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Perfect lemon cake
I spent the previous week making my mom’s favorite things to distract her from knee surgery recovery. Those cinnamon rolls I shared, with a pistachio cardamom filling and orange sour cream glaze. Baked mac and cheese and ratatouille. Lentil soup and Turkish gözleme. Pizza, chicken doria. Granola, almond cookies, and another experimental cookie based on Persian jeweled rice (recipe forthcoming). On our last night together, I made a whole lemon cake. I based it on Melissa Clark’s recipe, which itself is based on Claudia Roden’s orange cake recipe. I wanted it to be very very lemony and I wanted to hit that elusive spot of moist and light, which so often feels like a trade-off. It turned out exactly how I wanted it — beautifully rich with a tight crumb but still not too heavy. It would be a great centerpiece for an Easter meal or a treat to bring to a friends’ house.
The changes I made to Melissa’s recipe are mostly for texture — I added olive oil to make it less dry and changed up the flours a bit — and to simplify the steps (while you could add the zest of Meyer lemon into the batter, Meyers have such thin skin that I don’t think it’s worth the trouble). It still takes a little while, since you start out by boiling two whole lemons, so plan accordingly. Serve it fresh and still warm, or at room temperature the next day, dusted with chopped pistachios.
2 Meyer lemons
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (250 grams) sugar
5 large eggs, separated
½ stick (55 grams) unsalted butter, softened or melted and cooled
¼ cup (50 grams) nice-tasting olive oil
1 ½ cups (145 grams) almond flour
¾ cup (122 grams) semolina flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon cardamom
½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
½-1 Meyer lemon
Extremely optional: dried rose petals, to mix into glaze
½ cup toasted pistachios, chopped
*Note: If you don’t have semolina flour, you can use AP or even a finely-ground cornmeal (this would make it a little denser, but gluten-free).
Put 2 lemons in a medium pot with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, then partially cover the pot and boil for 40 minutes until they’re so tender that a fork goes through them easily. Remove the lemons and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9” springform pan with cooking spray (If you don’t have a springform, you could use a regular cake pan).
Break the lemons open and remove all the seeds. Put the rest of the lemon stuff — zest and pith — into a food processor. Add 1 cup of the sugar and blend, scraping down the sides.
Add the egg yolks and blend until thick, then add the melted butter and olive oil and pulse to combine.
Pulse in the almond flour, semolina flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.
In a stand mixer or by hand, whip the egg whites with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until you have stiff peaks.
Gently fold the lemon-flour-mix into the whipped egg whites, trying not to deflate them fully. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45-55 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Give the cake 5-10 minutes to cool, then release the springform pan. (If you’re baking in another kind of pan, run a butter knife around the edges as soon as the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes, and then invert to release).
Meanwhile, make the glaze: Juice half of the remaining Meyer lemon, and whisk together the juice with the confectioners sugar. Taste it and add more juice if you want. (I added some crumbled dried rose petals to my glaze, because they were sitting around, and it made the cake very pretty but didn’t add a lot to the taste.)
Pour the glaze over the warm cake. Top with chopped pistachios and serve. (If you plan to serve the cake later, go ahead and glaze it while warm, but add the pistachios just before serving). Store loosely wrapped in plastic at room temperature for a couple days.