i’ve basically been in love with three brownies in my life: 1) fudgy brownies from a box (duncan hines, betty crocker: i wasn’t picky), 2) molten-like brownies from a family recipe (basically these, but baked at only 300 degrees for 28 to 30 minutes), and, 3) the baked brownie (kind of a lot of people’s all-time fave). my ultimate fudgy/chocolate-y one owes something to each of them. however, when i initially began developing it, i figured i’d create something akin to the molten-one (which i imagined might end up something like barefoot contessa’s brownie pudding, or this – a recipe i’d developed for the qvc network). and yet when i started drilling down on water baths, low oven temperatures, under-baking, and other methods for achieving molten-ness, i kind of got cold feet. i knew from brownie-love #3 (the baked brownie) that i didn’t actually need a super ooey-gooey center to create a super fudgy, chocolate-y treat. and i knew from brownie-love #1, that i was super happy with a brownie that kind of called out “chocolate,” rather than screamed it.
so it was never my intention to develop a blondie recipe. to the contrary, i’ve been working away on one for brownies (believing that no sweets-oriented blog is complete without one) for quite some time. and i was just about ready to post what, i think, is like a totally amazing, fudgy, chocolate-y brownie masterpiece, when i started obsessing about blondies. cut to an hour and a half later: my brownie recipe is on hold (temporarily) and i am browning butter and toasting nuts and pondering what else the perfect blondie might include. to some, this might seem like a leap – to go from brownie development to blondie development in a mere 90 minutes. but for me, it’s not really that weird: my blondie-thing is really just an extension of my preoccupation with chocolate chip cookies. and, although i love an all-chocolate dessert (ie: a brownie) i am really super partial to the combo of chocolate plus caramel-y, salty, molasses-y flavors – hence my blondie-love.
so, i kind of feel like i have a story to tell about how my uber-lemon-y lemon “velvet” sheet cake came to be and i want to begin at the beginning. my paternal grandmother made a “lemon velvet” sheet cake that was just spectacular: it was super moist, super lemon-y, had that perfect sweet/tart balance, and a to-die-for lemon-sugar glaze that kind-of/sort-of shattered in your mouth each time you took a bite. i still remember flying home from visiting her many moons ago, with a carefully wrapped (kind of large-ish) piece of her cake in my bag. i had every intention of sharing it with my then-boyfriend, but upon my return, as i waited for him to pick me up at the airport, my willpower dissolved and i quickly shoveled the whole thing in my mouth before he arrived. (and, fyi, my take-away from this memory (besides how amazing the cake was) is utter disbelief in my resolve: now, i would have eaten that sucker on the plane). but i digress.
the most important thing about my grandmother’s lemon velvet cake is not how quickly i consumed it back in the day (or how much faster i would consume it today) but the fact that she made her delicious cake with a box of lemon jello, a package of “lemon velvet” cake mix, oil, and eggs. and truth be told, i didn’t know the provenance of her cake until somewhat recently. i was developing this for baked occasions, and, in need of inspiration, i naively wrote to my cousin to see if i could get my hands on our grandmother’s “homemade” lemon cake recipe. of course, when i received it, the recipe proved to be of no use to me in the development process, but to say i was disappointed isn’t really accurate. honestly, it was more like an “a-ha” moment. as has already been documented here, i love the taste of a cake from a box – i just do. and so when i realized that my grandmother’s lemon cake – a cake i have loved my whole life – was one of those kinds of cakes, it kind of all made sense.
however, since my grandmother’s recipe was not going to provide me with the secret to baking the perfect uber-lemon-y and moist lemon cake, i needed to look elsewhere – not only in order to develop the lemon bundt cake recipe for matt and nato, but because i was now on a personal-mission to duplicate the “lemon cake from a box” of my childhood. and so began my several-year-long lemon cake journey, where i came across many amazing (and inspiring) cakes (and developed a couple of my own – for baked, as mentioned above, the “ultra lemony lemon bundt cake,” and for this, “easy lemon sheet cake”) and discovered many a lemon-cake-tip along the way. from ina garten’s lemon loaves, i embraced the notion of loading my cake with zest. from dorie greenspan’s lightly lemon-y perfect party cake, i learned to rub said copious-amounts-of-zest into the sugar (to better activate the zesty-ness). and from cook’s country’s lemon buttermilk sheet cake, i was inspired to include some cake flour in with my dry ingredients and to add a bit of buttermilk to my lemon-y glaze (although i substituted creme fraiche).
and even prior to all of these “tips” making their way into the sheet cake i present to you today, i had been hard at work on a myriad of other lemon-y desserts. (for icebox cakes, i developed two different lemon icebox cakes: one that calls for lemon wafers and lemon whipped cream (and caramel – but that is a story for another day) and one that calls for lemon pudding and lemon curd whipped cream.) and because i’ve always got a few “how to make your cake extra moist and ‘box-cake-like'” tricks in my back pocket, it wasn’t long before my sheet cake recipe included not only all of my lemon dessert tips and tricks, but also olive oil (not for taste but for texture and NOT extra virgin – see here for why) and creme fraiche. and so there you have it: the story of how i came to make this yummy (box-like) cake, why i make it the way i do, and (lucky you) the recipe – so you, too, can eat large-ish pieces of it either with, or without, your boyfriend.
kind of goes without saying that i am pretty excited about posting and sharing this recipe with you all (and this gorgeous picture by Tara Donne). and mostly – of course – for the obvious reason: the recipe is from icebox cakes, a cookbook written by me (and my partner in whipped cream: jean sagendorph) and published by chronicle books. it will hit bookstores in mid-april, and i’m sort of – duh – over the moon about it. honestly, however, my enthusiasm for this particular recipe transcends even my delight in having published my first book. and here’s why: the black and white malted is not only a genius icebox cake, but dare i say an all-round genius dessert.