Thursday, March 20, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons

You should make Lemon Cake...specifically Meyer Lemon Cake.

Imagine my surprise when wandering through my local Publix last Friday evening, foraging for dinner, when I saw a bin of Meyer lemons. I had heard of these mythical fruits, but had never seen them in a local least not my local store. Once, when I was at the International Farmer's Market, I saw an empty bin marked "Meyer lemons," but there wasn't even a stem, twig, or leaf to show they were ever there.

Meyer Lemons are an citrus oddity. According to Wikipedia, they are named after Frank Meyer, an "agricultural explorer" for the State Department, who discovered them in China in 1908. They appear to be a cross between a lemon and a Mandarin orange, and it's easy to believe when you cut one open. It smells lemony with a faint hint of orange underneath. The juice is still tart, but the tartness is just a little bit different from your normal lemons...which are of several varieties--Lisbon, Eureka, etc. I'm not sure that I ever really thought about lemons being of different varieties, other than the Meyer ones, but this article breaks it down.

Anyway, I scouted around the 'net and found the recipe below for a lemon cake. I love lemon cake, lemon bars, all sorts of lemon desserts, but (and you knew there was one) I hate, hate, hate the artificial taste of lemon flavoring, especially in lemon drinks...artificial lemon flavoring is the absolute pun intended.

Meyer Lemon Cake
(from Domino magazine)

The Ingredients:
(makes one 9-inch cake)

8 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
1¼ cups sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 tbsp. Meyer lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1¼ tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

For the glaze:

1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 2/3; cups confectioners' sugar

For the candied Meyer lemon slices:

2 Meyer lemons
2 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Melt butter in saucepan. Cool and set aside. In a mixing bowl, using an
electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1 cup of the sugar until thick and light
in color, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Beat in buttermilk, Meyer lemon juice and zest. Sift together cake flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Then add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Fold half the flour mixture into egg-yolk mixture, followed by half the egg white mixture-so you don't deflate the batter. Repeat with remaining flour and egg white mixtures. Take about 1 cup of the batter and stir it into melted butter. Gently fold butter mixture into the rest of the cake batter.

Pour into a buttered and floured 9-inch cake pan or Bundt pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes until cake is lightly brown and pulling slightly away from the edge of the pan.

While cake is baking, make glaze and candied Meyer lemon slices. For glaze, combine Meyer lemon juice and the confectioners' sugar in a saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

For the candied slices, cut Meyer lemons widthwise, in ¼ inch slices, and discard end pieces. Remove seeds. In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer five minutes. Add lemon slices and simmer about five more minutes, until fruit is soft but not falling apart. With a slotted spoon, remove slices and place on waxed or parchment paper.

When the cake is baked, cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then invert onto a cooling rack. With a long toothpick, poke the top of the cake to make about two dozen small deep holes. Slowly spoon the warm glaze over the cake, allowing to sink in before adding more. Poke extra holes if needed, eventually using all the glaze. Arrange the candied lemon slices in a random
pattern on top. Cool the cake completely and serve.

Well, I punted the candied lemon slices, because I did the cake in a bundt pan and couldn't really figure out how to make them stay on the cake. I think my glaze was a little thick, because when I poked the holes, the glaze seemed to flow over the holes and not down into the cake. I'm thinking that doing a flat 9-inch cake would have been a better bet. And, I think it would be a great lemon cake with regular old run-of-the-mill lemons, too.

The whole folding of the ingredients was interesting...I was afraid that I was overmixing the ingredients, and the cake would deflate. It seemed to work out--the cake rose pretty high and light and deflated a little bit when it cooled. The Man pronounced it tasty, and the lemon flavor was good...I think it was better the 2nd day, after the lemon sort of soaked in more.

Sunday night, we watched the first episode of Top Chef's new season. Richard Blais of Atlanta is one of the cheftestants, and I'm kinda rooting for him. The second challenge--reinventing a classic dish--really provided some scream-at-the-tv-worthy moments. The one that really got my attention was when Andrew D'Ambrosi (New York, 30, Sous Chef, Le Cirque), aka the one that says the F-word a whole lot, announced he had no idea how to make mayonnaise. WTH?

If I remember correctly, I had to make mayonnaise during pantry class, which was in my 3rd quarter of culinary school. 3rd quarter! Not after I became a sous chef at Le Cirque! Makes me wonder how the hell he got the job, and why I'm not cooking at Le Cirque..maybe it's only because I'm not in New York. Ha!

(Come on--can't make mayo?! If you look at Le Cirque's menus, there's quite a few French things on it, and the French practically invented can he not know this, and even crazier, how can he admit it on national television? So, of course, I want him to fail miserably. Dude, lose the attitude!)

I must admit I like the little New Zealand guy, but then again, I am a sucker for the accent...and an accent + cooking = (well, I'm not going to tell you EVERYTHING, now am I?!)

1 comment:

LinC said...

The lemon cake looks wonderful! I saw a recipe recently for a lemon pie where the filling is lemon slices WITH THE RIND, cooked until they are candied. It's an old Shaker recipe -- they never wasted anything. I think it was in _Cook's Country_, one of the family of ATK magazines. I love those because they talk about all of the things they tried in order to come up with an acceptable recipe. Interesting stuff.