Oprah visits Dallas . . .she walks on the stage at the State Fair of Texas. “Deep in the Heart of Texas” blares over the speakers. Imagine my excitement, standing on stage as she welcomes the crowd! It’s a memory that I will cherish forever . . .
This once-in-a-lifetime experience is one of those things that I accidentally stumbled upon . . .
It is 2009, it’s a busy time of year for our family. Our kids are back in school. They are in 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 10th grades. Soccer games, football games, gymnastics, hockey games, practices, playdates, and school . . . happy times!
This is my favorite time of year because the State Fair of Texas is open. After driving my daily morning carpools, I dash back to my Texas kitchen where I test unique cake recipes, baking techniques, and secret ingredients for the upcoming State Fair of Texas cake contest.
The phone rings. On the other end, I recognize my friend, Mary Flo, in an excited tone she says, “Oprah is coming to the State Fair of Texas!”
Oprah is the talk of Dallas! I’m mixing a lemon cake with a new secret ingredient, Limoncello. My mind drifts . . . What is Oprah up to with the State Fair of Texas?!!
Ingredients cover the kitchen counters from one end to the other . . . flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, pecans, coconut, confectioners’ sugar . . . cakes bake in the double ovens all day long . . . the Kitchen Aid mixer whirls . . . another batch of icing is ready . . . cakes cooling on racks, pastry bags of icing . . . trimmed cake bits. I am tasting and tweaking cake, icing and filling recipes . . . back to the computer for edits . . . printing recipes. . . testing again . . . the days are flying . . . five new cake recipes are almost ready!
The alarm goes off, I’m standing on my feet in a flash! Today is the day. There is no time to spare . . . in the kitchen, I assemble the last two cakes. I’m gathering recipes, cake stands, tea towels, extra icing (just in case), cake toppers, spatulas, and my camera.
The cake contest begins at 10:00am sharp. Loading the car, I remind myself that I cannot be tardy!
My friend, Pam joins me for the adventure. She balances my favorite lemon cake in a Tupperware container. It’s raining . . . we make our way down Central Expressway and into the parking lot of the fair. With only a few minutes to spare, we load the cakes and supplies into my wagon. Pulling it along and balancing a couple of cakes, we make our way through the gates, down the Midway and into the Creative Arts building.
For a few minutes, I fuss over my cakes . . . one, two, three, four, and finally five cakes . . . displaying them on a crystal cake stands. At last, I hand each cake and recipe over to the State Fair of Texas officials. A BIG sigh of relief. Done!
Now, it’s time for our annual tradition, a Fletcher’s corny dog!
However, before we are able to step outside the building, one of the State Fair of Texas officials calls me. I turn and ask, “What’s up?” She motions to my lemon cake. Much to my dismay, it has fallen in half . . . half of the cake remains on the stand while the other half rest on the counter. My heart sinks. Lucky for me, a fellow contestant, Rex comes to rescue my lemon cake. Wrapping a piece of wax paper around it, he smashes it together and returns the cake to the officials.
The room buzzes with excitement. Beautiful cakes cover the tables, the judges are tasting, making notes, and discussing the cakes. Anxious contestants analyze the judges with great anticipation. My lemon cake doesn’t stand a chance against the steep competition.
It’s time for the judges to announce he winners. The shiny ribbons are displayed for all to see. As the winners’ names are called, they scream with delight and pick up their ribbons.
Last of all, the “Best of Show” is announced. Barbara Jones’ voice bellows over the speaker, “And the “Best of Show” award goes to Susan Apple Graass.” Wow, I cannot believe my ears . . . my lemon cake, the one that fell apart, has won the “Best of Show”! It’s my lucky day!
My friends and I are taking victory photos with our cakes and ribbons. Barbara Jones, Creative Arts director, ask, “Can you make a cake for Oprah?”
“Why of course!” I respond and think to myself . . . baking a cake for Oprah is the icing on the cake!
Thank you, Oprah!!!
Blue Ribbon Lemon Cake
Featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. "Best of Show" in the State Fair of Texas 2009 cake contest. Susan Apple Graass – Dallas, Texas
Cake: 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 T. baking powder, 1 t. salt, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 2 cups whole milk yogurt, 2 cups sugar, 6 separated, 2 T. lemon zest
Glaze: 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 6 lemon peels(leftover after juicing lemons)
Lemon curd filling: 1 t. unflavored gelatin, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/8 t.salt, 10 egg yolks, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
Icing: 2 pounds confectioners' sugar, 1/4 to 1/3 cup Limoncello, 1 pound room temperature unsalted butter, 1 pound crisco®, 1 t. salt, 1 t. vanilla
Meringue garnish: 4 room temperature egg whites, 1/2 t. cream of tartar, 1/2 cup plus 1 T. superfine sugar, 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Cake: Preheat oven to 350º. Grease 3, 3 X 8-inch round cake pans, place 3, 8" parchment paper rounds in the pans; set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer. In another bowl, whisk the vegetable oil, yogurt, sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the cake mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on racks. Invert cakes onto racks and cool completely.
Glaze: Stir water, sugar, and lemon peels in a small saucepan over medium. Heat until sugar dissolves, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and strain. Set aside.
Lemon curd filling: In a small cup, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 T. lemon juice; set aside. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the remaining lemon juice, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot but not boiling. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, slowly add about 1/2 to 1 cup of the hot lemon mixture to the egg yolks; whisk together. Return the egg yolk/lemon mixture to the original mixture, stirring occasionally heat until the mixture reaches 170º. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the gelatin/lemon juice mixture; blend until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the butter. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Press a plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.
Meringue: Preheat oven to 200. Place a Silpatº in a jelly roll pan; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, continue beating. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar. Beat until the whites are stiff and glossy, but not dry. Whisk in the confectioners' sugar. Spread onto the prepared pan. Bake for 2 hours or until dry but not brown. Set aside. Cool.
Icing: Add the confectioners' sugar, Limoncello, salt, and vanilla to the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk until thick like a pancake batter. Add the butter and shortening, continue whisking until the mixture is thick and creamy, scraping down the sides occasionally.
Assembling the cake: Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate, brush with the glaze, spread 1/2 of the lemon curd on top, Repeat with the second cake layer. Place the third cake layer on top of the cake. Spread a generous amount of icing on the top and sides of the cake. Smooth out the icing. Break pieces of the meringue chips and decorate the top and sides of the cake with them.