Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Evie's Lemon Cake

"Dump cake." I only just discovered this term in the last couple of years. Before that there were cakes you made using a cake mix and cakes made by scratch. When I was growing up, my grandmother Tillie and mother, Evie, made both and they had equally revered places on the dining table.

But now it's no longer PC to make cakes from mixes and those cakes--perhaps derisively or because they represent the ease of dumping all of the ingredients into a single bowl--are referred to as dump cakes. And you know what? I still love them! In fact my cousin, who is a chef, recently shared an index card recipe for an intensely chocolate dump cake her mom made, which I'll share in the future.

This lemon sheet cake apparently qualifies as a dump cake. Despite my exposure to some great pastry chefs and my love of chocolate, this is the one cake I love most. So does everyone in my family. Kids coming into town? Make the lemon cake. Need an easy dessert to serve friends coming over? Make the lemon cake. It's moist, lemony--of course--and has this fab tart glaze of powder sugar, lemon juice, and butter that crackles on top while the rest works its way into the still hot cake to make it ridiculously moist and even more lemony. It's our family's object of perfection. It's like a big hug from my mom. While she didn't create it all those decades ago, I associate it with her. And it's something my siblings and I learned how to make when we were young kids.

Last Christmas I brought over chocolates to my next door neighbors, a family that includes a set of young twins, Gunner and Harper, and their older sister, Helena. But I learned to my mortification that eight-year-old Helena hates chocolate. How someone can hate chocolate is another topic for another time but the fact remained that I had brought a gift that repulsed one of the recipients.

What did Helena like? Lemon. Ohhhh. I could work with this. I asked her if she enjoyed baking and her eyes lit up. Okay. I could fix this. "Helena," I asked, "would you like to come over this week and make a lemon cake with me?"


Helena was walked over by her dad later that week and we got to work. She was a great helper, eager to dig in. And, of course, this is the perfect recipe to get kids to help in the kitchen. I can't think of a way you can screw it up, plus they learn how to break eggs, zest a lemon, measure liquids and dry ingredients, and control an electric hand mixer without splattering the batter all over (although you can certainly make it in your stand mixer or even stir it by hand). And then there's this divine cake at the end. You can see how proud she was of her achievement and she carried it home to her family.

So, feel free to judge me, but really, I have no problem with a dump cake.

Evie’s Lemon Cake
(printable recipe)


1 small package instant lemon pudding or lemon Jell-o
1 package lemon velvet cake (Mom uses Duncan Hines)
4 eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup water
Grated lemon zest from 1 lemon

2 cups powder sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoon cold water
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix cake ingredients in large bowl and beat with hand mixer for five minutes.
3. Pour into greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish (like Pyrex).
4. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
5. While the cake is baking, mix together topping ingredients in a measuring cup to make it easier to pour.
6. When the cake comes out of oven, pierce it all over the top with a fork, then slowly pour the topping over the whole surface. You may have to wait a moment to let some of it soak into the cake before pouring the rest but use it all up. Slice and serve.

Note: This cake freezes very well. Wrap in plastic wrap and then place in a freezer bag or foil.

P.S. In an experiment coming soon (I hope), my friend, cookbook author Jill O'Connor, and I are actually going to try to turn this dump cake into a scratch cake. She's got some ideas about it so stay tuned.

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