By Caroline Fey
I have a Meyer lemon tree in my backyard with tons of fruit hanging on its branches right now. I keep picking lemons and testing recipes and have made this cake a number of times. The recipe is based on a traditional Italian cake that is made with olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil. The olive oil gives it a slightly spicy, green flavor that works really well with the lemons. Meyer lemons have a sweeter, more floral flavor and bright yellow-orange skin. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, just use regular lemons and the cake will still be delicious. My mom was visiting last weekend and helped me photograph the cake under my lemon tree. You can see her channeling her inner Martha Stewart below.
Total Time: 1¼ hours
Active Time: 45 minutes
Serves 8 to 10
1¼ cups bakers sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup good olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced into rounds
1½ cups bakers sugar
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Brush inside of a 9 x 2 cake pan with olive oil. Cut a parchment round to fit in the bottom of the pan and line it with the paper. Brush the paper with oil and lightly flour the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside on a baking sheet.
Using an electric mixer or hand-held beater, blend the sugar and eggs until pale and fluffy, 2 to 4 minutes on high. In a separate bowl whisk together the lemon zest, whole milk, olive oil, lemon juice and vanilla. In a third bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the wet and dry ingredients to the sugar and egg mixture in 2 additions, alternating. Transfer the batter to the cake pan and tap the pan on the baking sheet a few times to get rid of any big air bubbles.
Bake until the center is set and the top is a light golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a baking rack. Once cool, remove the cake from the pan and trim the top with a bread knife so it is flat.
While the cake is baking, make the lemons. Whisk the sugar, water, vanilla bean and salt together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon slices, swirling the pan to evenly distribute the lemons. Bring the liquid to a simmer and then turn the heat to medium. Simmer the lemons for 15 minutes, reducing the heat if the liquid begins to boil too rapidly. Once the lemons are translucent, turn the heat off and let the slices cool in the liquid.
Place the cake on a serving platter, cut side up. Spoon some of the liquid from the lemons over the cake – the cake will absorb it – and then layer the lemons in circles on top of the cake, starting with the outer edge and working inward.
Reserve any additional lemon sugar syrup for making cocktails or pour it over pancakes or French toast at breakfast.