Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Easy Citrus-Thyme Loaf Cake

Momentous events in the Deep South are always accompanied by food.

My grandmother made desserts for all kinds of occasions, but she was fond of loaf cakes because they were tidy and compact, travelling well to christenings, bake sales, and funerals. 





Mimi's lemon squares and loaf cakes sold quickly at church raffles, and not a crumb was left at post-funeral meals. "When you are bringing food to the bereaved," Mimi used to say, "citrus dishes can be downright medicinal."  To me, they've always held a touch of magic.




Sometimes the soul cries out for Mimi's loaf cake, and nothing else will do. I can see it now, wrapped in a yellow-striped tea towel, the domed top peeking out, glistening with a sugar glaze. Hand's down, it's the most gentle dessert I've ever tasted, with moist crumb and a comforting, sunny center. Despite the powdered sugar icing, the flavors are balanced, never too sweet.

If the weather is bitter, or you are having a terrible day, a citrus loaf is particularly consoling. You see, it's not just a dessert, it's a mood-brightening agent.

When Mimi served this cake, she always reminded me to save crumbs for the fairies. (These were Southern fairies, mind you, and they were very high strung, prone to hissy fits and the blahs. In truth, their sole purpose was to ignite a child's imagination.) But you don't have to believe in mythical creatures to appreciate this cake: it's an enchanting alchemy of citrus, thyme, and buttermilk.
Like actors in an ensemble cast, the flavors in this cake work together.
Lemons have a complex aroma: dew on old fashioned roses; sunshine steaming through piney woods; lavender swaying in the breeze, giving off a heady, slightly astringent scent.  Pine notes are found in limes, too, but they're balanced by a hint of lilac. Thyme is a versatile, soft-spoken herb, yet it's not a pushover. Thyme can hold its own in any recipe. Finally, the tang of buttermilk adds depth and complexity; plus, it transforms the gluten, resulting in a creamy, moist texture. 





Like Mimi used to say, when you've had too much sourness in your life, the cure is, oddly enough, a citrus cake. Throw in a little thyme to bolster courage and dispel a lugubrious mindset. Even if you aren't in a bleak mood, this cake is soul satisfying. Add a cup of hot, lemony tea, and you've got an uplifting meal.

Easy Citrus-Thyme Loaf Cake
                                                  Serves: 8 - 10

1- 15.25 oz box yellow cake mix (I used Duncan Hines, but in the past I've also used Betty Crocker Super Moist-Lemon flavored)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
zest of 2 lemons and 2 limes
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (remove from the stalks)
juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime.

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour a loaf pan. 

Note: Substitute 1 cup buttermilk for 1 cup water.
Into a large mixing bowl, add cake mix, buttermilk, eggs, and oil. Beat on low speed until ingredients are blended. Add citrus juices. Increase the speed on the mixer and blend 2 minutes. Turn off the mixer. Blend zest and thyme into the batter. 
Pour batter into a greased, floured mold. Bake 45 minutes or until done. Then remove the pan from the oven and cool 10 minutes. Invert the loaf cake onto a wire rack. 

Citrus Glaze
powdered sugar
spring water
fresh lemon juice
fresh lime juice

Whisk all ingredients and spoon over the cooled loaf cake. (I can't offer exact measurements because I totally eyeball the amounts. If I add too much water, I sprinkle in more sugar; if the mixture is too thick, I dribble in water.) Stir until the consistency reaches the nebulous "Goldilocks Zone," which is neither too thick nor too thin. Position the loaf right-side-up on a wire rack. Place the rack on a jelly roll pan (or shallow baking pan). Drizzle the tops and sides of the cake with icing. Spoon up the "overflow" and drizzle over the loaf. Do this until your arms get tired. Reward yourself with a thick slice of cake.

Mimi's cake possesses a lightness of being, summoning images of a sunlit meadow in Provence . . . and if you are very, very lucky, you might see fairies snatch up the crumbs.

"I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine. . . 
weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in."

-- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Shared at:
The Scoop,  

35 comments:

  1. Oh what a wonderful post! Your cake is PERFECT for tea time - sounds easy, heavenly, and well a must-try for sure.
    Thank you! : - )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Michele. I hope you will enjoy it!

