- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Easter has always meant chocolate to me. I remember the elaborate Easter baskets of my childhood, filled to overflowing with chocolates of all types: large bunnies, cream-filled eggs, even hollow molded eggs with surprises inside.

For dessert, we usually sampled the traditional southern Italian specialties my grandmother prepared, so the chocolate was confined to the baskets.

I still make some of our traditional Italian dishes, but I no longer buy chocolate bunnies or eggs. So I usually make a light and springlike chocolate dessert of some kind for Easter.

This year, I’m doing a variation on typical chocolate flavor combinations by mixing lemon with chocolate. I realize that many people think of lemon and chocolate as a terrible combination.

If you’re talking about combining the acidity of lemon juice with bittersweet chocolate, I would tend to agree. In the cake I’m going to make, I’ll scent the cake layers themselves with a little lemon extract and grated lemon zest, which both have an intriguing lemon scent but no acidity.

As for the frosting, I’ll use more lemon zest, but in combination with milk chocolate with a little dark chocolate.

The lemon flavor scents the frosting by steeping strips of lemon zest in the cream before combining it with the chocolates and other ingredients.

Try this cake for Easter — you can even prepare it a day or so in advance — and you’ll be charmed by the combination of lemon and chocolate from now on.

Lemon-scented white cake with milk chocolate frosting

If you want to really get ahead with this recipe, bake the cake layers a few weeks in advance, wrap them in plastic and freeze them. Bring them to room temperature before finishing the cake.

LEMONY WHITE CAKE:

21/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon extract

4 large egg whites

11/4 cups whole milk

MILK CHOCOLATE FROSTING:

Zest of 2 large lemons removed in long strips with a vegetable peeler

2 cups heavy whipping cream

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened

20 ounces (11/4 pounds) milk chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Butter 2 9-inch round cake pans, 1½ to 2 inches deep, and line the bottoms with a disk of buttered parchment or waxed paper.

Stir flour with baking powder and salt, and sift once onto a piece of waxed paper; set aside.

Use an electric mixer at medium speed to beat the butter and sugar until light, about 3 or 4 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest and extract.

In a bowl or a large measuring cup, whisk together the egg whites and milk. On low speed, add a quarter of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar.

After the flour is thoroughly incorporated, beat in a third of the milk-and-egg-white mixture. Continue beating until batter is smooth. Continue alternating flour and liquid, ending with the flour. Scrape the bowl and beater(s) well, and beat batter on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake on the middle rack of preheated 350-degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until cakes are well-risen and golden and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges dry.

Cool layers in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert onto racks to cool. Invert again so that layers cool on the papers, which will prevent cakes from sticking to the racks.

While cake layers are baking, prepare the frosting. Combine lemon zest and cream in a large saucepan, and heat to a simmer. Remove pan from heat, and allow lemon zest to steep in cream for 10 or 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove lemon zest from cream.

Reheat cream until it is hot, about 180 degrees, and remove from heat. Add butter and both chocolates. Shake pan so that all the chocolate is submerged, then let the mixture stand for a minute or two. Whisk smooth.

Scrape frosting into a bowl, and refrigerate it until it is of spreading consistency, stirring it occasionally while it is cooling.

To assemble cake, remove paper from under the cake layers. Place one of the layers on cardboard or a platter, right side up.

Spread layer evenly with a third of the frosting. Invert the second layer on the frosting so that what was the smooth bottom of the layer is uppermost.

Spread remaining frosting all over outside of cake, swirling it with a metal cake-icing spatula. Serve cake in wedges; it needs no accompaniment.

Cake will keep under a dome at cool room temperature for the day it is made. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers, but bring them to room temperature before serving. Makes about 12 servings.

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