Meyer Lemon Almond Cake
A birthday was coming up for a young lady who loves my orange pound cake. Unfortunately there were no oranges on the tree in May. But with Meyer lemons literally falling off a neighbor's tree, I thought I'd see what I could do with those instead. After some experimentation, I settled on a moist, lemony hit!
-15 min. to boil the lemons; 45 min. total prep. (-20 min. if puree lemon raw)
-50 min. to bake at 325°F; 10 min to cool in pan
-5 min. to mix frosting
My Adventure in Lemon Cakes
First I tried this recipe that required boiling and pureeing whole lemons. I decided I would make it a honey, lavender, and meyer lemon cake, so I would switch out the sugar with honey. This post about rules for swapping out sugar for honey came in handy for doing that. However, I'm not sure how much difference the honey made in the finished product; the flavor didn't really come through. The teaspoon of lavender that I added to the batter didn't really come through either. And while the cake was nice enough, it was more of an everyday sort of cake, not quite birthday quality. I wanted the cake to be a bit moister. I thought some additional flour and some oil and/or yogurt would do the trick, so I set out to see about other recipes that might include these ingredients.
I came across this recipe for a Dolce Di Amalfi, or Lemon Almond Cake. It also required a whole lemon (if not lemons) a bit of flour, and promised to be much moister with all that olive oil! However, I had designs on a rich, marscapone frosting and didn't want it to be quite this moist. So in the end, I married this recipe with my favorite orange pound cake (first link above) and was quite happy with the result. So was the birthday girl!
The Lemon Puree
The final recipe didn't require boiling the lemons first, but I already had a mess of puree from the first recipe. The white pith under citrus skin is rich in pectin, which gels when activated by heat (which is how you make marmalade), so I'm not sure if the first recipe required this to thicken the cake batter. The author of the first recipe claims that boiling the lemon removes any "unpleasant bitterness" in the peel. I'm not sure if this is true or related to the strangely pervasive myth about the bitterness of citrus pith. You can read more about it here. Only grapefruit actually has bitter pith. For any other citrus, the pith has little flavor of its own and is chocked full of vitamin C and fiber, so it's actually quite good for you.
Note: Other users have reported that an uncooked peel requires more effort to puree. This might be one reason to boil it first.
I used boiled lemon puree for the second recipe. It worked and tasted great. Better than a raw lemon? I have yet to determine that answer but am now quite curious to find out. Do note that these were huge Meyer lemons. One lemon produced one full cup of puree.
First I boiled the lemons for 15 minutes. (I had to stick a vegetable steamer on top to hold them down since they were so big and airy.) Wait for the lemons to cool enough to work with, then remove the seeds while cutting the lemon into pieces. Place the pieces (everything but the seeds) in a food blender. Then pulse until the lemon is fully pureed.
You can then brainstorm uses for the extra lemon puree (if you have any) such as in pasta dishes.
Making the Cake
Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix the almond meal (or ground almonds) in a larger bowl with the sugar, then add in the lemon puree. Add the olive oil, yogurt, and eggs to this second bowl. Finally, add the cornmeal mixture. If you want to puree your lemon in the moment (rather than ahead of time) you can replace the second, larger bowl with a Cuisinart: Puree the lemon, then pulse to mix in the other additions.
Pour the batter in a 9 inch springform pan. You can spray the pan if you think it is necessary. Cook for about 50 minutes at 325°F, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan, then remove the cake and place it on a wire rack to cool completely.
The Frosting Question
I wasn't able to get the frosting quite right, however. For the first cake (used for the photos) I heated a cup of whipping cream with 2 sprigs of lavender and a Tablespoon of honey, then added a tsp. of rose extract. I then added this to a metal mixing bowl I'd put in the freezer, so the cream cooled right down. I then mixed in the marscapone, and some sugar. As soon as I added the sugar, everything got grainy. I was able to get it to form peaks after significant beating (10-20 minutes!)
For the second cake, I thought adding some of the lemon puree would be a nice touch. So I decided to go a little lighter on the cream so there wouldn't be too much liquid. 1/4 cup whipping cream with 3 T honey, plus 2 tsp lavender bits and 1 tsp. rose petal extract. 3 Tablespoons lemon puree, and 1 cup marscapone. Still, when I added the powdered sugar, it all went grainy. (I'd heard that sometimes you can get a bad batch of powdered sugar that just isn't fine enough??) This time I couldn't revive it. I even tried adding another 1/4 cup of whipping cream. (Maybe I still needed that full cup?) Feel free to take up the torch of the lemon-honey-lavender whipped marscapone frosting and perfect what I could not in these two attempts.
The recipe for what I'd do next time is included below (based on what worked well with the Gingerbread Orange-Spice Desert Pizza). Marscapone and citrus makes for a wonderfully delicious combination, even if you decide to forego the lavender. Alternate adding the lemon puree with the powdered sugar until a good consistency forms. If you add a lot of sugar (you could go up to 2 cups if you have a sweet tooth) then you may need a tad more lemon juice. You should be able to mix this easily with nothing more than a spoon.
Note: feijoa petals (picture below) make a great topping (although maybe harder to come by if you live anywhere other than New Zealand, California/Texas/Florida, or South America). The petals are "ripe" when they are a little soft and come off the flower without too much effort. See if you can get to them before the birds!
You can also add lavender to the icing or sprinkle bits of the flowers on top. (I did both.)
The cake came out great! Moister than the first attempt, wonderfully lemony, and not too sweet with 1/2 cup sugar. If you want a sweeter dessert, you might want to use a full cup of sugar.
-1/2 cup medium ground cornmeal
-1/2 cup all purpose flour
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 1/3 cup almond meal (or 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds ground)
-1/2 cup turbinado sugar (up to 1 cup if you prefer sweeter)
-1 large lemon pureed (3/4 cup)
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 Tablespoon
-1/2 cup yogurt
-3 large eggs
-1 tsp. almond extract (I actually forgot this)
Frosting Ingredients (What I Would Do Next Time)
-1/2 cup marscapone cheese
-1 1/2 Tablespoon lemon puree (or 1 + Tbsp. juice and 1 tsp. zest)
-2 Tablespoon honey (add powdered sugar--up to 1 cup or so--for additional sweetness)
-1 tsp. rose petal extract (or lemon, orange or vanilla if you'd prefer)
(-optional: 1-2 tsp. lavender)
-9" springform pan
-Cuisinart or other blender (for pureeing the lemons)