Early Saturday morning may be my most treasured time of the week. The weekend is young, still full of promise. I break out my favorite teacup, sit at my high top table, and appreciate the conversation my teaspoon has with the bone china as I mix in a little sugar. I may listen to what Paul Simon or Nick Drake has to say about the world. I breathe easily for a moment.
Or at least I used to. Recent Saturdays, I haven’t had time to ponder in my coffee. I’ve been posting online discussion points for class at 5 am or scurrying to put away the pile of clean, mismatched socks that I’ve neglected all week due to looming deadlines and life.
I’ve missed my quiet mornings. Inserting a little of this Saturday romance is important. I should have my balance back in May, but in the meantime I’ve found a way to make do. I’ve started a slight love affair with a gâteau au citron. It’s a classic French provincial-style recipe; it’s not frilly or fancy, and with its respectable ingredients it makes a bright, clean cake, thanks to a heavy-handed dose of true blue, bracing lemon. (Oh the lemony irony.)
A slice of this cake will make your Saturday come early, on a Tuesday even—if you wish. I baked it well into the evening this Wednesday and once I unmolded it from the little brioche molds I bought at E.Dehillerin in Paris (and had not had the opportunity to use until just then), I knew it was going to be a day brightening kind of cake.
Mind you, this was not how I felt about an hour before, mixing the cake. When you add the oil—which the instructions have you do last—you will immediately feel that you’ve done something terribly wrong. You may clench your teeth. Or feel a migraine coming on. As you try to make sense of this oily, gloppy mess, you may all together question your mission.
You may think it was a terrible mistake. That you’re no good at cake making. That your decision-making, in general, has been pretty lackluster as of late. And, now that you mention it, you probably shouldn’t have bothered to get up that morning. In the most desperate of circumstances, you may even do a quick scan for a nearby bottle of brandy. Keep mixing. The oil will eventually stop resisting the batter and everything will smooth to a pale yellow. Breathe. Then bake.
When a lemon scent starts to engulf your kitchen, you’ll know you’ve almost made it. Your cake-made Saturday is right around the corner. The unmolding is the coup de grâce. The soaking of the syrup and the glazing that follows is cathartic.
A bite of the cake brings weightlessness. Things become clear and simple. And just like that, it’s Saturday morning, filled with hope. For a moment, there is cake, quiet, and lightness. You can almost hear Nick Drake croon “Saturday sun came early one morning. In a sky so clear and blue …”
You may choose to eat your gâteau au citron as the sun comes up, with a cup of coffee, or standing in your kitchen at midnight, licking its sticky lemon crumbs off your fingers. Either way, it’s Saturday morning—if only for a moment—and it’s lovely.