Incorporated at least five times and in three different ways, the lemon is the absolute star in this recipe, delivering – as it’s known to – a brightness and freshness that only its fellow citrus friends can achieve. Lemons are an extraordinary thing. With unique antioxidant and vitamin properties, they’re one of a handful of the gifts of nature that really nail it when it comes to both health and cooking benefits. I start each morning with warm lemon water, which alkalizes the stomach after nighttime when acids build up in the digestive system and helps to stimulate the liver. It’s also a lovely pause before the day begins.
The key to this recipe - which is adapted from from Anna Jones’ brilliant A Modern Way to Eat - is getting your hands on some really good lemons. The first rule is meyer lemons. The meyer variety tends to be smaller with thinner skin, less porous and a darker color (actually thought to be a cross between a true lemon and an orange), and are juicier and sweeter than their lighter in color, more acidic counterparts - Eureka and Lisbon are easier to come across at the supermarket. These special lemons like to grow in warm climates and most are farmed here in California. After surviving a citrus virus in the mid-twentieth century, meyers made a comeback, apparently with the help of Alice Waters, who suggested in the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook that if you have trouble tracking them down to, 'ask your friends or relatives in California to send you some."
Up north in Oakland this weekend, I gathered a basketful of juicy meyers from my Grandma's garden. Lemon trees abound in California backyards, so it’s not too hard to snag a t-shirt-full without too much trouble (and as you’ll see below, you’ll need a big t-shirt…this recipe calls for a lot of lemons).
Supporting roles here go to poppy seeds for the satisfying, nutty burst they add, yogurt for helping make sure this cake stays hydrated, and finally honey for its flowery warm sweetness. If this recipe could say thank you, it would be to the bees.
Along with lemons, honey is one of my daily essentials. Your honey should be raw – unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed…the pure nectar from flowers. In this state all the natural vitamins, enzymes and phytonutrients are preserved. Also, try getting your honey from a local source. Local honey helps fight allergies – bees jump from flower to flower, and in doing so they cover themselves in pollen, which then shows up in the honey they make. Eating that honey – even a spoonful a day – gradually exposes your system to local allergens and helps build immunity against them. I get my daily honey dose from my apple cider vinegar tonic.
So you’ve got your lineup – lemon, poppy seeds, yogurt and honey. This cake comes together really simply and beautifully, but it feels sophisticated and very special, making it perfect for dinner parties or gifts if you want to impress. Topping it off with the candied lemon peel adds this elegant, ‘this must be from the bakery’ touch. The buttercream frosting only just spilling out from between the cake layers feels decadent without feeling dominating. And the smoothness of the frosting is the perfect contrast to the tartness of the cake and drizzle. Using almond and spelt flours lower the gluten content, and the majority of the sugar comes from a natural source: that raw honey.
The first time I tried this cake, I made it three times in one week. It really works every time. Feel free to halve the recipe and get rid of the frosting if you want to make it less of a dessert, more of a snack time cake. And when you're done, keep at it with those meyers - preserve them, use them in tarts and pies, or in salsas, cocktails, pasta sauces, scones
MEYER LEMON POPPYSEED CAKE
Makes enough for two 8-inch cake rounds
4 cups (385 grams) almond flour
2 1/2 (285 grams) cups spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tsp salt
1 cup (8 ounces) greek yogurt
1 1/3 (16 ounces) cups raw honey
1 1/3 (10 ounces) cup olive oil
2/3 cup (150 grams) natural cane sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 unwaxed lemons
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Whisk eggs into a mixing bowl until they have fluffed up. Slowly stir in the honey, yogurt, vanilla and olive oil. Fold in sugar. Grate the zest of all 4 lemons and incorporate. Gently beat the dry mixture into the wet.
Pat two 8-inch springform pans with olive oil and line the bottoms with a circular piece of parchment paper. Pour half of the mixture into each and shake pans until batter flattens out. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and dry to the toothpick test. Remove the cakes from the oven. Allow to fully cool.
1/3 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp fine salt
Meanwhile, make the frosting. For the frosting, using a handheld blender, cream the butter until smooth, fluffy and light in color. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar until fully incorporated. Whisk in vanilla extract. Pour in milk and beat 3-4 minutes until smooth and fluffy.
LEMON HONEY DRIZZLE
2 unwaxed lemons
1 cup raw honey
Start the drizzle. Use a peeler to remove the rinds from the lemons in ribbons. Squeeze the juice from the lemons into a saucepan, add ribbons and honey. Simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until it has thickened slightly and the lemon rinds have caramelized. Careful not to let burn. The lemon will have candied when the ends curl up at the end slightly, like fortune teller fish.
Take the cooled cakes and skewer them all over the top to create holes for the drizzle to pool inside. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the dome off one of the less attractive of the two cake rounds to create a flat surface.
Place bottom cake round on a cake stand. Using a spoon, pour 1/3 of the drizzle over the bottom cake. Allow to dry for 2-3 minutes and then spread all of the frosting in a circular motion over the top until it reaches the edge.
Place the top layer cake on top of the frosted layer and press in place, pushing gently to allow the frosting to spill out in between. Pour the rest of the drizzle over the the top cake layer, allowing it to spill down the sides, over the frosting, and pool on the plate. Position the caramelized lemons decoratively in the center of the cake. Allow to rest for 30 minutes before serving, and keep at a cool temperature.