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Easy, versatile lemon cake is a winner during the holidays


You've probably heard people talk about their "go-to" recipes. Maybe you have some go-tos yourself. They're those dishes that are easy to make, foolproof and always deliver delicious results that you can count on for just about any purpose, from family meals to casual get-togethers with friends to special-occasion parties.

With holiday celebrations of all kinds fast approaching, desserts are generally the go-to recipes that are most in demand. Especially prized are treats that are versatile, appropriate not only for a range of different occasions but also for the ways in which you can serve them.

I was very impressed by just such a recipe that was developed by my friend Marian Getz, a brilliant pastry chef who has worked with me when I appear on the Home Shopping Network. Marian knows I have a sweet tooth, and she never fails to come up with something new to make me happy.

Marian's Lemon Velvet Sheet Cake, the recipe for which she generously shares here, is a perfect holiday go-to for any number of reasons. First, of course, is the fact that it's delicious, with a bright lemony flavor thanks to its combination of fresh lemon juice and zest and lemon extract, all incorporated into the batter, and still more lemon juice in its easy icing glaze that's poured on right after the cake comes out of the oven.

The velvety texture comes thanks to the mixture of soft cake flour, rich and tangy sour cream, and baking powder and soda, with the tenderness of the crumb further enhanced by the acidity of the lemon as well.

Better still, the batter takes just minutes to stir together and only about half an hour to bake. So not only could you plan to make this as part of a holiday dessert table, but you could also whip it up easily for last-minute guests.

For something that tastes so good, the very basic nature of the recipe also means that it's versatile. Try swapping out orange or even lime or grapefruit for the lemon. You could also bake the batter as cupcakes if you like. And feel free to play around with the icing or frosting.

For example, Marian wowed me once by replacing the lemon glaze with chocolate ganache, first heating 3 cups (750 ml) of heavy cream in the top pan of a double boiler over but not touching barely simmering water, and then slowly whisking in 2 pounds (900 g) of good-quality chopped dark chocolate (or use chocolate coins or chips) until melted and thoroughly blended with the cream.

Is your mouth watering at the very mention of that combination? Then congratulations: You've discovered a new go-to recipe!


Make one 9-by-9-inch (22.5-by-22.5 cm) cake, 9 to 16 servings


2 cups (500 ml) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable oil

1/2 cup (125 ml) sour cream

Grated zest of 2 lemons

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

11/2 cups (375 ml) cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


11/2 cups confectioners sugar

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

GARNISHES (optional):

Freshly whipped cream

Fresh berries

Position a wire rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350∞F (175∞C). With nonstick baking spray, evenly spray the bottom and sides of a 9-by-9-inch (22.5-by-22.5-cm) baking pan; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar, vegetable oil, sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon and vanilla extracts, and eggs. With a wire whisk, stir them together briskly until smoothly blended.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir with a clean whisk until thoroughly blended. Add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir with a whisk just until no streaks of the flour mixture remain.

Pour the resulting batter into the prepared baking pan. Place the pan on the oven rack and bake for about 30 minutes, until a long wooden toothpick inserted off the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside on a wire rack.

Immediately put the confectioners sugar and lemon juice for the glaze in a small mixing bowl. Stir them together with a small whisk or a fork until smooth, and then immediately pour the glaze evenly over the still-hot cake.

Serve the cake straight from the pan, hot, warm or at room temperature, cutting it into squares. Garnish, if you like, with whipped cream and fresh berries.


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