Over the weekend, we got to go to a ranch in Sonoma County where a long lost family member (my brother-in-law’s step uncle if we’re counting) grows about an acres’s worth of grapes – enough to make several dozen cases of wine per year, with which among other things he brings bountiful country picnics with a tasting of several gold and silver winning varietals to life on a regular basis. When we got there for a late lunch on Saturday, a table on the deck was already covered with eight or ten bottles and glasses, and a grill with various local carnivorous treats smoked nearby. An orchard with several types of fruit trees stood across a verdant lawn and beyond that, the hills of Sonoma County. We settled in as our host began explaining his Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and I pinched myself. The idyllic setting aside, I’d never been to a hobby vintner before and it was impressive and naturally quite fun to try so many successful wines just among friends and family.
Weather or not an experience of this kind will become customary, I don’t think it will ever loose its magic. And being entirely new to it, I had to find a way to take it with me. Enter the citrus. In the orchards I mentioned, a little bevy of trees sat heavy with the seasonal fruit. I stared, I smelled, I picked. And picked. So did the rest of us, and we left on Sunday with about eight to ten pounds of lemons, oranges and kumquats.
If the picking component of this experience had been done in the Northeast, there would by now be a pie, some apple butter and several snacks in our midst and that’d be the end of it. Never having had lemons by the bushel before, I have been scratching my head a bit. I’m excited to find additional ways to use up our newfound treasure, and for now share the first take from this unexpected project: a Meyer Lemon Olive Oil cake.
For this recipe I first turned to my ever-more tattered copy of Epicurious’ Italy Eats and went to their Olive Oil and Orange Cake recipe. It’s made with semolina flour and flavored with olive oil, plus a homemade honey and citrus syrup, and has proven a crowd pleaser twice and on both coasts. I updated the recipe by using Meyer lemons and thyme in place of oranges and cardamon, plus I reduced the sugar and honey in the topping by half. In doing so, I think this cake goes from certifiable dessert to a special-treat breakfast.
Olive Oil & Meyer Lemon Cake with Honey
Hands-On Time: 45 Minutes
Special Equipment: Mortar & Pestle, Medium Saucepan, 9″ Round Spring-Form Pan
– For the Meyer Lemon Topping:
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 1/4 + 1/8 Cup Honey
- 4-5 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
- 1 & 1/2 Cups Water
- 3-4 Meyer Lemons, cut into thin horizontal slices
– For the Cake:
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil plus more for brushing pan
- 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 Cup Semolina Flour
- 1 & 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
- 1/4 Tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 Tsp Dried Thyme, ground further to a powder with a mortar & pestle
- Pinch Salt
- 3 Eggs, Separated
- 1/2 Cup Sugar, divided into two 1/4 Cup portions
- 2/3 Cup Plain Lowfat Yogurt (not Greek)
- Zest from 1-2 Meyer Lemons, depending on size (separate lemons from those in the Syrup)
- 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 Tsp Fresh Thyme leaves, removed from sprig
– For the Meyer Lemon Topping:
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside
- Bring sugar, honey, thyme and water to a boil, whisking until sugar dissolves
- Add lemons and reduce to a simmer
- Cook about 40 minutes, stirring lemons/turning them over in the liquid occasionally
- Remove lemons with kitchen tongs and set on the baking sheet to cool, discarding thyme springs and any seeds
- Strain syrup through a metal strainer or cheese cloth and set aside
– For the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F.
- Brush or spray spring-form pan with olive oil and set aside.
- Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, dried thyme and salt together, set aside.
- Beat 1/4 Cup Sugar and 1/2 Cup Olive Oil in a large bowl.
- Beat in yolks, then flour mixture, then yogurt, zest and vanilla, set aside.
- Clean and try the egg beaters, then, beat whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form (about 3-4 minutes on the highest setting).
- Add in the remaining 1/4 Cup Sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about another 3-4 minutes.
- Working in two batches, gently fold egg whites into batter until just incorporated.
- Pour/scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes/until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Poke hot cake with a toothpick all over and slowly pour 1/2 the lemon syrup over. Once absorbed, repeat with the remaining half.
- Let the cake cool on a wire rack, then, clear the edge of the cake with a knife and remove sides of spring-form pan. Carefully slide a knife or spatula to remove bottom of pan (or simply set bottom of pan on a serving plate).
- Arrange lemon slices however you like and top with fresh thyme leaves.