Swedish Visiting Cake
Making the cake just now reminded me for the nine-millionth time why baking is so dear to me: it is a pleasure that engages all your senses. In the 10 minutes it took me to get the mixture into my old cast-iron skillet, I rubbed sugar and zest between my fingers, watched a batter grow from thick and dull to lithe and shiny, caught the fragrance of lemon, vanilla and almond and had the satisfaction of knowing that I was making something completely by hand and that it would be something others would soon enjoy.
The fact that the house will smell like butter, sugar and vanilla for hours is just a happy extra.
Swedish Visiting Cake (adapted from Baking, From My Home to Yours)
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch cake pan or even a pie pan.
Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the zest and blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour. Finally, fold in the melted butter.
Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you’re using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.
Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.