A few weeks ago, Williams-Sonoma asked me to bake them a birthday cake for their founder, Chuck Williams. The occasion? His 100th birthday, which is today. Happy Birthday, Chuck!!!
But I'll be honest — when I first read the request, my initial reaction was panic. Because what on earth do you bake the dude who is almost single-handedly responsible for introducing the US to European cookware like Mauviel, Le Creuset, and All-Clad??? And looking through this list of Chuck's finds, it seems that I can pretty much credit Chuck with finding a lot of the stuff I rely on when baking. Like Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract and my KitchenAid mixer. Both were only available to professional cooks and kitchens until Chuck came along and convinced the companies otherwise and that home cooks were interested in them too. ALSO, fun fact: Chuck was actually the one who encouraged KitchenAid to offer their signature mixer in other colors besides white. How crazy awesome is that???
But here's the truth: Williams-Sonoma is kinda, sorta one of my happy places. I know that's a little sad or pathetic or something, so before you feel sorry for me, hear me out. There's a Williams-Sonoma a few blocks away from my office (and not just any Williams-Sonoma — it's the flagship store on Union Square and it's beautiful), and whenever I'm having a bad day, I like to sneak over there during my lunch break and just... be.
Because at Williams-Sonoma, everything's always bright and airy, shiny and lovely, classy and sophisticated, etc, etc. I try some samples, I mentally register all the cookware I want, and I chitchat with the salespeople who all seem to indulge my lunchtime fantasy that I'm Somebody Important (with lots of money, of course) stocking her gourmet kitchen (with a Lacanche range because this is a fantasy, duh) with beautiful stuff like Mauviel copper pots, Staub cocottes, and Pillivuyt porcelain ware.
So with that in mind, I decided to make a cake that was kind of a celebration of all that. A classy, lemon butter cake baked in a vintage bundt mold, topped with a vanilla chamomile glaze. Because both lemon and vanilla are bright, classic flavors that can never go wrong. And that chamomile? Just the right touch of elegance and sophistication that is all things Williams-Sonoma.
So once again — Happy 100th Birthday, Chuck! Thank you for everything that you brought to the food world, and really, everything that you do. Stay classy, stay wise. We love ya.
This post was sponsored by Williams-Sonoma, who invited me to bake a cake for Chuck's birthday and provided some of the ingredients and equipment to make this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I really do consider the Williams-Sonoma on Union Square as one of my happy places. Plus, after doing all the research for this post, Chuck Williams is now one of my culinary heroes. That guy rocks. Thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my sponsors!
Some baker's notes:
- I baked the cake in a "vintage" cake pan I found at a yard sale in Portland, but I took great pains to measure out how much liquid it could hold (around 2 liters, or 4-ish cups) so that you could bake it at home; this recipe could also work to create an 8-inch, double layer cake.
- Alternatively, I also took some time to see if I could find a pan similar to the one that I used and it turns out it ain't so vintage after all. This pudding mold is pretty similar to the pan I have, minus all the wear and tear. Oh, my life.
- The chamomile glaze requires you to infuse the milk with chamomile, so be sure to plan ahead and prepare the chamomile and milk infusion the night before you make the cake. The glaze recipe will make more milk than you likely need, but you might need more or less depending on your confectioners' sugar (some are drier than others). When you make the glaze, be sure to work quickly and use it immediately after making — it tends to set pretty quickly.
- a 2-quart pudding mold or similar bundt cake pan
For the Lemon Cake:
- 1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- fresh zest from 2 medium lemons
- 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) cake flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces // 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 tablespoon dried chamomile flowers or loose chamomile tea leaves
- 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioner's sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Prepare your cake pan by spraying generously with cooking spray. Seriously, if you're using a bundt mold, use a lot. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar and fresh zest from 2 medium lemons. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until fragrant; this will help release oil from the zest that will infuse the sugar with flavor.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) cake flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt until well combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the sugar (from the 2nd step) with 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, at least 3 to 5 minutes. When the mixture is light and fluffy, lower the mixer speed to its lowest setting. Add 8 large egg whites, one egg white at a time, only adding the next egg white when the first egg white has been incorporated. When all the egg whites have been incorporated, add 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.
- Continue mixing the batter on low speed. Add the dry ingredients (from the 3rd step) in three parts, alternating with 1 cup whole milk in 2 parts, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Continue mixing until just combined.
- Transfer to the prepared cake pan and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until the bottom of the cake is golden and springs back when gently touched. When the cake is ready, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan. While the cake is cooling in the pan, make the lemon syrup.
- In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons water. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute, then transfer immediately to a liquid measuring cup and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
- After the syrup has cooled slightly, use a wooden skewer or a fork to poke a bunch of holes onto the top of the still-inverted cake (so, technically, you would be poking holes on the bottom of the cake if it had been inverted out of its pan). Use a pastry brush to spread the warm lemon syrup across the bottom of the cake, stroking the syrup around to encourage it to leak into the holes. Don't be shy — use up all the syrup here to get an incredibly moist and delicious cake!
- Once you've completed "soaking" the cake with the lemon syrup, invert the cake onto its serving platter and allow to cool completely before glazing.
- Combine 2 tablespoon milk and 1 tablespoon dried chamomile flowers in a small, glass jar with a lid, and shake, shake, shake. Refrigerate for a few hours, ideally overnight if possible.
- When you're ready to glaze the cake, strain the chamomile flowers out of the milk, using the back of a spoon to squeeze as much liquid out of the flowers as possible. Discard the flowers.
- Combine 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon chamomile-infused and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and whisk until a thick, glaze forms. If your confectioners' sugar is too dry, there's a possibility that a paste will form instead — if this happens, just keep adding 1/4 teaspoons of more infused milk until it becomes workable. Be careful not to add too much all at once; doing so creates a thin, drippy glaze that won't set properly. Once the mixture is a thick, almost syrupy texture, pour onto the cake immediately.