there are many things to enjoy in northern california winters , particularly if you recently transplanted from the midwest. with occasional rain, the rolling yellow hills turn lush and green. temperatures continue to rest comfortably in the 50s (at least) with clear, blue skies. walks to the park, picnics in the yard, and flip flops remain a daily reality for us. and as though this winter environment that smites any midwestern spring were not enough, northern california has one final bastion of eternal sunshine…the citrus fruit.
it’s still remarkable to me that *anything* can grow during winter months–indeed, our farmer’s market and neighborhood gardens continue to bustle with big leafy greens and root vegetables. and miraculously, bushels and bushels of orange, yellow and pink orbs of bright, juicy goodness. oranges, mandarins, pomelos, grapefruits, clementines, kumquats, citrus fruits i’d never even heard of let alone tasted abound here. as titillatingly unfamiliar as palm trees across our landscape is the existence of citrus fruits. sometimes, the kids will wander off in a park and come back holding an armful of stray citrus fruit that has fallen from nearby branches. how utterly bizarre and wonderful. what could be more uplifting, more hopeful, more of a reminder of the long, hot days of summer than this?
i had read about meyer lemons here and there, usually in recipes originating on the west coast. but, even at the most special of specialty stores, i never could lay eyes on one in michigan. i always used regular, pallid skinned lemons smelling faintly of disinfectant as a stand in, and never quite knew what i was missing. i’d say i was a little resentful of this particular demand of a lemon i’d never heard of. what’s wrong with normal lemons? it seemed food snobbish to me.
until i moved here, where meyer lemons grow on trees. oh, how different it truly is from its thick-skinned cousin. deep yellow, smooth, delicate, fruity and floral, it is lovely to behold in sight and smell. given that it is seasonal and local, i couldn’t resist filling a bag with these beauties at the market this weekend, inspired to infuse our upcoming meals with this invigorating flavor. for now, they’re just resting on our table, smelling of sweet sunshine.
seeing as i am no longer authoring a nutritional blog, i am choosing to feel no guilt in posting another dessert recipe, because that is what first came to pass when i pulled two lemons from my bag. i like to have a cake around to nibble on here and there in the afternoons. and mornings. it’s been fed now to children other than mine, children not acclimated to a dessert world full of whole grains and unrefined sweeteners, and it received a ringing endorsement. good enough for me.
a light and moist cake, a not-too-sweet cake, but with a bright glaze to give just enough tart sweetness in each bite. some interesting textural elements from cornmeal (did you know corn is a whole grain?), and what i hoped would be a real suggestion of coconut flavor from coconut oil (what would scream more of tropical sunshine than citrus AND coconut) but ended up being just a butter alternative. though this did not turn into the mildly exotic cake i’d envisioned, it still turned out so well, lovely for dessert or tea, that i’m posting it as is. i hope you enjoy it, too.
meyer lemon cake, adapted from bon appetit 2009
- 2 T meyer lemon juice
- 1 c powder sugar
- 1 c whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 c unrefined white flour
- 1/3 c cornmeal
- 3/4 c sugar
- 1/2 t salt
- 3 1/2 t baking powder
- 1 c milk or buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- zest of one (meyer) lemon
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 1/4 c butter and 1/4 c coconut oil melted and cooled (i think you could do all butter or all coconut oil here if you like)
- to make the glaze, combine lemon juice and powder sugar in a bowl, stir with a fork until smooth and set aside. you can add more lemon juice if the glaze seems thick, but make sure you stirred for a long time before you do that–a little juice goes a looooooong way.
- preheat the oven to 350 with a rack in the middle. coat a 9″ round cake pan with cooking spray, and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- combine dry ingredients in a large bowl: pastry flour, regular flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and whisk well.
- now, whisk eggs, milk, lemon zest and vanilla in a small bowl.
- add wet ingredients and melted butters to dry ingredients, folding gently until just combined. refrain from stirring vigorously to keep your cake tender. you may taste the batter right now if no one is watching.
- pour the batter into prepared pan. i like to drop my pans flat onto the counter from a few inches up to pop all the air bubbles, but that’s personal preference. bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
- remove from oven, run a knife around the sides of the cake to loosen from the pan, and place on a cooling rack set over some newspaper or a paper bag (the glaze will probably get a little messy). invert the cake onto another cooling rack or plate to remove from the pan, then invert it again so it’s right side up on a cooling rack over your mess collector.
- while the cake is still hot, spoon glaze over top and spread evenly, letting it drip off the sides. allow to cool completely (if you can); the glaze will harden. enjoy!