career as an educator.
As I begin working to wrap up grading and post final grades before the deadline on Monday, I am overwhelmed at being asked to put a letter grade on the act of surviving a first semester of college during a pandemic. It feels very strange to have to quantify that. We survived, and I want to give them all gold stars and be done with it.
But alas, that isn’t an option. So I’ve been working through how to grade fairly and compassionately while looking very much forward to the stress-relieving activity of baking that loomed on the Saturday horizon.
This Week’s Bake: Lemon and Poppyseed Drizzle Cake
Since I had such a nice time at Fresh Market last week, I decided to make the solo grocery trip a part of the weekly ritual for these bakes going forward. I absolutely adore the grocery, but often don’t really get a chance to soak in and enjoy the experience these days. Even before the pandemic, grocery shopping had become just another box to tick as quickly as possible in between work and side projects and other responsibilities.
Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten how to savor it.
When I lived in my first apartment back in Cincinnati, I would wake up up on Saturday mornings absolutely thrilled to drive 30 minutes to the fancy Kroger, which I deemed “magic Kroger” because none of the stores I’d shopped in with my parents growing up had such a wide variety of organic, Whole Foods-like options.
I was living on my tiny AmeriCorps stipend and getting up at 4am every morning so I could savor coffee before tutoring online for two hours, before getting ready for the 8 hour workday at my service site.
And yet, when Saturday rolled around, I still had the energy and enthusiasm to spring up and spend the morning at Magic Kroger. Alone, I wandered the aisles and bought all kinds of things I couldn’t have found at the store closer to my apartment–granola, nuts, and grains you poured out yourself into small containers, Sonic caffeine water, fresh ground peanut butter. Doing my own grocery shopping, bringing it back to my own apartment, making my own meals, was the real magic to me. It was the newfound independence of being on my own for the first time, and working hard to make it happen.
The shine of that new adult life wears off eventually, I guess, and it just became another chore. So it’s been a while since I’ve felt that way about grocery shopping. Once the pandemic hit, and I moved in with my now fiancé, there was a huge span of time where I didn’t go to the grocery at all–safer just to have one member of the household go, and somehow, it became Andy’s job.
As nice as it is to have someone share the load, I realized last week while I was slowly roaming the aisles of Fresh Market that I miss my alone time in the grocery store, with my prepped list and the meandering chance encounters of anything that looks fun and interesting, like a couple vanilla draft lattes or, this week’s selection, a chicken pot pie. Bringing the solo grocery meander back into my life in a way that feels intentional and mindful is… well, self-care.
Though I have to confess, I did not particularly relish or savor heading yet again for the lemons. Nowhere in the cookbook does it suggest that you should bake your way through the recipes in order, so it’s kind of my own fault it’s been all lemons all the time, but even so… we’re a little lemoned out in this household. I had no idea how many varieties of lemon cake existed out in the world, and part of me feels personally attacked since I walked into this an anti lemon-in-dessert person.
Still, this week’s bake managed to bring in some new elements nevertheless, including a trip to the Fine Wine & Good Spirits for an ingredient. Did I have to google Limoncello to discover that I’d need to head to the liquor store to get it? Yup.
It also had never occurred to me that a person could simply stroll to the spice aisle of their local grocery and buy an entire container of poppyseeds, but there they were right next to the peppercorns and paprika.
I came home from Fresh Market and skimmed over the recipe again. After last week’s complicated bake that took six hours, I felt relieved, as I could tell this one wasn’t nearly as laborious.
For the past several weeks, I’ve gotten up at my usual 7am on Saturdays feeling excited and eager to get started. But I make myself wait, go about my usual morning routine, give myself time to wake up and getting into true baking form.
So I fed Azula, had my own coffee and breakfast (peanut butter cup oatmeal), and then Andy and I took her for the customary walk. After yoga and a shower (and a teaser post to my Instagram stories), it was finally time to bake.
Surprisingly, given my lack of enthusiasm for more lemons, I think this bake has been my favorite experience so far. It was the perfect mix of new techniques and familiar knowledge I’ve gained thus far in the baking journey. Using the Bundt pan: new. Creaming softened butter, flour, eggs, lemon zest, and sugar into a cake batter that seems thicker than I expect? Easy peasy. Cutting lemons and twisting them to “resemble bows”? New. Simmering lemon juice and sugar into a syrup? Like clockwork.
With the cake in the oven and only two
things to produce while it baked instead of, like, a million, I fell into an easy rhythm in the kitchen. This was helped along by the fact that Andy decided to take Azula on an adventure, so I had the entire house to myself as I baked and listened to my current audiobook (Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle
Once the cake came out, I got to stab it repeatedly with a skewer. You poke holes in the cake before putting the drizzle on so that it soaks in more, but it’s also kind of fun.
Five minutes of cooling later, it was time for the main event: turning the Bundt cake out of the pan. Visions of cake stuck to the tin and falling apart as I tried to pry it free danced through my head as I prepared myself mentally and emotionally for the big flip. Instead, the cake literally leapt out of the pan so quickly I barely had time to make sure it landed on the cooling rack. Miraculously, it came out all in one piece.
I have to say, as much as I generally hate waiting for things to cool before I can add the finishing touches, I really enjoyed the satisfying shape of that Bundt cake sitting on the counter. What if I ruined it by trying to make it fancy, when it was so pretty and wreath-shaped all on its own?
The whole “my first B was in a college art class” thing has left me eternally doubting my aesthetic capabilities, so as much as I love the decorating part, I also dread it. The nicely drizzled icing pictured in the cookbook did not look like something my less-than-steady hands could muster. Still, it isn’t a challenge if I don’t step outside my comfort zone.
It took a few false starts to figure out the right method to “encourage” the icing to drip down the sides, but once I got a sense of how it flowed, I think I managed an okay job of it. Heck, I even had a bit of fun once I decided abstract was okay. The finishing touches were, of course, my lemon bows and a sprinkle of toasted almond slices and poppyseeds. My final product wasn’t an exact replica of the book photo, of course, but I have to admit I’m pretty pleased with it.
Normally, I make Andy slice things for me so I can take an action shot/video for my Instagram stories, but he still wasn’t home from the adventure with Azula and I have zero patience when it comes to tasting my baked goods. So, no live slicing footage this week, but plenty of lemon poppyseed goodness. This one is probably my favorite tasting bake next to the lemon loaf, and definitely my favorite baking experience so far.
Next week, we step away from the lemons into honey cake land, so if anyone knows where I can find “flavorful” honey, do let me know!