Tuesday, March 18, 2008


In her Preface to How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, Nigella Lawson writes, "Sometimes ... we don't want to feel like a postmodern, postfeminist, overstretched woman but, rather, a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in our langorous wake." (What I wouldn't give for a langorous wake.) Allow me to add a few more "posts-" that inhabit my daily life. Postsouthern. Posthuman. I study literature, and theoretical realities are my bread and butter--in class. I even study food, but there's nothing like actually making it to remind me that life's not a theory or a post. I am mesmerized by the slow, pillowy rise of a loaf of bread dough. I watch with wintery awe the snowy sifting of powdered sugar or flour or midnight-hued cocoa. I love that the smell of lemon can evoke so many memories and emotions and seems perfectly at home in any season or at any holiday. So I hope you'll stop in now and again as I work through the bread and pastry cookbooks on my shelves that I've been waiting to have time to use. I don't have time. Who ever does? So why not now--instead of waiting for an era of post-baking.

My favorite cake, the one that I bake time and time again without fail, is the cake Nigella Lawson calls "My Mother-In-Law's Madeira Cake." It is soft and dense and lemony, and just thinking about it makes me smile. And it's rustic-looking, baked in a loaf pan with an elegant crisp top and inviting scent. It looks like real food, not a contrived gimmick, and it is luscious. I'll add a picture as soon as I find one. I've made it so many times; I can't remember if it's ever lasted long enough to make it to film.

So here it is, simply:

My Mother-In-Law's Madeira Cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess). And no, I didn't leave anything out--there's no madeira in this madeira cake.

1 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
grated zest and juice of one large lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350.

Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, or line with parchment paper.

Cream the softened butter and 3/4 cup sugar, and add the lemon zest. Add the room-temperature eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour for each. Then gently mix in the rest of the flour and, finally, the lemon juice. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with sugar right before putting it into the oven, and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove to a wire cooling rack, and let cool in pan before turning out.

Makes 8-10 slices.

Variations: You can certainly add more lemon, even some poppyseeds or caraway seeds. Nigella even suggests adding some chopped dried fruit, such as strawberries or cherries. I've never tried. The unadulterated cake is enough for me, though I can see how a strawberry sauce could also be excellent.