Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake

We have been settling into January at the slowest possible pace, trying to hold onto that feeling we brought back from Italy. Calm. Peace of mind. It didn’t last long – back to work and all that jazz – but we still managed to keep weekends on the resting side after all. There was a lot of sitting around, a lot of cookbook flipping, some reading and some walking. There was a lot of baking, too.

This cake is what we baked the most, by far. It’s nothing fancy, really, but it reminds me of the cake my mum used to make when I was little – that silly-easy cake (the only one she knew how to make, really) that takes a pot of yoghurt as a measuring unit. it’s a classic, but also, a cake that bears some uniqueness – in its aroma as much as in its backstory. The idea sparked while chatting with Mehrunnisa over tea and cake. The cake in question was a tender lemon, olive oil and rosemary cake, and it was heavenly. Of course, the concept wasn’t new, but its powerful notes still struck me, somehow, and stayed with me ever since.

Then, a few days later I had my first encounter with Meyer lemons. I was starstruck. A citrus bearing the fresh notes of thyme and oregano in its skin was nothing short of bewildering for me – I had never found something as quintessentially Mediterranean as that tiny fruit before. I could smell the sea all over it. I bought some, and immediately, the thought of that lemon and rosemary cake came back and began to mould in my mind.

The first thing I did was nudging the rosemary. Meyer lemons hold such a powerful herbal aroma of their own that additional herbs weren’t needed in this case. Olive oil, however, seemed like the way to go. And so, I recuperated Mum’s trusted yoghurt cake recipe and made whatever substitutions it needed – lemon, olive oil, and a bit of semolina flour for texture. The zest of Meyer lemons went into to the batter. The juice, on the other hand, was whisked with powdered sugar into a sticky glaze that retained much of the herbal notes of the lemons. The result might not look like much, but trust me on this: there’s much more to look forward to than meets the eye.

Finally, a quick note on ingredients. Of course, Meyer lemons are not the easiest to come across. If you can find them, no worries: you can use unwaxed lemons and minced fresh rosemary instead. The result will be just as good. In all cases, though, opt for a fruity olive oil so as not to overpower the flavour of the aromatics. As for the semolina, you can replace it with plain flour, or use a fine cornmeal instead (Fioretto polenta would be my pick).

Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake

100g (about 1 cup) plain flour
70g (about 1/3 cup) semolina flour
2 tsp baking powder
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons*
2 eggs
100g (scant 1/2 cup) caster/superfine sugar
150ml (1/2 cup + 3 tbsp) plain yoghurt
140ml (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
For the glaze:
Juice of 2 small Meyer lemons**
3 tbsp powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush some olive oil on the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round springform pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder and lemon zest. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs with the oil until barely combined, then add the yoghurt and whisk some more to incorporate. Stir in the bowl with the flour and mix everything until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides to avoid lumps of flour.

Transfer the batter into the oiled cake pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes before running a knife along the edges and bottom to remove from the spring form pan. Transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. Whisk the sugar with the lemon juice until dissolved. Brush over the cooled cake and allow to set for at least 30 minutes.

*You can swap with unwaxed lemons + 1 tsp finely minced rosemary leaves
**Or conventional lemons

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  1. Mehrunnisa Yusuf February 2, 2015

    v, as always your writing is so evocative. i am glad that you love the lrb cakeshop as much as i do. it really is a lovely place. when my family lived in arizona we had a lemon tree on our patio. the blossoms were soft and floral and in the evening the smell would ride the breeze whilst we sat with the misters on. the lemons themselves had glossy skins and a mere scratch with a nail would reveal their character. effervescent but not in the way of sherbet. they were sweeter which makes me think they must have been meyer lemons. your mama's cake is just the ticket for these beauties! with ingredients like that, all you want is simplicity. x

    • Valeria February 4, 2015

      thank you so much for sharing this beautiful passage and this bit of fragrant memory, M! It looks like they were Meyer lemon, they really are local to California and possibly Arizona, so it is most likely. I am deeply in love with them, but they are so rare and pricey this was somehow a one off…but I am glad I used them this way for the simplicity of this cake really made their lovely flavour and aroma shine. x

  2. Liz @ Floating Kitchen February 7, 2015

    Oh Meyer lemons are my absolute favorite and I wait patiently for them each year. Their smell is so intoxicating! Love this beautiful cake.

    • Valeria February 9, 2015

      Hi Liz, they are a novely for me – they do smell amazing and are pretty addictive. Too bad we don't get very many here in London, and they are so pricey! But so worth it. 🙂 x

  3. Flirty Foodie March 22, 2015

    Hi Valeria, Do you know what Meyer lemons are called in Italian? Are they available in Italy? If not what would be the closest "relative"? Many thanks in advance.

    • Valeria March 24, 2015

      Hello, I think they are called 'limoni Meyer', but I admit I never saw them when living there. As a substitution, I would use classic unwaxed lemons and the tip of a tsp of fresh, minced thyme leaves. x


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