A lemon cake that cuts to the pith

A whole lemon cake. This recipe, using the whole fruit, is full of deep citrus flavor and may just be worth baking right away.
A whole lemon cake. This recipe, using the whole fruit, is full of deep citrus flavor and may just be worth baking right away. PHOTO: ANDREW SCRIVANI/THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - I can shrug off chocolate and ignore caramel, but when it comes to lemon, I can never resist. If there is a lemon dessert on the menu, I order it. If I see a lemon cake recipe I have never tried, I will bake it as soon as is humanly possible.

This is why I found myself rushing home from work one day to bake a lemon cake recipe a friend had sent. It did not matter that it was a weeknight, and that I had no reason to bake a cake. A new lemon cake recipe is its own best excuse.

What makes this cake so unusual is the way the lemons are treated. Instead of being zested and juiced, they are boiled and pureed, using the whole fruit, pith and all. Boiling brings out a deeper, muskier side of a lemon, making it taste a little like marmalade, with a bitter edge. The lemon puree also gives the cake a dense texture that is lightened by beaten egg, and enriched with ground almonds. Separating and beating eggs made it a little more work than I wanted for a weeknight, but it was a fine cake nonetheless.

What it was missing, at least for me, was that characteristic zippy brightness I love about lemon - the pucker factor. The boiling had brought out some lemony characteristics but muted others. So the next time I made the cake, I added some fresh lemon zest to the batter.

Then as a final touch, I drizzled on a simple powdered sugar glaze spiked with lots of lemon juice. It made the cake more intensely sweet and tart, and it looked pretty, too, with its frosty white icing.

Once I had tweaked the recipe to my liking, I made the cake all summer long, sometimes topping it with fresh berries, sometimes leaving it plain. I made it with regular lemons, Meyer lemons, a combination of lemon and lime. All were good, but my favourite was the Meyer lemon version. Meyer lemons have a more rounded and complex citrus flavor than regular lemons, and less of the bitter pith. But you can use whatever lemons you have.

You will still need to separate and beat the eggs, which might make the cake too much for any given Tuesday. But if you can't resist lemon, the recipe will be here when the weekend comes. It's worth the wait.


Lemon Almond Cake With Lemon Glaze

Yield: 8 servings Total time: 2 ½ hours, plus cooling

Ingredients:
4 Tbs (55g) unsalted butter (½ stick), melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
½ cup (65g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan 3 medium lemons, preferably Meyer lemons
2 cups (225 g) almond flour or meal (or ground almonds)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt 5 large eggs, separated
1¼ cups (250g) sugar
¼ tsp almond extract
1 to 1 ½ cups (125g to 185g) powdered sugar

Method:
1. Butter and flour a 23cm or 9inch springform pan. Put 2 lemons in a medium pot and cover with water by at least 5cm. Bring to a boil, partly cover pot, and let simmer for 40 minutes, or until very tender.

2. Use a slotted spoon to transfer lemons to a bowl. Let cool. Use a spoon to break open lemons and remove the pits. Puree lemons in a mini food processor or blender, scraping down the sides frequently.

3. Heat oven to 175 deg C. Zest remaining lemon into a medium bowl. (Save the rest of the lemon for glaze.) Stir in almond meal or flour, baking powder and salt.

4. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until very foamy. With the mixer still going, gradually beat in 1/4 cup sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Slide beaten whites onto a large plate.

5. In the same mixing bowl (you don't need to wipe it out), beat egg yolks and remaining 1 cup sugar until thick and pale, about 1 minute. Beat in lemon puree, almond meal mixture and almond extract. Using a rubber spatula, fold in melted butter.

6. Fold a third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Fold in another third until well incorporated. Finally fold in remaining egg whites, taking care not to overmix. (A few white streaks are OK.) Spread batter into prepared pan.

7. Bake until top of cake is well browned and it springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 45 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

8. When cake is almost cool but still slightly warm (after about 30 to 45 minutes), make the glaze. Juice the zested lemon into a bowl and stir in powdered sugar until you have a thick but pourable glaze (if it's too thick, stir in a few drops of water). Pour glaze over slightly warm cake and let cool completely.