There’s that old, rather trite saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’ve never made lemonade, but I am never without lemons in my fridge or in my fruit bowl.
I’ve always loved citrus fruits. That sharp, fizzing, teeth sucking tang that mellows and rounds out as it washes over your palate. I love the way a wedge of lemon in a roasted chicken; a few slices stuffed into the sliced belly of a pink trout or a squeeze over ripe, fleshy avocados or fluffy pancakes dripping with butter can be transformed into something heavenly with citrus.
Top lemon tip from one of the two fat ladies: “Never throw away squeezed lemon, but keep them for the day by the sink. Then you can use them to remove fish, onion or garlic smells from your fingers. Or you can stick them on your elbows while you are reading a book, to soften and whiten your skin.” – Jennifer Paterson
My love affair started young and rocky with a sip of Granny in Bridport’s black tea with its slice of yellow lemon, floating transparently in the hot water by her bedside. I stole a sip while she was in the bathroom and promptly spat it out again…probably straight back into her cup. I never did like Granny in Bridport very much. I think I found the acrid, bitter flavour too much of a shock to my milky, chocolate-loving four-year-old tastebuds.
Lemons got better with Granny in Trowbridge. She had coat pockets full of sugary, tart lemon drops that were filled with sherbet that set my mouth on fire and screwed up my lips in sour, grinning glee.
Then there came baking with my mother and lemon Madeira and sponge puddings – complete with my furtive swipes into the mixing bowl with sticky mits – that always ended in chunks of still-warm cake being eaten in front of Sunday TV with cups of warm, milky tea. Even now neither of us can wait until a cake is properly cooled before we start carving wedges from it.
I’ve never found a better base recipe for Madeira cake than the one she used from her 1981 Good Housekeeping Complete Book of Cakes and Pastries. It was the first recipe I made on my own and continued to mess around with over the years – as you can see from the mucky pages stained with batter and orange peel.
To make this Madeira a lemon Madeira, add the rind of two lemons and a tsp of lemon extract – I love the Taste the Difference Sicilian Lemon Extract from Sainsburys – and drizzle over lemon syrup when the piping hot cake comes out of the oven.
I still can’t resist a lemon cake. There’s nothing like a gooey, sodden slice of cake soaked in lemon syrup to go with a cup of coffee. I had my first slice of lemon polenta cake on holiday in Italy under a burning Tuscan sun and have been smitten ever since. The golden, textured polenta adds substance to the nutty, warm flavour of ground almonds and lemon zest which are combined with soft butter, sugar and eggs in this gluten-free cake.
I’ve recently been experimenting by cooking with almond butter and have substituted some of the butter in the following recipe. I adore the soft, dense, almost creamy flavour it adds to the batter as well as the nut-brown colour it gives the finished cake. This recipe is easy-peasy to make and perfect for a dinner party pudding with shots of iced Limoncello, or for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a cup of steaming black coffee and a good book. In keeping with the citrus theme, I recommend you curl up with the brilliant Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart, an ex-Genesis drummer, sheep shearer and travel writer and who bought a remote farm in the olive, almond and lemon groves of Andalucia.
3 lemons, scrubbed and unwaxed
200g ground almonds
100g fine polenta
200g caster sugar
150 g soft butter
50g almond butter
1 tsp gluten free baking powder
1 tbsp lemon curd (from a jar or make your own. I love Delia’s recipe here)
100g caster sugar
juice from two lemons
- I love putting whole citrus fruits in cakes as they give an intense depth of flavour to the finished bake – Gizzi Erskine does a great orange and chocolate cake using this method here. Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop in one of the lemons. Simmer for about half an hour to 45 minutes until the lemon is tender then remove the stalk and seeds and blitz the whole thing, skin and all, to a paste in a food processor.
- Grease and line a tin with baking paper and heat the oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Beat the soft butter, almond butter and sugar in a bowl until creamy and pale and add the lemon paste and zest from the remaining two lemons, setting them aside for juicing later.
- Beat the eggs in a cup and combine the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder in a seperate bowl. Add a spoon of the dry mix followed by a glug of egg and stir gently with a spatula. Alternate adding the egg and almond mixture until the batter is fully combined.
- Spoon into your greased baking tin and cook for around 30-40 minutes. You can put a tin foil hat on the cake if you think it’s going brown too quickly.
- While it’s cooking, put the juice from your remaining lemons and a tbsp of lemon curd in a saucepan with 100g of caster sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- When you’ve removed the hot cake from the oven, prong it all over with a fork and pour over the syrup, letting it soak in before cutting and enjoying this oozing, sticky lemon cake.