27 March 2014

Meyer Lemon Cake - Made with Whole Lemons

This Meyer Lemon Cake is the cake I referred to a couple weeks ago in the Magical Meyer Lemon Bars post. It was inspired many years ago by the Gateau au Citron recipe in the little cookbook that came with my mother's Cuisinart food processor (the first model on the market). That Cuisinart recipe makes a fine cake; but, as I said, my mother and I thought it would be fun to make a lemon cake that actually used the whole lemon.

The recipe has sort of evolved through the years, and I think of my mother whenever I make it, recalling the grand times we had together experimenting in the kitchen. We both liked desserts that were not overly sweet, and we liked the slight "edge" the pith of the Meyer lemon added to the cake. If you were to make it with a regular lemon, which is more sour and has a thicker layer of pith, it would go beyond a slight "edge" right into bitter.

The cake can be glazed or frosted, but I like it with just a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream. This time, since I had some cream cheese on hand, I made half a batch of cream cheese frosting and piped a wide border. This is one cake that can stand up to a sweet frosting.

Now that spring has sprung, what are you in the mood to bake?

Meyer Lemon Cake - Gateau au Citron

(Makes one 8-inch layer)

6 ounces (1 large or 2 small) Meyer lemons (Use unsprayed, unwaxed organic lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
1 dip-and-sweep cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

1 On a plate (so as to catch all the juice) cut the lemon(s) into 1/4-inch slices and remove the seeds. Place the lemon slices and juice in food processor along with the sugar. Process for 60 seconds. Let stand to macerate while continuing the recipe.

2 Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees if pan is glass). Butter well and lightly flour an 8-inch layer pan.

3 In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

4 Add the butter to the lemon mixture and process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs and vanilla and process until smooth, about another 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.

5 Sift the flour mixture over the lemon mixture a third at a time, alternating with the milk in two additions, whisking gently after each addition until just combined.

6 Turn the batter into prepared pan and bake about 30 minutes, until it tests done with a toothpick inserted into the center. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and place on wire rack to cool.

The cooled cake can be wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days. Can be frozen, double-wrapped, for a month. Thaw, wrapped, at room temperature.

20 March 2014

Custard Tarts - A British Classic

Custard tarts are a British classic, one you might recall as Lionel's favorite treat (and a running joke) on that PBS perennial As Time Goes By. Other countries, such as China, Portugal and Australia, have custard tarts as well; but I've only ever had the British kind, traditionally sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg. 

For those interested in food history, custard tarts have been popular in Britain for so long that a version of them was served at the coronation banquet of Henry IV in 1399. 

They're made in all sorts of sizes. I make them this size so that they're perfect for afternoon tea. Three or four bites, no fork needed. I make them in the same 12-cup shallow bun tin that I use for mince pies. A 3.5-inch (9 cm) round cutter makes pastry rounds just the right size for the Nordic Ware Tartlette Pan

Update 03/09/17: I now prefer to use this pastry that I use for my Lemon Tart for the Custard Tarts.

Update 09/16/20: A reader just inquired about whether these need to be refrigerated; she had noticed that Lionel, the TV character mentioned in the first paragraph, stores his in a cupboard. Yes, if they are not to be served within two hours after they come out of the oven, do store them in the refrigerator.

Custard Tarts 

(Makes 12 2.5-inch tartlettes) 

Shortcrust Pastry 

1 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (7.5 ounces / 213 g) unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces / 113 g) unsalted butter, cold 
1/4 cup ice water 


1 cup (237 ml) milk
2 large* eggs
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar 
Pinch salt 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground nutmeg

* If you're in the UK, that would be 2 medium eggs. See my British Conversions page for more details. 

1 In medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. With coarse grater over bowl, shred the butter over the flour. (Don't try to shred the very last or you'll shred your fingers; just cut it up.) Stir with a large dinner fork, making sure all the shredded butter is coated with flour. 