      Delete
  2. Your citrus loaf cake is a thing of beauty and perfect for the winter blues Michael Lee, along with your cheery baking utensils! I love the little flecks of thyme with the lemony cake, I bet it would be delicious with rosemary too!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This cake looks amazing. I just have to say, I LOVE those little polka dot measuring cups you have. They are adorable!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jessica, they come in a set. I found them at Amazon.

      Delete
  4. Gorgeous cake and I so enjoyed your Grandmother and her Southern fairies story. My mother said "hissy fit" often, but when I use the words around my New York relatives, they look at me like, "What did she just say?" Must be a Southern thing :) That's okay. I'm picking up some of their language too.
    Sam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A Southern thing for sure. :-) We invented a whole lexicon, I think. :-)

      Delete
  5. Love this! Oh how I do enjoy reading here, and looking at your photo's....and the recipes!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. The way you describe this cake makes we want to go make one right now, but I don't have any limes ;-( Your loaf pan is adorable!
    Lori

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love this, looks like I was tardy with sharing my recipe, the fairies were calling for lime crumbs first! Looks fabulous~

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My Mimi would approve of your lemon poppy seed cake. I'm making that soon.

      Delete
  8. Oh, I just love cakes, specially the pound kind with nothing special on top or in between! I think I'll run and make it this afternoon.
    Thanks for sharing sweet lady; I will also pin it.
    Hugs,
    FABBY

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh this cake sounds wonderful and I am going to try it. Being from the south my aunts loved to make pound cakes and always with buttermilk. Thanks so much for this wonderful recipe.
    Have a great week,
    Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so welcome, Mary. Thanks for visiting.

      Delete
  10. The cake looks great, I'll have to make one! But the most impressive thing was your writing of the story of Mimi and her cake. The love you feel for Mimi certainly comes through in your description of her and her feelings about cake, people and occasions. I appreciate this, it warms my heart. Thanks, and now to make a cake!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mimi would be so happy to read your words, Ruthie. Happy baking!

      Delete
  11. Oh my goodness.. I absolutely MUST make this cake tomorrow. You made my mouth water with your beautiful words...and pictures....
    My grandmother always made lemon cheese cake and it was my favorite...Do you know that cake? very southern....
    Love, Mona

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have that recipe, Mona. How did I miss it? I'll be sure to look it up. Thanks!

      Delete
  12. I want to make that cake, but I need that cake pan, that dish towel, those measuring cups and those measuring spoons!!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Love Love anything with lemon. My Granny made a lemon bundt cake just like this one, but without the thyme and of course in a different pan. I can not wait to try this one! I think I might try one with a touch of lavender as well! Thank you for this lovely story and the recipe!
    Blessings

    ReplyDelete
  14. A wonderful looking cake. Lemon makes everything better. xo Catherine

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm taken with what your Mimi taught you about fairies. She sounds fanciful and practical all rolled together... I myself think of fairies when I see moss out in the yard. We call it fairy carpeting. I imagine that they have been spreading it out for their midnight revelry.

    I can't wait to try the recipe.

    ReplyDelete
  16. what an incredibly beautiful post Michael Lee, your memories of Mimi, your vivid descriptions of this magical cake, and your photos~ wow! Your cake has enhanced my spirit and brightened my day just by reading this! Thank you for this special treat today, and now I'm off to buy a fancy pan and some thyme :)
    Jenna

    ReplyDelete
  17. Your cake looks and sounds simply delicious! I have a rose-shaped bundt pan, and I'm tempted to try the cake in that. Pinned!

    ReplyDelete
  18. This sounds like a magical cake, Michael! I so enjoyed this post!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Oh, I'm so glad to find you through Brenda. There's nothing more I love to bake than loaf cakes. This looks delicious. Thank you. Deb

    ReplyDelete
  20. This sounds so good!
    Thanks for sharing it at the #HomeMattersParty - we hope to see you again next week!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I've been at the beach with 17 ladies, but had to check up on your posts, Michael Lee. I adore hearing about your Mimi and her cooking/baking wisdom. You come from such wonderful Southern stock, my friend, and the cake sounds fabulous and also gorgeous in that loaf pan. I'd be one of the fairies picking up the crumbs and then wanting a big slice with my tea.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I so love that loaf pan! Did you get it at Williams and Sonoma? Thanks for joining Home Sweet Home!

    ReplyDelete