Petite Lemon Cakes

I have a couple of things I’d like to explore, answer, clear up…so pour yourself a cocktail and pull up a chair.

First, let’s talk about my inclination towards sweets. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not…but I seem to be posting lots of dessert recipes. Deep down inside, I always knew I liked to bake. I just didn’t realize how much. I also really like to cook. Really, I do. I thought I liked to do each one. Equally. Until I started doing this. This being this thing that you’re reading. Then I thought, man, I really do like to bake. I would rather bake every day than cook dinner. Everything is so tasty and beautiful…what’s not to love?

I need to work out some balance of the two or our teeth are going to fall out. I guess until you start tracking your life in some form (a diary, to do lists, a journal or blog) you don’t realize some of your more obvious traits. So there you have it. Hello, my name is Tai Tai, and I’m a baker. We can talk about why I like to bake another day, this is more of a confessional today. I will do other more dinner-like meals (like the lemon-rosemary chicken) down the pike. I’m sure with a dash of cocktails and appetizers thrown in. Right now, I’m on a major sweet bender, so bear with me. I’m sure I’ll go on a juicing bender at some point down the road. I tend to run extreme that way.

Here’s something else that’s been gnawing at me: the word Tai Tai. First, I tend to throw it around like it’s part of the American (or world, for that matter) vernacular. Like, doesn’t EVERYONE know what Tai Tai means? P.S. No, they don’t.  Tai Tai means ‘wife’ in Mandarin. In colloquial terms, it means a woman that doesn’t work and lives well (really well). When we lived in Beijing, myself and all the other expat wives called ourselves Tai Tais. What does Tai Tai want to drink? What spa treatment does Tai Tai want tomorrow? Where is Tai Tai going on vacation? It doesn’t sound too painful, does it?

Six months after the-person-formally-known-as-my-spouse and I separated, I went back to Beijing to collect my belongings. At a dinner one evening, a friend referred to me as Tai Tai (I’m sure asking, What does Tai Tai want to drink?) and another friend said, “She’s not a Tai Tai anymore!” Like she was the gatekeeper of the club and I had lost my status. I had been demoted. Kicked out. No longer on the Varsity team. I blew it off…like I tend to do when I don’t like what someone has to say.

However, if we look at the strict street definition of a Tai Tai, I would be out of the game. I cook, I clean, I garden, I work, I take care of my own kids…I do all of the things a Tai Tai does not.  Further, I’m not a wife anymore (we’ll explore this later).

So how, my dear reader, do I qualify the term Tai Tai as it applies to me? I will always enjoy the finer things in life: a good meal, the beautiful softness of a cashmere throw and a day at the spa. I will always work to keep the life that my kids and I lead, as happy and lovely and gorgeous as possible. We take occasional hits, but who doesn’t? I’ve yet to meet a Tai Tai that didn’t have peaks and valleys like the rest of us. I may have to work harder at it now, but it’s still there and always will be. This is the Tai Tai I’ve become…and I like it. Lots. This is how I look at it… It’s something akin to: “You can take the girl out of Beijing, but you can’t take the Beijing out of the girl.” Once a Tai Tai, always a Tai Tai.

One last Tai Tai note… I capitalize Tai Tai. It shouldn’t be. But usually, it’s in reference to myself or one of my friends, used in place of a name. A proper noun. So I feel I can get away with this.

All of this has ZERO to do with the recipe below. Or maybe it does. I was shopping with my daughter the other day (Tai Tai still shops!) and I came across these mini-bundt cake pans. I could have screamed. I almost did. All I could think of was little mini cakes. I was picturing the mini-birthday cakes I would take to school on my kid’s birthdays. Chocolate on chocolate with rainbow sprinkles. Kid heaven.

Why are miniature things so much cuter than big things?

But today, as it has been for seemingly months on end, it was hot as $%&! and all I could think about was lemon cake. I wanted to get frisky and throw some rosemary in there somehow, someway, but I knew my dad would be eating this (and probably would enjoy them the most with his propensity towards all things lemon) and so I left it out. He is a traditionalist and when you change things up, he can’t handle it. Like the Rain Man of desserts.

