My mom sent me a recipe for my Nana’s Lemon Sauce via email, which was a little odd. Normally, when I ask for a recipe, it comes by mail – photocopied recipe card complete with my Nana’s handwriting. Even though I bless the convenience of computers every day, there is something a little sad inside of me that misses the recipe written in her own hand, stained with drops of milk and string of egg white.
I remembered the sauce well from my childhood when my Nana would don a ruffled gingham apron and create a tiny bit of magic in her small kitchen. I loved that space, not much bigger than my own kitchen now, with really tall cabinets, an old-fashioned oven complete with warmer and a small aluminum-edged table in the middle of it all where everyone gathered. For the big meals, we ate in the dinning room, but the real heart and action happened in that small kitchen.
The sauce itself was silky, tart, lip-smacking… but I didn’t remember how she served it. After questioning my mom, the reason became clear. My Nana served it with fruit cake – never my favorite on the best of days. I went to bed that night thinking about what would go well with my Nana’s Lemon Sauce and how I could reinvent fruit cake into something not only palatable, but actually yummy. That is how this recipe was born.
My Nana always called it Butter Sauce, but I always remember calling it Lemon Sauce. When I think of butter sauce now, it brings to mind a Creme Anglaise, and this sauce is much like that, only less smooth vanilla and more punch of lemon.
Lemon Prune Cake with Nana’s Lemon Butter Sauce
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
Zest from one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice (juice from about 1 lemon)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 cup diced prunes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Make a well in the center and add the remaining ingredients. Stir until just well mixed. Pour into prepared cake pan using a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Bake until cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan before serving either warm or room temperature with Nana’s Lemon Butter Sauce.
Nana’s Lemon Butter Sauce
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped
In a medium double boiler heat egg yolks until they lighten in color, whisking fairly consistently. Gradually add sugar, continuing to heat and whisk. Remove from heat and add butter, lemon rind, juice, and salt. Fold in whipped cream. Chill and serve on top of warm cake.
Makes enough to serve with cake plus extra — have a spoon ready.