Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

White Chocolate Lemon Cake

I love white chocolate. In fact, I probably love white chocolate more than even milk chocolate. There's something about the subtle cocoa butter flavor that just pleases my palate. So, combining white chocolate with my other favorite flavor, lemon, is sure to get my mouth watering.

This great cake combines melted white chocolate in the batter with lemon flavors for a beautiful finish. It's moist without being too heavy and the flavors are perfect together. Topped with a lemon sugar glaze it's one I can't stop eating! This cake would be wonderful served with a lemon sorbet or vanilla ice cream with a little warm lemon sauce or lemon curd. It's also fairly simple to make with a minimum of ingredients.

Speaking of ingredients. Recently, I mentioned one of my recipes being adapted elsewhere. One of the comments on that particular recipe was something to the effect that shortening in baked goods was gross. A commenter chimed in with the observation that she didn't think "anyone uses shortening anymore. Ewww!"

So, obviously, it's time for a lesson. First of all, it took me a little while to realize that both the blogger and the commenter were unaware of what shortening is. I believe they have confused shortening with lard.

Shortening is hydrogenated vegetable oil. It is used extensively in baking because of its unique properties. It has a higher melting point than butter which means that it doesn't "spread" as much in the oven. Thus, shortening is a good choice if you want cookies that are tall and fluffy instead of thin and crispy. Likewise, when used in cakes it produces a very light and delicate crumb compared to butter which produces a more dense and heavier crumb. The Italians use olive oil quite a bit in baking cakes. In fact, we just featured a Pissota con l'Oio recently and will be doing another variation in the coming weeks (maybe two). Shortening is also superior when used for pie crusts because it bonds to the protein in flour molecules easier than butter producing flakier crusts that aren't as prone to becoming "chewy" if over handled a bit. In fact, that's where the word "shortening" comes from because it "shortens" the process of producing a flaky pastry. Shortening has long been used in baked goods to produce everything from flaky biscuits to light cookies.

Lard, on the other hand, is rendered animal fat. Yes, it is still used in cooking and some traditional bakers still use it in baking. I'm not one of them. I substitute vegetable shortening for lard in heirloom recipes. Sure, I lose a little of the flavor profile and I certainly lose a bit of texture, but I also cut down on a lot of cholesterol and other things. Besides, I don't have enough recipes to warrant keeping it around the kitchen all the time.

So, shortening is vegetable based and used in place of butter because of its higher melting point and ease of handling in certain baked goods like pie crusts. lard is rendered animal fat and is used by some traditionalists in heirloom recipes. Learning the difference between shortening and lard will help you immensely when dealing with traditional recipes and heirloom recipes. It also adds another tool for you when you're developing your own recipes. In the case of my recipe, shortening was chosen for its superior property of producing a light and delicate crumb without the need to whip egg whites or other more onerous techniques to achieve the same purpose. If you just drop in butter in place of the shortening and don't adjust the technique by switching to whipped egg whites or yolks whipped to form the ribbon, the resulting dish is very different in texture.

NOTE: You will hear some people refer to lard as a type of "shortening" and in the original sense of the word it can be true. However, in modern times shortening has come to mean hydrogenated vegetable oil such as Crisco®.

Recipe: White Chocolate Lemon Cake

Summary: Sumptuous white chocolate combined with fresh lemon makes this cake perfect for Spring entertaining.


  • 1 cup white chocolate chips, melted
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tbl. grated lemon peel
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tbl. fresh lemon juice


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan and set aside.
  2. Melt white chocolate in microwave safe bowl on 50% power for 1 minute. Stir white chocolate and return to microwave. Continue melting and stirring at 30 second intervals at 70% power until chocolate is completely melted. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream together butter, sugar and vanilla extract until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating after each addition until fully incorporated. With mixer running on slow speed, add white chocolate and lemon zest. 
  5. Add flour mixture with buttermilk, alternating between wet and dry and beginning and ending with flour. Pour into prepared Bundt pan.
  6. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in center of cake comes away with just a few crumbs adhering. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice and whisk to make a glaze. Using a wooden skewer, place several holes in cake and pour half of glaze over the cake. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cake plate. Make holes in top of cake and pour remaining glaze over cake. Sprinkle with decorative sugar, if desired. Allow to cool completely before serving.
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 55 min
Total time: 1 hour 5 min
Number of servings (yield): 16 pieces
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

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