While you’re eating these, raise your glass and toast to your inner Tai Tai. Whether you’re married, divorced, never-been married or never wanna be married…we all have it in us.

{ petite lemon cakes }

Makes 36 Individual Cakes


For the Cakes

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (I like some fat in mine…but you can go nonfat if you’d like)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar, plus more for dusting the cakes
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon cream (or you could substitute milk, water or more lemon juice if you’re opposed to cream)


For the Cakes…

  • Preheat your oven at 350 degrees F. Spray with non-stick or rub down with butter (I don’t have a preference here…if I’m feeling lazy I’ll spray. It just feels easier) your mini-bundt pan (this is the one I actually used). These are PERFECT to take to school for your kids. But here’s a tip…this recipe makes 36 mini cakes. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, I suggest you pick up two or three pans. You don’t have to, I only have one. It’s just an investment in your time with the baking and cooling cycle of each batch. One last note…even though they are non-stick, I spray with non-stick. I don’t think you’re supposed to…but I do. I’m a little paranoid about my baked goods sticking.
  • Mix your milk and vinegar and set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
  • Cream your butter and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until they are light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. While this is creaming, zest and juice your lemons for the cake.
  • Place the lemon juice and vanilla in with the milk and vinegar…let them mingle a bit.
  • Add the eggs, scraping down the sides to make sure everything is blended well. Then throw in your lemon zest. Now take a big whiff. Doesn’t this smell amazing? I just want to swim in it.
  • Add half of the milk mixture to the creamed butter and eggs. Then add half of the flour. Then the rest of the milk mixture. Lastly, throw in the last of the flour. I always stop the electric mixer when it still looks like it needs more mixing, and then hand mix with a spatula the remaining so that I don’t overwork my flour. It’s a delicate little flower that can’t handle too much activity. Much like myself.
  • Now, here comes the part you must follow me on and this is just the type of recipe detail I would ignore and have a disaster on my hands. When you’re filling up the mini-bundt pan, just fill them half way. I used half of a 1/4 cup for each mini cake. That’s about two tablespoons of batter and it hardly seems like enough. But my first batch was spilling out all over the pan and it wasn’t pretty. And what’s the point in baking if it’s not going to be pretty?
  • Definitely pick the pan up and drop it on your counter a couple of times to get rid of any bubbles in the batter. Again, think pretty final product.
  • Place them in the center of the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. You want them to have that light tan thing happening…I’m thinking Kate Winslet, mid-summer.
  • When you grab these out of the oven, let them sit and cool. Don’t force them out. Give them at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted rest. A little cat nap. One hour is ideal. Run a butter knife or very thin spatula along the side. Flip them over onto a cooling rack and tap them on the bottom a bit. Slowly pull up and they should fall out. While they finish cooling…you can move onto the schmooey…

For the Glaze

  • Put all of the glaze ingredients in your stand mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk away. I always pour a little less than the recommended liquid in at first to see how everything is coming together. Then slowly add in the remainder until you get the desired consistency. For me, I like it to be on the thicker side. I want it to hit the cake and slowly slide down the sides.
  • BUT, before you glaze up, you should sprinkle with the powdered sugar. Use a sieve because it will look the best…weightless and ethereal. There’s something angelic about these little cakes, don’t you agree? And what grade schooler wouldn’t want these? Actually, who, in general, wouldn’t want these?
  • Now you can glaze them. This is a lot of sugar happening…I did this on parchment paper because I didn’t want the glaze-schmooey-powdered sugar trio all over the counter. Remember, cleaning sucks.
  • Here’s the best part…this same recipe will make a real-world sized cake. So you basically just broke a cake down into 36 individual bites. So when you want a second one, don’t hesitate. I’m thinking you could have at least five before it equates one slice? Don’t you agree?

This recipe is also on Food52

1 Comment

  • Natasha Galperin 2018/01/07 at 5:01 PM

    This looks divine! I cannot wait to test this out. Your photos and creative treats are certainly a work of art. Congratulations on all your success!


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