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2000s Recipes + Menus

Candied-Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake

Serves8
  • Active time:25 min
  • Start to finish:2 1/4 hr (includes cooling)
April 2009
Here comes the sun: Topped with graceful fans of candied fennel and bathed in a golden syrup, this lemony upside-down cake is a cheery sight. The fennel’s subtle sweetness and beautiful form are quite sophisticated, but the cake’s buttermilk crumb is pure homey delight. A cloud of whipped cream make a fitting accompaniment.

For candied fennel

  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 (3-inch) strips lemon zest, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

For cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • Equipment:

    a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan; an adjustable-blade slicer
  • Accompaniment:

    lightly sweetened whipped cream

Prepare cake pan:

  • Lightly oil pan and line bottom and side with a large round of wax paper, pleating sides and trimming to fit. Lightly oil paper. Line side with a 2-inch-wide strip of wax paper long enough to wrap around inside of pan to cover pleats, then lightly oil.

Make candied fennel:

  • Cut fennel bulb lengthwise with slicer into enough 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 9) to cover bottom of cake pan.
  • Cover fennel with cold water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil. Drain fennel and set aside. Add sugar, water (3/4 cup), zest, and fennel seeds to saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add fennel slices and very gently simmer until tender and translucent and liquid is syrupy, about 40 minutes. Lift fennel slices out with a fork and arrange decoratively in bottom of cake pan. If you have more than 1/3 cup syrup, boil to reduce; if less, add water. Cool syrup slightly, then pour (through a fine-mesh sieve if desired) over fennel.

Make cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350ºF with rack in middle.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in zest.
  • At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and mixing until just combined. Gently spoon batter over topping, spreading evenly.
  • Bake until cake is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate and continue to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cooks’ note: Cake is best the day it is made but keeps, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 3 days.
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