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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March ABC Challenge: Tiny Lemon Thyme Loaf

I'm not a huge fan of lemon cake, but that keeps me searching for an excellent recipe.  I want the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness, with just the right texture.  This one isn't it.  But it is good.  Many people in the challenge didn't like the cornmeal, and I suspected I'd find the coarse texture cornmeal creates in harsh contrast to the light lemon taste.  So I substituted rice flour, which is finer and bakes up a little softer, while still providing texture.  The cake was slightly spongy, but light (although it became slightly tougher the following day.)

I found this cake to be a little too heavy on the lemon oil flavor and too light on the lemon juice.  The strong lemon oil could have been my fault; I never know how tightly to fill the measuring spoon with lemon zest, which affects the quantity used.  Since I quartered this recipe to make a single, small loaf, exact measurements become very important.  It's possible I packed the zest into the spoon too tightly, and while it would have been only a slight increase in the 3/4 teaspoon measurement I used, multiplied by 4 for a full recipe could have been a significant increase.  (Does that make sense?)  

The other change I made to the original recipe was to throw in some thyme, using a quantity similar to what I found in another recipe.  I'm not sure I could taste it.  It was very subtle.

Here's what I used.  Changes from an exact quarter of the original are shown in strikeout and italics:

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
1/16 tsp baking soda
4 teaspoons yellow cornmeal rice flour
½ large egg, at room temperature
¼ large egg yolk, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/16 1/8 tsp salt
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons pure canola oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350°F; grease a 4x2-inch rectangular loaf pan.  (Six 4x2 pans would normally be used in place of a 9x5 loaf pan, but since I was making 1/4 the recipe, I would have needed 1.5 pans. I risked all by using only one pan.) 

In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add cornmeal and whisk together to blend evenly.  Using a whisk attachment, beat together the whole egg, yolk, zest, salt, and thyme on medium-high speed until foamy, about 40 seconds. Gradually add sugar while beating. Increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very pale and almost white in colour, about 5 minutes. The mixture will nearly triple in volume.

In a small bowl, combine oil and lemon juice. Whisk it with a fork to blend. Gently fold the flour mixture into the eggs in three additions, alternating with the oil mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.

This cake rose in a strange manner -- straight up, with sharp edges.  No crowning or cracking.

Everyone else's loaves -- including the original -- were also fairly stout (which is why I was encouraged to overfill the pan.  I wanted a thicker loaf anyway.)  It might have been better with another few minutes in the oven, but it wasn't noticeably under baked. (I'm never quite sure how to adjust for different sized pans.)

Conclusion:  This was good, with a nice texture.  The sweetness level was good, but it would have benefited from a light, tangy glaze for a pleasant contrast.

Original recipe:   Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf via Scientifically Sweet


  1. Yours baked up nice and flat on top without sinking, so nice job on that. Good idea on the rice flour. I would have liked mine to be more spongy.

    1. I think the original recipe is a case where it didn't go as expected and she decided to pretend that's what she meant to happen. Since when is a cake "supposed" to be flat on top??? I think it's unappetizing. I like the crowning, especially with a crack down the middle. It's like a slash in a loaf of artisan bread -- gives a hint at wonderful texture inside.

  2. One of my favorite herbs is lemon thyme but I never thought of putting thyme in a lemon cake. It makes perfect sense. What a great idea!

    1. Interesting that you mention lemon thyme -- that's actually what was used in the recipe I saw, but I used just plain French thyme. I doubt one could tell the difference in a cake since you use so little.