Lemon Dunk Cake

December 5, 2012   |   1 Comment
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This cake is luscious.  It’s rich and savory and just a little sweet.  

Olive oil and Rosemary baked together and then doused in lemonade.  Did I tell you it is moist?  Mingus is eating his third slice right now.  With a full mouth (and crumbs dropping out) he says, “Mommy, I want this for my birthday cake.”  Never mind his birthday is 7 months away.

This cake is the result of a brainstorm about baking with children.  I’m proud of it.

Philosophically, I’m not in the bake with my kids camp and, thus far, I have avoided the territory.  Now Mingus has shown an interest.  It’s the holidays and in the name of *cheer* I am willing to give it a try.

But first, let’s be clear about it-

The Challenges of Baking with Kids

  1. Baking requires exact ingredients.  Kids have their own ideas.
  2. Baking requires exact measurement.  The “scoop and cut” requires more coordination than many young children possess.
  3. Baking requires precise handling of the ingredients.  Think strength, fortitude, and knowledge of the baking language.
  4. Baking usually involves many steps.  An hour is a long time in the life of a toddler.
  5. Plus, there is usually a hot oven.
  6. And, who needs to familiarize a child with various forms of fat and sugar?  They seem to like them well enough on their own…

But, let’s put all that aside.

Baking with Kids 101

The biggest problem is the overall complexity of making a cake, so I decide to simplify things.  I pre-measure ingredients and arrange them up on the counter, placing just the first two steps down on their workspace.

I just finish scooping a pinch of salt when the boys come running into the kitchen.


“Oh… what is this? Are we baking?”


“Oh, my kitchen shears! Do you need me to cut Rosemary?”  …and right to step 2.

Beluga watches, then picks up an egg and Mingus joins him.  They crack exactly the four eggs resting in the carton.

I hand over a bowl of sugar and a whisk.  Mingus scoops the sugar into the egg bowl and Andrew mixes.

So far, this is easy.  I wonder if I’ve cheated.  I’ve heard a lot of baking stories at the playground that end with tantrums.  The moms blame the sugar, I blame the rules.  We’re probably both right.  Once my boys get the hang of mixing, I’ll graduate them to measuring ingredients.  Right now, this seems about as much as they can handle.  They focus on each ingredient and how adding it changes the batter.

Mingus adds olive oil and milk.  I say, “Keep mixing… keep mixing….”  I point out how the eggs get frothy, the sugar crystals slowly dissolve and how the oil mixes into the rest of the liquid.  Adding milk makes it runny.

Then, they get their hands on the flour and the batter is suddenly stiff and hard to stir.  Soon tired, they begin to taste.  Mingus licks the scoop, while Beluga dumps his entire hand in the batter and sucks on his fist.

The flour apparently is delicious – they shovel it into their mouths – but Mingus wonders, “What’s next?”

“More mixing.”

Eventually, Mingus sees how all the flour gets incorporated into the liquid.  And then they add the Rosemary and stir some more.  I wouldn’t want their cake to fall, so it’s only at the end that we sprinkle the baking powder over the batter and stir again.

Mingus looks down at the mess across his chest and requests, “Take my shirt off, please,” then runs to wash his hands.  He searches out his Magna-tiles and builds a water tower.  Beluga, however, has a particular affinity for butter.  He is only too happy to grease and flour the pan.

By the time the cake is ready to go into the oven, the boys are exhausted.  It comes out 40 minutes later and they have moved on to Legos and scooter races in the hall (apologies to our downstairs neighbor, but it is before eight o’clock).

As the cake cools, Beluga helps ream a couple of lemons.  We stir in sugar and add water.  But, it ends in tears when he goes fishing for the seeds and rubs his eyes before I can say, “Don’t!”   So, it’s me who pours the lemonade on top of the cake.

The moment I flip the pan and shave a little lemon zest, the boys come to the kitchen to claim their cake.  Slices all around.  Seconds.  Thirds.

Eventually, I turn off the lights to the kitchen.  Fifteen minutes later, I find Beluga sneaking his fingers into the cake.  It’s really good.

By morning, we’ve devoured nearly half the cake.  By tomorrow it will be a dream.

