I have a soft spot for vintage books of all kinds, and recently, a vintage cookbook from Crabtree & Evelyn caught my eye while I was dropping off several books at a Free Little Library. With a William Morris-inspired cover, illustrations that look like something from one of my cottage-core dreams, and suggestions for menus like, ‘A Sporting Afternoon,’ I knew that this book had to come home with me. And, as I flipped through the pages of recipes like Cardamom Toast and Radish Flower Sandwiches, I could imagine cooking through this book of ‘Light Meals and Small Feasts’ as I entertain all year long.
It was a spring-inspired Crunchy Lemon Syrup Cake that I decided to tackle first. Who doesn’t love a tart-sweet citrus cake, particularly as we approach the season of showers, brunches, and other spring affairs? It’s the sort of dessert that never leaves you feeling like you’ve over-indulged. Just sugary enough with a hint of tartness, it appeals to even those who swear they don’t have a sweet tooth.
The idea of “crunchy” intrigued me, especially since it comes solely from a lemon juice and granulated sugar mixture poured over the cake while it’s still hot from the oven. No waiting for it to cool before frosting; this recipe spoke to my impatient ways.
I made it one April afternoon before my parents came over for dinner, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was, in fact, as easy as I’d hoped. Only a few basic cake ingredients were involved — it’s the type of recipe that makes you wonder why you ever bought boxed mixes. And, while I didn’t happen to have a springform pan, I would like to think the bundt pan I used instead gave it a festive feel.
Serendipitously, while I was baking this cake, I happened to be simmering raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, and water for a raspberry simple syrup (my favorite spring coffee addition). This involves straining the raspberry out of the mixture to leave behind just the syrup. As I looked over at the stove, an idea hit me: Use the strained raspberries as a compote to spread across the top of the lemon cake!
This turned out to be the pièce de résistance of the entire cake. While I’m sure the suggested whipped cream would have made a lovely milky foil to the acidity of the lemon cake, the sweetness of the raspberry compote perfectly balanced the tartness of the citrus.
The end result was one that everyone at the table agreed will become a regular on spring menus and at family celebrations for years to come, giving this vintage cookbook’s recipe a chance to live on for at least a few more decades.
Crunchy Lemon Syrup Cake with Raspberry Compote
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter softened
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- ⅓ cup buttermilk
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- 2 cups frozen raspberries
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch springform pan or 8-inch bundt pan.
- Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat on high speed for one minute.
- Slowly add buttermilk and flour mixture, alternating each, and mixing on low speed. Stir in lemon juice.
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and lemon juice. This will have a grainy texture. Set aside.
- Pour cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, pour the lemon and sugar mixture over it. Let cool. Top with raspberry compote and serve.
- Bring the raspberries, sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to a simmer for fifteen minutes as mixture softens. Remove from heat and store in a glass container.
All photography by Heather Bien.
Find more delicious recipes in our archives.