Candied-Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake and Fun To Do’s

Spring has come around in New Jersey — summer even, seems to be toying with us. All my conversations this week have seemed to revolve around the near 90 degree weather and who’s turned on the air conditioning already. But, thankfully, we’re heading into the weekend with predicted temps of 70, so we won’t need to don the bathing suits yet.

It’s only the beginning of spring, most farmers markets haven’t opened yet, and our lovely New Jersey berries are still a few months off, so I decided to channel the gorgeous weather with produce that’s available now. I made a fennel topped cake with lots of lemon; it was bright and sunny but perfectly rich, just what early spring is supposed to be like.

If you’ve never made an upside-down cake before, don’t fret. It’s very easy, if you’ve taken the right precautions: make sure to line your pan with parchment paper (bottom and sides) and butter or oil-spray that paper well. The cake will turn out of the pan easily, and your pretty topping will remain pretty, not breaking up into a mess.  And if you’ve never thought to put fennel in a cake before, get right to it — the flavor is slightly licorice-y and subtly sweet, perfect for cake along with tea, or maybe a Anisette aperitif.

But if you’re not a baker, or would rather not turn the oven on this weekend, check out a few of the lovely places to go and food to eat around Hunterdon and Mercer this weekend.  (If you already have your own delicious plans, you could always snap some photos and submit your story to JB! My email here is Happy Weekend!

Stockton Indoor Market: 9 Bridge Street, Stockton, New Jersey, Saturdays 9:00AM-3:00PM, Sundays 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Most farmers markets haven’t opened up shop for the spring and summer season yet, but the new Stockton Indoor Market is open every weekend of the year, rain or shine. They’ve got seafood, meats, cheese, baked goods, spices, and flowers, and a whole lot more. If you happen to go, we just might we run into each other!

Wines from Around the World: Chaddsford Winery Wine Shop & Tasting Room in Peddler’s Village, 2450 Street Road , New Hope, PA, Friday, April 9, 2010 at 7:00 p.m., 215-794-9655
A beginner’s guild that compares local wine to wines from established wine regions, this instructional course will fill you with education about wines from France(April 9), Italy (April 16), Chile (April 23) (a new world country) and Australia/New Zealand (April 30). R.S.V.P. to save your spot at 215-794-9655, $30 per person or $100 for entire course (Save $20!). Classes start at 7pm. Includes instruction, tasting and learning materials. $30.00 Per Person ($100.00 for entire course)

Cooking Class in French: French American School of Princeton 16 All Saints Road, Princeton, Saturday, April 10, 2010, 10:00AM-Noon, 609-430-3001
Prepare a French recipe and learn French along the way. For ages 3 to 12 with an adult. Register. $15. Postponed from March 13.,

Eat for Health: Springtime Brunch, Whole Foods Market, Windsor Green Shopping Center, West Windsor, Sunday, April 11, 2010, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 609-799-2919
Liz Flammia, Whole Living specialist, and Felipe Katchucka, store chef, prepare healthy breakfast and brunch recipes from Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat for Health book series. Register. $25.,

Local Winery or Brewery Tasting Tours: Tastings and Tours, 484-695-6465
You can schedule a private tour for up to 14 people. Packages include visits to three wineries from this list: Buckingham Valley Vineyards, Chaddsford Winery, Crossing Vineyards and Winery, New Hope Winery, Unionville Vineyards, Wycombe Vineyards and lunch at the Copper Leaf Grill, or a tour of River Horse Brewing Company, and tastings at Triumph Brewing Company and lunch or dinner at Mesquito Grill. They pick up in Lambertville. I’m thinking this may be a good thing to do for all those lovely people who have volunteered to help me with my wedding, those lovely people who I’ll be putting to work very soon. (Thank you to Lynne at Bucks County Taste for the recommendation.)

Candied-Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake
from Gourmet Magazine, April 2009
Active time:25 min
Start to finish:2 1/4 hr (includes cooling)

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Cooks’ note:
Cake is best the day it is made but keeps, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 3 days.


Robin Damstra is the Regional Editor for Hunterdon and Mercer Counties. She graduated Douglass College at Rutgers University, where she majored in English. She met her fiancé, Jim, in 2006 and began teaching herself to cook around the same time. In 2007 she started her food blog, Caviar and Codfish. She currently lives in Stockton, New Jersey.