April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
When you first move, for a short while at least, everything looks a bit different. Nothing is within a mindless, habitual grasp and by necessity you have to slow down, look around you a bit more, and figure things out as though for the very first time. I love it: freedom from ingrained routine, from the laziness of convenience, from not noticing the beauty in the most mundane aspects of your everyday surroundings.
Before we reached this sweet spot, there were boxes. Days of cardboard, and newspaper, and bubble wrap. Of trying to streamline years of paper and obsolete gadgets. Of memories unearthed at the backs of drawers, in the dusty recesses of boxes not touched since the last move, saved purely to be found and giggled over one more time. And to help us along the way, there was one final cake from the kitchen where this blog was born, where pounds of butter made their merry marriage with sugars and eggs. My plans were more practical than anything: use up some beautiful meyer lemons I had picked up the previous week and bake something which didn’t otherwise involve adding to the fridge of food we were frantically eating our way through. The result: a new favourite.
The base recipe for this cake comes from my favourite cookbook, The Kitchen Diaries, and I had made it before, albeit years ago. What I hazily remembered was that the lemon slices always sunk into the batter, rather than caramelizing from their perch atop the loaf, and that they never quite delivered on their promise. The meyer lemons I had were left over from making chocolate-topped matzah for Passover, where I had candied them, which just involves cutting fine slices and simmering in a water and sugar mix for an hour or so, until they become translucent, slightly gummy, and completely addictive. I decided to replace the original topping in this recipe of a regular lemon given a brief (5 min) boil in sugar water for this full candied version, which also meant I could overlap the small slices and give me more chance that they wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the batter halfway through. The recipe also makes good thrifty use of the by-product of the candying process: meyer lemon simple syrup, which you drizzle over the cake as it cools from the oven, permeating the whole batter with the sweet lemon perfume and sticky moisture of the liquid.
If you’re still here, and not already halfway to the kitchen or to your nearest meyer lemon source, the other thing of note about this cake is the loaf itself. I am an absolute sucker for almond meal in cake: I love the dense, slightly coarse texture which acts like a flavour sponge as well as keeping this loaf moist for days. The edges become slightly chewy as the cake bakes making the end slice a well-deserved gift for its cook. This loaf might carry the memories of those past weeks of packing and dust and turmoil, but I won’t be waiting until our next move to make it again.
Candied Meyer Lemon Almond Loaf Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries
So for all the big talk about meyer lemons, I know a lot of you, especially in the UK, won’t be able to get hold of that variety. Don’t let that put you off: just find the juiciest, smallest unwaxed (ideally organic) lemons available, slice them as finely as you possibly can, and continue with the candying stage as per the instructions below. You’re looking to ensure that the lemon rind will be easily edible, with a texture almost reminiscent of old-fashioned sweets from a jar, like wine gums. It should take about an hour to get this consistency but it won’t hurt to simmer the slices for a little longer if you’re unsure.
3-4 small meyer lemons, or 2-3 regular sized lemons
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup (200g) caster sugar
200g/7oz butter, at room temperature
200g/7oz demerara or raw/turbinado sugar (you can use regular sugar if you can’t get hold of these)
90g/3oz all purpose (plain) flour
90g/3.5oz ground almonds (sold in the US as almond flour or almond meal, or grind your own in a food processor)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large lemon/meyer lemon
Begin by candying the lemons. Put the water and sugar in a pan, ideally a heavy-bottomed broad one, and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar into the water. Reduce to a low simmer. While the water is heating, thinly slice the lemons. Place the slices into the sugar water in as close to a single layer as you can manage and simmer them over a low heat for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the slices. When they are ready the whites should be turning translucent and the slices will be soft and gummy. Transfer with tongs to a cooling sheet and set aside while you make the cake batter. Keep the lemon simple syrup to one side too, off the heat.
Heat the oven to 160*C/320*F and line a loaf tin (around 25x11cm/9x5in) with parchment paper.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer, with an electric whisk, or a wooden spoon, until light and fluffy. While it mixes (if using a stand mixer), take a medium bowl and combine the almond meal, plain flour and baking powder. Grate the zest of a lemon and add to this mix.
Reduce the mixer speed and add the eggs to the batter one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may curdle slightly: don’t worry. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the almond/flour mix using a large metal spoon or plastic spatula (not a wooden spoon), to keep the air in the batter.
Scoop the batter into the prepared tin and then lay slices of the candied lemons on top. I slightly overlapped mine to try and avoid them sinking too much into the cake. Reserve a few to add halfway through baking in case those in the very centre do begin to sink. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, checking halfway through and adding more lemon slices if needed. The cake is ready when risen and golden; you should check the centre with a metal skewer: if it comes out clean the cake is done, if there is batter sticking then it needs longer. Mine took the full hour to reach this point.
Set the cake to one side, still in its tin. Spike the top of the cake with a skewer and drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of the lemon simple syrup leftover from the candying over the cake. Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and serve. The cake will keep, well-wrapped, for at least 3 days.