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Candied Lemon Sheet Cake (+ 5 Tips for Taking it With You)

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Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: Drive-in memories, a gluten-free Candied Lemon Sheet Cake, and 5 tips for taking it with you.

Candied Lemon Sheet Cake from Food52


A lemon cake. That's what I want. Something to replicate the Lemonheads from the snack bar at the drive-in movie theater. The sour pucker is perfect for the late summer heat. You could say I am fond of lemon. I always have been a borderline addict.

Sunday is family night and we are going to the drive-in again. We will make a picnic of it this time. I pack the 4Runner with food, sleeping bags, a couple of pillows, some lawn chairs, and bug spray. It isn't a long drive to Mechanicsburg, over one state highway and up another. Other than the Welcome to Mechanicsburg sign, the drive-in theater is the only indication that you're in a town. All the times I've been here, I'm still never sure whether there was ever anything more than the drive-in and one lonesome farmhouse. It's all surrounded by cornfields -- always cornfields.

More: 9 DIY Movie-Watching Snacks.


There are ten or more minivans parked on the gravel road leading to the drive-in and everyone is waiting single file at the tollbooth-style gate. It's always at this moment, waiting to get in, my elbow resting on the open window of the door, the sting of the hot sun on my already sunburned arm, that I look up at the two story, paneled movie screen and silently reminisce.  

I remember the brightly colored muscle cars of the kids whose parents indulged them. My friends and I would wander the lot with sodas in to-go cups full of crushed ice spiked with Old Crow whiskey and bum cigarettes from each other. The noise of the B movies or horror flicks was background color to our youthful attempts at manhood. No one ever watched the movie; mostly we walked around, flirted with girls, and waited for a fight to break out because a fight always broke out.


The line starts to move and inside we follow the other cars, back in to our space, open the hatchback, and get comfortable. The scene could have come from the set of The Bevery Hillbillies: a red pickup truck with a bed full of people sitting in lawn chairs. Kids start playing tag, soccer, and Frisbee in the grass in front of the screen, passing away the time until it's dark enough and the movie begins.


I set the cooler, which will also be our table, on the grass. The girls are off to look for their friends. Amy unfolds the chairs and we settle in for dinner and a movie. The herb roasted chicken legs, the potato salad, and the slaw are as good as always. Just as the movie starts I get out the pieces of lemon cake. It's the real star of the show.  

Candied Lemon Sheet Cake from Food52

5 Tips for Taking Food with You (Drive-in, Picnic, or Otherwise)

1. When you eat cold foods it takes more seasonings to bring out the flavors than if you served it hot. Check the seasoning of the dish after it has cooled and then adjust.

2. Eating outdoors, to me, is one of the most enjoyable ways to eat. That said, it's also usually warm out. I don't think I need to say anything about egg-based foods but remember that the temperature danger zone is 4 hours between 140° F and 40° F (which may vary slighlty according to your state's health codes). Make sure you cool any food you cook as quickly as possible and keep it that way.

3. I like to put the ice, or ice packs, on top of the food. I do this because heat rises, meaning that cold air sinks. Because I pack the ice on top, the containers need to be waterproof (leak proof), as well as sturdy.

4. Because I use containers that don't collapse, it means I have less room in the cooler. This also keeps me from bringing too much food, which is a good thing because I don't like to keep leftovers from a picnic.

5. Don't forget the bottle opener and cork screw.

Candied Lemon Sheet Cake from Food52

Candied Lemon Sheet Cake

Serves 9 to 12

Candied Lemon Slices:

13 1/8-inch lemon slices, seeds gently removed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Sheet Cake:

1 cup Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Flour Mix
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons candied zest, minced
3 tablespoons powdered dry milk
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cups whole milk, warm
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 sticks of unsalted butter, each gently melted in its own bowl and kept warm

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld

Tags: lemon sheet cake, Texas sheet cake, lemon heads, candied lemon, picnic food, family reunions, Tom Hirschfeld

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