(slightly adapted from “American Cookery”)
For the cake:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cups sugar, divided
8 large eggs, room temperature, separated
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract or cognac, or a combination of the 2
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
For the glaze (optional):
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 ½ -3 Tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Make the Cake:
Place the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly butter and flour, or coat with cooking spray with flour in it, a 10 inch tube or bundt pan. Place on a sheet pan and set aside.
In a medium size bowl with a strainer that fits over the top, sift the flour, baking powder and salt through the sieve. In a second bowl, sift it again, and then one more time, for a total of 3 times.
Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or an electric hand mixer, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Then, very slowly, about 2 Tablespoons at a time, add 1 cup sugar of the sugar. The whites will look shiny and soft peaks will flop over when the beater is lifted out of the whites. Set aside.
If using a stand mixer, switch to a paddle attachment, and cream the butter at medium–high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining ¾ cup sugar and beat until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, and beat until light and lemon colored, and then add the vanilla and lemon zest.
On the lowest speed, add the flour, one cup at a time and mix only until just combined. No longer or you’ll toughen the cake!
On the lowest speed again, add about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites, again just until combined. Gently fold or stir in the rest of the whites by hand just until no streaks of white remain.
Evenly spoon the batter into the pan, smoothing the top. You can make the batter alittle higher on the sides than the center so that the finished cake is more level on the top. Rap the pan 3 times on a counter to remove any air bubbles, and bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, and unmold onto a baking rack to cool completely. If using a straight sided tube pan, you can run a knife around the outside edge first. This can be stored, covered at room temperature, for 3-4 days. It actually tastes even better a few days in.
Make the glaze:
In a medium-size bowl fitted with a strainer, sift the confectioners’ sugar to remove any lumps. Add 2 ½ Tablespoons of the milk, the vanilla a tiny pinch of salt. Stir until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, add more milk, one teaspoon at a time to thin it out. Place the cake on a serving platter, and evenly pour the glaze in a circle over the top of the cake. It will naturally run down the sides.
Makes 8-12 servings. YUM!
1. Before you start, the eggs and butter MUST be at room temperature. If you forgot, zap the butter in the microwave for 10 seconds, and let the eggs sit in a bowl of warm water for 5-10 minutes.
2. The pan needs to be generously coated with butter and flour. Or, make it easy on yourself and buy a can of cooking spray with flour already in it, like Baker’s Joy.
3. Beard will sift the flour no less than 3 times to lighten it up—do that too!
4. Make sure that the bowl and beater you use to whip the whites are completely clean and free of any fat or oil. Otherwise, the whites won’t whip up and increase in volume.
5. It’s a pretty thick batter, so I like to add the flour using the mixer. Just stop the instant it’s incorporated! You don’t want to create gluten which will toughen the cake.
6. The mixer can be used to stir in about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites to lighten the batter. Then, gently fold or stir in the rest by hand, so that they deflate as little as possible.