Everyday Dorie Sweet

A Cake You Can Take With You Anywhere

From my “On Dessert” column for the New York Times Magazine … 

Over the years, and almost without meaning to, I have become an obsessive collector — not of objects but of recipes. I have accumulated boxes’ and files’ worth. I search for them casually in print and online, and relentlessly, determinedly and often shamelessly when I’m out, whether close to home or traveling. I eavesdrop as I wait in line at the market, and sometimes, if I think there’s the possibility of nabbing something special, I’ll muster the courage to wriggle into the conversation. I ask shopkeepers how they prepare whatever it is they sell, which is how I came to cook a turkey at a temperature so low I feared it wouldn’t be ready to eat until the next day (its slow-roasted skin was burnished and its meat moist). I take notes when I taste something I like in a restaurant and then spend days in my kitchen trying to recreate it. And sometimes recipes just come to me, by mail, by good luck or through the front door, which is how my first visiting cake arrived.

The cake, protected by a tea towel and nestled in a basket, was given to me by its baker, Ingela Helgesson, a woman I’d talked with now and then at a local farm store in Connecticut. Ingela was searching for the perfect kitchen sink, and I invited her to come see mine; the cake was her unnecessary — but much appreciated — thanks. It was a butter cake, round and low, a few sliced almonds baked into its golden top. It was both unassuming and immensely inviting, but it was the story of the cake that I loved most. Ingela’s mother, who taught her to make the cake in their native Sweden, said it came together so speedily that you could start mixing the batter the moment you spied visitors coming up the walk. By the time they were settled in your home, the cake would be ready to serve.

The name charmed me. It evoked images of pilgrims as well as of potlucks, of picnics in town and country, of weekends with friends and treats to tide you over on long trips.

Fifteen years later, I’ve christened dozens of “visiting cakes” of my own devising, no matter if I’ve taken them far away or left them in the kitchen to be enjoyed for days. My visiting cakes might be Bundt cakes, simple yet often fanciful, with swirls, stripes and crenelations molded into the pans they are baked in. They might be sheet cakes that can be cut into squares, or rounds, like Ingela’s, which make nice wedges. But most often they’re compact loaves, sometimes squat, sometimes flat and many times crowned, their centers cracked in volcanic fault lines.

What separates a visiting cake from all other cakes is its sturdiness — it’s built to be wrapped, packed and bundled, to travel and to retain its goodness for at least the span of a long weekend. This often precludes frostings and fussy decorations and means that the cake’s clarion qualities are its flavor and its texture, which tips toward moist, firm and easily sliceable, like poundcakes (which make fine visiting cakes). What all the cakes have in common is that they are meant to be shared. The joy of community is implicit in their name.

My lemon-spice visiting cake is one I bake regularly. Among its virtues are the quickness with which it’s made; the need for only a whisk to blend the batter; the fact that, like many spice cakes, it’s good when you make it and even better a day or two later, when the spices have had time to find their way into the cake; and that it is both homely and beautiful — its golden honey color and solid shape promise comfort and satisfaction. The cake needs no embellishment to make it more welcoming than it already is, but I’ll sometimes brush a little warmed marmalade across the top to give it a gloss; it’s a fillip, but the cake is worth the extra attention.

There’s also the lemon trick, which involves nothing more than grating the zest over the sugar and reaching into the bowl to rub the two ingredients together. At first, the sugar feels rough. Soon, the pressure encourages the zest to release its oils and the sugar to capture them. A minute later, the sugar is soft and damp, lightly tinged with color and powerfully fragrant. Everything essential has been pulled from the zest, so the sugar can flavor and scent the batter. The little job is done, but I like to linger to take a last whiff of the perfume on my fingers — it always seems a shame to have to wash my hands before setting to the work of mixing.

When the time comes to take the cake from the oven, I catch the aromas of butter and spice, but the lemon is faint. For an instant, I think the magic of the trick has vanished, but it never fails — it’s baked deep into the cake, waiting to surprise the visitor who takes the first slice.


Photograph by Gentl and Heyers; food styling by Maggie Ruggiero; prop styling by Amy Wilson

This article first appeared in the New York Times Magazine

Dorie Greenspan

Lemon-Spice Visiting Cake


From my On Dessert column for The New York Times Magazine


Whether you pack this cake as a gift or have it ready when visitors come to you, the imperative to share is implicit in its name. The cake is built for comfort and durability – make it on Thursday or Friday and have it all weekend. And if it stales, toast it; the heat will intensify the lemon and spice deliciously. The cake is easy to make (no machines needed) and, like all spice cakes, better after a day’s rest. Giving it a swish of warmed marmalade when it comes out of the oven is optional. What shouldn’t be passed up is what I call the ‘lemon trick’: Use your fingertips to rub the recipe’s lemon and sugar together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. This easy step transfers everything essential from the lemon to the cake. Think of it as aromatherapy for the cake and you.

Makes 10 servings



Butter and flour for the pan
1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups/250 grams sugar
1 large (or 2 small) lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup/120 milliliters heavy cream, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 ½ tablespoons/75 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup marmalade, for glaze (optional)
½ teaspoon water, for glaze (optional)

Center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 350. Butter an 8 1/2-inch loaf pan (Pyrex works well), dust with flour and tap out the excess. (For this cake, bakers’ spray isn’t as good as butter and flour.) Place on a baking sheet.

Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, cardamom, ginger and salt together.

Put the sugar in a large bowl, and grate the zest of the lemon(s) over the sugar. Squeeze the lemon(s) to produce 3 tablespoons juice, and set this aside. Using your fingers, rub the sugar and zest together until the mixture is moist and aromatic. One at a time, add the eggs, whisking well after each. Whisk in the juice, followed by the heavy cream. Still using the whisk, gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter in two additions. Stir the vanilla into the melted butter, and then gradually blend the butter into the batter. The batter will be thick and have a beautiful sheen. Scrape it into the loaf pan.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes (if the cake looks as if it’s getting too dark too quickly, tent it loosely with foil) or until a tester inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a rack, let rest for 5 minutes and then carefully run a blunt knife between the sides of the cake and the pan. Invert onto the rack, and turn over. Glaze now, or cool to room temperature.

For the glaze: Bring the marmalade and water to a boil. Brush the glaze over the top of the warm cake, and allow to it to set for 2 hours. The glaze will remain slightly tacky.

When the cake is completely cool, wrap in plastic to store. If it’s glazed, wrap loosely on top.

Photograph by Gentl and Heyers; food styling by Maggie Ruggiero; prop styling by Amy Wilson

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