As I'm looking outside my windows right now, it is gray, chilly and damp, and I'm left wondering who the heck stole August, and when, I ask, are they bringing it back?!! Well, I am already waxing nostalgic for those bright summer days (not too hot, mind you), pleasant breezes and blue skies. Although I love all the yummy dishes that the cooler weather brings to mind, I'm just not quite ready for pumpkin bread, apple crisps, and maple scones...yet (I'm sure I'll wake up tomorrow with a totally different mindset).
But for now, I just happened to have three Meyer lemons calling lovingly to me from the fridge. So, as a final adieu to summer (and my final citrus recipe for the season), I thought I would send you all a postcard in the form of a sweet recipe to remind you of those uncomplicated, bright, sunshiny days.
Having a wonderful time...the weather's been lovely...wish you were here...
Any type of lemon (Meyer or otherwise) or citrus will work in this recipe. The idea is to layer the flavors between the cake, 'frosting' and glaze, so that the whole thing shouts 'lemon', or 'lime', 'blood orange', or whichever citrus you choose. And as a totally honest disclaimer here, this recipe is definitely more in the better-for-you delicious category than the good-for-you delicious one, but you can make it lighter by omitting the mascarpone frosting and/or glaze. Since it was a special occasion (summer's leave-taking after all) I thought I would splurge a little. However, this is so packed with flavor, a small piece goes a very long way. Portion control with dessert is a great way to keep some balance in your life even if you are watching calories, sugar or fat. I'd much rather have a small portion of a really good dessert than a larger portion of something posing half-heartedly as dessert. I love Meyer lemons but haven't decided yet if they are oranges impersonating lemons, or lemons with orange-leaning tendencies. Either way, I love them and used them with abandon in this recipe.
My starting point for the loaves was a lovely recipe from the Olives and Oranges cookbook by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. I borrowed heavily from their Lemon Olive Oil Cake recipe, and added just a few twists. I love that this is a traditional olive oil cake that has a long history in the Mediterranean cultures, long before people worried about cholesterol or even knew what a triglyceride was. If you haven't used olive oil in your baking yet, this would be a great recipe to start with. The texture of the cake is very light, and don't be worried about any residual olive flavor...it just isn't an issue. I've been baking with olive oil for years and have never been disappointed with the results. I've used it in breads, cakes, cookies, and tarts with equal success. There are lots of cookbooks around now too that give lots of guidance for baking with olive oil. The fact that it is heart healthy is just an added bonus!
I made four mini loaves, but you could make a dozen muffins or one large cake as well. The original recipe calls for a 9-inch springform pan, but I envision using my fancy bundt pan next time I make this. As the authors suggest, make sure to zest the citrus directly over the mixing bowl so that none of that glorious, flavorful oil from the peel is lost. Of course, I couldn't resist adding some whole-grain goodness to the recipe, and actually substituted equal amounts of white whole wheat flour for all of the flour called for, with amazing results. So, this dessert is actually 100% whole grain but is as light and bright as a party cake! Who says you can't get a healthy portion of your daily requirement of fiber from dessert? Trust me, I've gotten plenty of incredulous, wide-eyed stares from people with mouthfuls of second helpings of my whole wheat desserts, mumbling things like "Re-re? Ho-reat? 'Ma-zhing!"
I've become a big fan of using mascarpone cheese in place of cream cheese for many of my desserts. It's free of some of those scary ingredients you find in cream cheese, and has a lighter, creamier texture. I usually just add a small amount as a side to each serving, but decided to layer it in and on top of the cake this time. The glaze goes on the cake first, followed by the frosting, or you could use either one or the other, or neither! Whatever tickles your fancy. I sent three of these loaves to work with my husband, and put the plain, glazed loaves on a plate with small bowls of the frosting on the side for those that wished to imbibe. Again, another great way to be able to enjoy a small treat (the slices from the mini loaves are pretty small), yet not get derailed from any diet or health goals that you might have. I think the creamy flavor of the mascarpone pairs beautifully with the zesty flavor of the cake, but the cake is also delicious au naturel (as depicted in the original recipe). If you decide to use the glaze and frosting on the cake, each component sings of citrus, making every bite a Vivaldi-worthy concerto of lemon (his Summer concerto of course)!
The cake is full of lovely little pieces of lemon zest, which say hello on every forkful.
Little edible reminiscences.
Light and bright.
If sunshine, blue sky and white clouds had a flavor, this would be it.
Goodbye summer...it was great seeing you...until next year!
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or unbleached all purpose flour, or a combination)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs, preferably organic and/or free range
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
zest from 3 Meyer lemons and 1 regular lemon
1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of two Meyer lemons
1/4 cup sugar (I used organic)
2 tablespoons water
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup powdered sugar, or to taste
juice of one Meyer lemon
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place oven rack in the center position. Lightly oil your pan of choice or place muffin cups in the pan.
For the cake:
Whisk together the dry ingredients into a bowl or over a piece of wax paper.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl on high speed for five minutes, or until pale and thick. Add the yogurt, zest and extract (if using) and beat to combine. With the mixer on medium speed, add the oil and mix to combine. Reduce the speed to low and carefully add the flour mixture until just blended. Using a whisk, mix by hand, making sure to get out all the lumps, until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the pan. Bake, rotating the pan half-way through baking, until the cake is golden and a wooden skewer comes out dry, about 40 to 45 minutes (less for cupcakes). Let cool in the pan for about five to ten minutes, remove from the pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the glaze:
While the cake bakes, place all the ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil over medium low heat. Boil for just a minute until all the sugar crystals dissolve. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for about five minutes until slightly thickened. Set aside to cool.
For the frosting:Whisk together the mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add the juice and continue to whisk until smooth. The mixture will take a moment to smooth out once the juice is added, but continue stirring and it will smooth out again.
Spoon the glaze evenly over the cake(s) and allow to absorb.
Slice the cake in halves or thirds, and spread one half or one third of the frosting mixture on the top of each piece. Top with frosting, and garnish as desired (lemon slices, mint leaves, candied ginger, edible lavender, etc.)