After this season's citrus-freezing weather, lemons have become little luxuries. It's a new way of thinking about an everyday ingredient.
Every bit of the fruit is precious to the cook - the peel (rich in aromatic oil), the tart flesh - nothing need be discarded. Instead, showcase the lemons you've lovingly selected at the farmers market in three desserts that make the most of the fruit's panoply of flavors and textures.
The first, a Lemon Upside-Down Cake with a deliriously marmalade-like topping, was inspired by an orange and cardamom upside-down cake recipe from David Lebovitz, a longtime pastry chef at Chez Panisse (the recipe is on his Web site, www.davidlebovitz.com). Each recipe calls for a slightly different approach to using whole lemons.
Lemon upside-down cake
4 small lemons (about 4 ounces each)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
Cut 3 of the lemons into 1/8-inch thick slices. Remove seeds and set aside. You will have about 30 lemon slices. Grate 1 teaspoon lemon peel from the remaining lemon. Set aside the grated peel; save the lemon for another use.
Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or an ovenproof 10-inch saute pan until melted. Brush the sides of skillet with a little of the melted butter. Add the brown sugar, stir until it is moistened with the butter and spread it into an even layer. Arrange the lemon slices, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom of the skillet. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Cut the remaining 6 tablespoons butter into a mixing bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the point of a knife onto the butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until creamy. Add the sugar and grated lemon peel and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add half the flour mixture and beat until blended. Add milk and beat until combined, then add the remaining flour mixture and beat until blended.
Spread the batter over the lemons in the skillet to cover evenly. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden and the center tests done. Let the cake stand 5 minutes, then invert the skillet onto a platter. To serve, slice into wedges with a sharp knife. Serves 8.
- From Los Angeles Times test kitchen director Donna Deane
Meyer Lemon Muffins
2 cups flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 Meyer lemons, divided
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted.
1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
Cut two lemons into 1-inch pieces. Put them in a blender and pulse until the lemon is finely chopped. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk, butter and chopped lemon. Stir.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the lemon mixture. Stir just until all ingredients are moistened.
Spoon the batter into well-buttered cups of muffin pans, filling each half full.
Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle about one-fourth teaspoon over each muffin. Cut the remaining lemon into 9 paper-thin slices; cut each slice in half. Top each muffin with half a slice of lemon.
Bake about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Run a small spatula or knife around each of the muffins to loosen, remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.
Servings: Makes 18 muffins
Total time: 40 minutes
Shaker Lemon Pie
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very cold water
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons very cold butter
In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep very cold until ready to use.
To make the dough in a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and scatter the pieces over the flour. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still in pieces the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball but is not completely smooth. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.
To make the dough by hand, put the flour in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and scatter the pieces over the flour. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still in pieces the size of peas. Drizzle in the water-salt mixture and toss with a fork until the dough begins to resemble a shaggy mass. Gently mix until the dough comes together into a ball but is not completely smooth. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.
On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 2 equal balls and shape each ball into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (Meanwhile, if you haven't already, prepare the lemons.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough to one-eighth-inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn every few strokes to discourage sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm. Lightly dust the work surface with extra flour as needed to prevent sticking.
Roll the dough to make a round 1 1/2 inches larger than the pan. Carefully transfer the round to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (folding it in half or into quarters to simplify the transfer if necessary), easing it into the bottom and sides and then pressing gently into place, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Roll out the remaining disk to make a second round for the top crust. Cover and refrigerate.
Filling and assembly
2 medium lemons (about 1/2 pound)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Cut the lemons into paper-thin slices, discarding the thicker stem end and any seeds. Put them in a nonreactive bowl (stainless steel or glass), add the sugar, and toss. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight. If any seeds are still left, they will usually float to the top, where they are easily fished out. If you are using the more tender-skinned Meyer lemons, you can proceed to the next step without letting them sit, as the skins don't need the sugar to tenderize.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and salt until blended. Add the eggs to the lemon mixture; mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the pastry lined tart pan. The mixture will be very liquidy, so distribute the lemon pieces evenly by hand.
To make the egg wash, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and cream. Brush the rim of the pastry with the egg wash and lay the second pastry round over the filling. Trim the pastry by pressing down on the edge of the pan and discarding the cut-off scraps.
Brush the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle the sanding sugar evenly over the top. Chill for about 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a few slits in the crust and place the tart on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Bake until the pie is golden brown on top and the filling is bubbling (visible through the vents), about 60 minutes.
Let the pie cool completely to allow the filling to set properly before removing it from the tart pan and slicing. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.
Servings: 8 to 10