Rosemary Lemon-dunk Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 20
This cake is stunning. It is moist and fragrant. It appeals to young and old. The background flavor was inspired by Mario Batalli’s Olive Oil Rosemary Cake. The idea of pouring lemonade overtop was stolen directly from Mamma Agata and her famous Limon Torte. This is a recipe worth following. By preparing the ingredients in advance, the kids won’t get hung up on the specificity of it. They’ll love mixing ingredients into batter and transforming batter into cake.
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1¼ cup Raw Sugar
  • 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • ½ cup Whole Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • A pinch of Salt
  • 7oz Italian “00” Flour (2¼ cups)
  • 1 Tbs Baking Powder
  • 1 Tbs Chopped Rosemary
  • 2 Tbs Butter
  • Juice of 2 Lemons
  • 1 cup Water
  • 6 Tbs Sugar (white granular, confectioner’s sugar, or raw sugar all well)
  1. MEASURE each ingredient and lay them out on your counter in their own bowls, ready to use. (Older children may be able to do this task, but younger children and toddlers find it frustrating.)
  2. PREHEAT THE OVEN to 350 degrees. (I do this step because the only button my kids can touch on the oven is the oven light.)
  3. BEAT EGGS: Bring a large mixing bowl, eggs and a whisk to your child’s workspace. Explain to your child how to crack each egg. The basic run down is: tap the egg gently on the side of the bowl, poke your fingers into the shell, pry it apart, and then fish out any bits of broken shell from the bowl. Let them do the work.
  4. CHOP ROSEMARY Set out the scissors and several stalks of rosemary. A child can cut the ends off the leaves and then cut the remaining leaf from the stem.
  5. Bring down the bowl with sugar and ask them to add it to the bowl. (There is no one way to do this – they can pour, scoop, or sprinkle it in.) Then, ask them to mix the sugar and egg together.
  6. ADD LEMON ZEST Zest a lemon and add the zest to the large mixing bowl. (Some young children may want to do this step. If you are concerned about their safety, you can find potato peeling gloves for children that protect their hands from the scratches of uncoordinated grating.)
  7. ADD OLIVE OIL Give your child the olive oil to mix in. (At this point, if the batter is not highly viscous, beat it with the whisk yourself. Over time, children gain the strength to do it fully themselves, but it is good for them to see the consistency that they should for in the future.)
  8. ADD MILK, VANILLA AND SALT Give your child the milk, vanilla extract and salt. Let them add the ingredients and mix the batter again.
  9. ADD FLOUR Now, give your child the bowl of flour. Suggest that they scoop the flour into the large mixing bowl and mix the batter each time they scoop. (This part is hard work and young children might need help. It is during this stage that you might be wondering if a mixer is a good idea. And yes, it is a good idea if your child can be safe with it. I don’t always use one because my rule is, when using a mixer, the kids can’t put their hands in the bowl. That means they are less able to taste and appreciate what is happening to the ingredients along the way. Your call.)
  10. ADD ROSEMARY AND BAKING POWDER Your child can now add the rosemary and baking powder, stirring until the Rosemary is evenly distributed throughout the batter. (We don’t add the baking powder to the flour – the usual method – because I want the kids to be able to take as much time with their mixing as they want. If we add it at the end, it’s just one less potential hiccup.)
  11. GREASE THE PAN Even a toddler can use a brush to paint the Bundt pan with butter. (I use a generous amount to make sure the cake comes out of the pan easily.) Then sprinkle about a tsp of flour into the pan. (If you put the pan in a clean trash bag, a child can ‘shake it all about’ and make sure the pan is evenly dusted, without dusting your kitchen.)
  12. POUR THE BATTER into the pan.
  13. BAKE THE CAKE for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. After that time, it will be golden and, if you poke it, a knife will come out clean. (A grown-up step)
  14. LET THE CAKE COOL in the pan for two hours.
  15. MIX LEMONADE While the cake cools, you can make the lemonade. A child can use a plastic knife to cut the lemons in half, and a reamer or electric citrus juicer to extract their juice. Let your child pour the juice overtop the sugar. The seeds will rest on top of the sugar and are easier to fetch than swimming in juice alone. Then a child can add the water and stir the mixture together, tasting along the way of course to make sure it’s good.
  16. POUR THE LEMONADE ON THE CAKE If a young child wants to pour the lemonade overtop the cake, it helps to have them pour it first evenly into three separate containers. Once the cake has fully cooled, a child can pour ⅓ of the lemonade – the first cup – over the cake. Then wait ten minutes as it soaks in. Then pour another ⅓ of the lemonade – the second cup -overtop. Again, wait ten minutes. Then finally, pour the last ⅓ – the third cup – over the cake. Let the cake rest for another ten minutes.
  17. FLIP THE CAKE out onto a platter. If your little one did the grease job well, it’ll come out with one or two light taps. If it doesn’t come out easily, put it into a 350 degree oven for ten minutes and tap it out.
  18. EAT:)
Tip: you don’t have to use the ’00’ flour or raw sugar to get a great result. Typical all purpose flour and white sugar – used in equal quantity – also yield an excellent cake.



1 Comment

  • sally @ sallys baking addiction
    December 6, 2012 at 6:01 am

    your little kitchen helpers are adorable and this looks like it was such a fun time! And i love lemon cakes – and well, any desserts with lemon. this cake looks so moist, soft, and i don’t think i could stop at one rich bite. it’s a gorgeous cake!

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