When did my love affair with lemons begins? It began over 25 years ago, on my first trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’d never seen a lemon the size of the lemons that are grown everywhere there. As you drive along the roads, or walk through secluded paths in the hills, these brilliant yellow lemons, the size of small grapefruits, are hanging from trees for as far as the eyes can see. Just picture Van Gogh’s painting the “Sunflowers.” Now picture large, bright yellow lemons in place of the sunflowers, and you now have the same image in your mind as I do when I recall the Amalfi Coast. If this isn’t enough to make one fall in love with lemons, let me speak of their aroma and taste. While walking through a small lemon grove, or even a path with a few scattered lemon trees, you are overcome with the scent of citrus wafting in the air, caressing your nostrils. Okay, I’m getting a bit carried away, but I truly can get overwhelmed by this memory. Each time I return to this “paradise, I am overcome again. Their taste is sweet, and can be peeled and eaten on the spot. Sometimes, you don’t even need to peel them. The skin is that good. The zest from these lemons is enough to put me over the top. So you can just imagine how I felt when I arrived at Mamma Agata’s Cooking School in Ravello, Italy this past June, and they placed a piece of this scumptous, moist lemon cake in front of me with a cup of cappuccino. Heaven? Yes, heaven! The citrus aroma! The yellowness (is that a word?) of the cake! The taste! The unbelievable taste! The love affair continues!
Now how would I ever duplicate the taste of this cake back in the northeast USA? Our lemons (even the expensive, and slightly larger ones) can’t compare. But I had to try. And try I did, several times, and I finally feel that I have gotten as close as I possibly can to simulating a lemon cake that was originally made where lemons abound in all their glory.
A few things to make note of are:
Use “00” flour. This is what Italians use to bake. You can now find it in some supermarkets. You can try the web as well, or even http://www.mammaagata.com . Pastry flour will do if you can’t find it.
Use a non-stick Bundt type pan. If you are having a large party and really want to impress, buy Mamma’s large pan off her website and double the recipe.
Use the juiciest lemons you can find. Beauty is meaningless here. It’s the juice that counts.
Be prepared to want to consume the entire cake yourself. It’s not easy to share, especially when a love affair is involved!
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 sticks of butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
Grated zest of 3 large lemons (USA standards), or 5 to 6 small ones
A pinch of sea salt
2 cups “00” flour or white pastry flour
4 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cups hazelnuts, chopped (optional)
1 1/4 cups water
Juice of 3 large lemons , or 5 to 6 small ones (use the lemons you zested)
8 TBSP sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter the non-stick Bundt pan and coat lightly with flour. Shake out the excess flour.
3. Whip the butter in a mixing bowl on high speed for at least 2 minutes.
4. Add the sugar and continue to whip until soft cream forms.
5. Mix the baking powder into the flour and set aside.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time and then add the salt and grated lemon zest.
7. Alternate adding and blending a little of the flour mixture and the milk into the mixing bowl until all used up and blended into the batter.
8. Mix the ingredients on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the batter has a light and airy consistency, similar to a mousse.
9. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes in the pre-heated oven.
10. While the cake is baking in the oven ( do not open oven door to peek or cake will not rise properly), prepare the lemonade mixture.
11. Squeeze the lemons into a pitcher. Add the sugar to the lemon juice and stir until dissolved. Add the water and stir well.
12. Once the lemon cake is finished baking, let it sit for 2 hours outside the oven until it is room temperature.
13. Before we start adding the lemonade, you must make sure the cake does NOT stick to the pan. Place a plate on top of the pan and gently tip it over to dislodge the cake from the pan. Once the cake has come nicely out of the pan, gently place it back into the pan so we can begin pouring the lemonade. If your cake doesn’t come out of the pan, place it back in the oven for several minutes. This will warm up the butter and allow it to release.
14. Over the course of 30 minutes, pour some lemonade over the entire cake every 10 minutes. This allows the cake to absorb the lemonade. After 30 minutes ( and 3 pours around), you should still have some lemonade in the pitcher. At this point, tip the cake out of the pan and on to a serving plate. Add the remaining lemonade to the top of the cake, distributing it evenly over the cake.
15. Garnish the cake with the chopped hazelnuts. If you prefer not to use nuts, a simple sprinkle of confectioners sugar will do nicely.
16. Let the love affair begin!