• 84°

Joni Woolf: Welcome happy morning! Easter is (almost) here

The Easter Season is upon us, and for many of us the very word “Easter” conjures images of springtime, of new birth, of resurrection. Every spring we delight in the budding of branches, the glorious greens that spread like a carpet over the land, the budding of flowers that have slept for a season. And for those of us who take great pleasure in cooking for those we love, there is that urge to pull out the cookbooks, or go to the Internet, and find some new and delicious recipe to please the palate of those who are coming to dine.
This year at my house it will be different. I will not be here. I will be in Savannah with my son and his wife and other family members as we celebrate Easter at Christ Church Savannah, the oldest Episcopal Church in the state. That will be delightful … but still.  Not cooking at my house, not feeding friends who gather for our Easter and Thanksgiving feasts leaves me feeling guilty — as if they will all starve if I am not here to feed them. In fact, one of them said last week, “Just what do you think we’re going to eat    if you’re gone?” He was kidding, of course. He and all the others will be just fine, as I will. But it IS a change of venue, a change of  habit, a time for traditions to shift perhaps.
If I were going to be home, I would have what has become our traditional Easter meal: a spiral-cut baked ham, marinated asparagus, green bean and artichoke heart salad, potato salad, deviled eggs, and rosemary-cheese biscuits. For dessert I might make a lemon cake, combining elements from the recipe for Meme’s Lemon Cake in Virginia Willis’ cookbook “Bon Appetit, Y’all” with an old lemon curd recipe I’ve had for many years. So in the spirit of feeding the crowd, I offer what in the old days might have been called a Lemon Cheese Cake — though cheese was never in  it — then or now. (Butter and lemons gave it that wonderful tart flavor.)

CAKE
4 sticks butter
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
8 large egg whites
pinch of fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour four 8-inch pans. In a bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside. To make the cake, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, cream the 2 cups of butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with flour, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer the batter to a large bowl. Using a clean bowl and paddle, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt on low speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, 3 to 5 minutes. By hand, whisk one-third of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten the mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the remaining whites into the batter. Divide the batter equally in the four pans. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (25 to 30 minutes, depending on individual oven). Cool in pans 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out on wire rack to cool completely.

LEMON CURD
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
6 egg yolks, beaten
In non-aluminum saucepan, combine first four ingredients. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Pour eggs into hot mixture, stirring constantly. Cook, continuing to stir, about 5 minutes until mixture thickens. (Note: if not using for cake, this can be stored up to 3 weeks in air-tight jar.)

FROSTING
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 sticks butter, room temperature
4  cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
In clean  mixing bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Reduce speed of mixer and add confectioners’ sugar, a cup at a time, until it is thoroughly combined. Add the lemon juice and beat just until combined.
To assemble the cake, place a layer on cardboard cake mound or cake stand.  Spread about 1/2 cup lemon curd on layer. Repeat for next two layers. If the curd causes layers to move around, insert toothpicks to hold in place. Place the final cake layer bottom-side up, and cover the top and sides with cream cheese frosting. I sometimes top this cake with candied lemon strips. We don’t have room for that recipe, but it is easily found on the Internet. As Virginia Willis might say, Bon Appetit, Y’all! And Happy Easter.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net