The Chocolate Gourmand

Lemon Cake
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1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup lemon zest (about 8 Meyer lemons)

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon syrup
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

Blueberry Coulis
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 pint fresh blueberries

Note: If you want to make this in a regular oven, bake in 2 greased bread pans in a 350°F oven for 45 - 60 minutes.

Dutch oven cooking can be a team activity. To make this recipe without any help on a camping trip is time consuming. My wife and I divide tasks and sometimes get help from the kids because cooking is fun. While someone prepares the batter, another person can line the oven with foil and get the coals going in the chimney on the stove. If you have more help, someone can also start zesting and juicing the lemons. We usually have other main course dishes to make, too, so it's good to understand cooking and preparation times of all your dishes when serving a multi-dutch oven meal.

Make the batter Cream together the butter and sugar using a wooden spoon until it is smooth. You'll regret not having room temperature butter. Slowly add the eggs and continue to mix until light and fluffy. Zest all your lemons using a microplane grater until you have 1/3 cup of zest. Add this zest to the butter mixture and blend well.

Add the baking soda, baking powder and salt to the flour and gently mix together. In a separate bowl or cup combine 1/4 cup lemon juice the buttermilk and the vanilla extract. Alternate adding the dry flour mixture and lemon juice/buttermilk liquid to the main batter, mixing until just blended between additions. End with adding the last of the flour mixture to the batter.

Line a dutch oven with aluminum foil, folding excess foil over the sides. Make sure the handle can still be lifted up. Butter the bottom and sides of the oven. We usually use flour based cooking spray. Spread the batter evenly in the dutch oven. Place the lid on the oven and press down firmly to compress any foil wrinkles and ensure a good seal. When carrying the dutch oven by the handle, be careful not to allow the oven to tilt. This batter is pretty thick, but it can still run up the sides if you aren't careful and the oven tilts while carrying it.

Prepare the coals and jelly roll pan(s)
Fill a charcoal chimney about 3/4 full (about 35 coals) and place the chimney on your stove with the burners on high to get the coals started. Once the coals get going, you can remove the chimney from the stove and set down on a jelly roll pan or other fire-proof surface. You can stilt the jelly roll pans with unused coals to avoid burn marks on the ground. The jelly roll pan for the oven should be level so the cake will be level. We usually place the chimney inside the firepit at our campsite, near the edge and then only need one jelly roll pan for the oven. Many campsite firepits have a barbecue shelf and we place the oven jelly roll pan on it.

Bake the cake
Once the coals have a faint red glow and are white on the corners they are ready. Place 5 coals in a circle on the jelly roll pan with a diameter smaller than the dutch oven bottom and place a 6th coal in the center. Carefully position the dutch oven over the 6 coals being sure that the oven legs are not sitting on top of any coals. A simple twist of the handle and oven will usually help settle the oven on the pan. Place 16 more coals on top of the oven, usually 12 around the perimeter and a smaller circle of 4 in the center. Bake for 55 - 75 minutes. Cooking time will depend on wind, altitude, and how much you refresh the coals.

Refreshing the coals
You should have about a dozen coals left in the chimney. Add a few every 5 - 10 minutes and replace any small coals on the oven top. You can tap the coals with your tongs to shake off spent ash and this will also give you a sense for how small they are. So long as you have about 10 coals in the chimney, you should be able to keep a continuous supply of coals for replenishing the oven. For the coals under the oven, I usually just toss a couple of the smaller, spent coals under the oven half way through or you can also replace them. For baking, keeping the lid coals strong is more critical. Too much heat on the bottom will result in the bottom cooking before the top. Towards the end you can promote browning of the top by really piling on the coals. Smaller ones are fine.

Make the lemon syrup.
Add 1/2 cup sugar to 1/2 cup of the lemon juice and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Is the cake done yet?
Like a lot of dutch oven recipes, you will start to smell it when it is getting near the end. Definitely take a peek at it after 30 - 40 minutes. Carefully lift the lid and check the edges of the cake. If it isn't done yet, you can wait 5 minutes before checking it again. When it is done, it should just be turning golden brown on the edges. Once it is done, remove the coals from the top using tongs and carefully slide the lid off and place it to the side or on the chimney if it is nearby. Bring the cake over to a work surface that has a heat resistant trivet or towel on it. Lift the foil out of the oven to arrest baking and rest it on a plate in the foil. Let stand for 10 minutes in the foil. Place the cake back in the dutch oven, which should have cooled somewhat, and spoon the lemon syrup over the top of the cake. Cover with lid and let rest until ready to serve.

Make the blueberry coulis and serve
We like the blueberry served warm, so we make it just before we are going to serve the cake. Add 1/4 cup sugar to 1/4 cup of lemon juice and begin heating over medium heat. Rinse and de-stem the blueberries before adding them to the lemon juice and sugar mixture. Heat over medium heat until the blueberries start to break apart and the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally. Serve sliced on a plate and drizzle some of the blueberry coulis along part of the cake and plate and serve.