2 With the fork, stir in the liquid. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it doesn't hold together and there is dry flour in the bowl, add a bit more water. Press the dough together. 

3 Place it on a square of plastic wrap and shape it into a 5-inch disk. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 

4 On lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 12x15-inch rectangle. Using a 3.5-inch round cutter, cut out 12 rounds. Lightly spray a 12-cup shallow bun tin, such as the wonderful Nordic Ware Tartlette Pan I use, with cooking spray. Press pastry rounds into the wells of the tin, finishing the edge as you like; making a higher edge than I did this time allows you to use a bit more filling. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. During last 10 minutes, preheat oven to 400 degrees (200C / Gas Mark 6).

5 Bake tart shells (also called pastry cases) at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. After 5 minutes, pull tin out of the oven and quickly press down any pastry cases that have puffed up; continue baking. Meanwhile, prepare custard. In 1-quart saucepan, heat milk until small bubbles start to form around the edge. 

6 In another 1-quart saucepan, whisk together eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Gradually whisk hot milk into egg mixture. Pour through fine strainer back into pan in which you heated milk. 

7 Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees (180C / Gas Mark 4) when you remove pastry cases from the oven. Pour or ladle custard carefully into the pastry cases, filling to the brim as they will deflate a bit while cooling. You can pour from a jug with a spout or use a small ladle. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 23 minutes, or until just set and a bit wobbly.

Note: Pour any leftover custard mixture into a custard cup, sprinkle with nutmeg and bake along with the tarts (and probably continue baking for a while after the tarts are done). 

8 Cool in tin on wire rack for 5 minutes. Carefully remove tarts from tin and continue cooling on wire rack for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.


13 March 2014

Magical Meyer Lemon Bars - Made with Whole Lemons

Today was the perfect day for these lemon bars. If I'd been more ambitious, I might have made lemon meringue pie; but that wasn't happenin'. Lemon bars, especially these skip-a-couple-of-steps lemon bars, are doable on even a lazy day.

I toyed with the idea of naming them Lazy Day Lemon Bars, but decided to go with Magical Meyer Lemon Bars. Either name fits because there's no zesting or juicing. Just slice up the lemon(s) and pick out the seeds and throw it in the food processor (or, maybe, the blender). You probably don't even need to pick out the seeds, but I wasn't in the mood for experiments today; I was in the mood for a surefire lemon dessert.

The first time I made, or even heard of anyone making, a dessert with the whole lemon was when I was a young girl and my mother got the very first Cuisinart model on the market. Looking through the little cookbook that came with the machine, we got very excited about a cake that used the whole lemon. But on further reading, we saw that first you zested then you juiced; nothing novel about that. So we experimented and came up with our own cake that actually used the whole lemon.

Lemon, especially Meyer lemon, is just about my favorite flavor of all time. I'll pass over the chocolate and go straight for the lemon dessert every time. And I love the sound of all the words that describe the flavor of lemon: bright, vibrant, zesty, zingy, tart, tangy ... Aaaahh. And, most important of all, it's perfect with a nice cup of tea!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that you must use Meyer lemons for this recipe. Using another variety of lemon changes everything. Other varieties are more sour and have a much thicker layer of bitter pith, so adjustments would have to be made.

Whether you're saying 'welcome' to spring or 'good riddance' to winter, Meyer lemons say it well! What is your favorite dessert at this time of year?

Magical Meyer Lemon Bars

(Makes one 8x8x2-inch pan)

The Crust*

1 dip-and-sweep cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make crust gluten-free, just replace the unbleached flour with the following: 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sorghum flour, 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons potato starch, 1/4 cup tapioca flour, 3/8 teaspoon xanthan gum.

The Filling

6 ounces (1 large or 2 small) Meyer lemons (Use unsprayed, unwaxed organic lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8x2-inch pan with cooking spray. You can also line the pan with one of these handy dandy 8-inch parchment squares with lifting tabs.

2 In medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Stir in butter and vanilla extract. Spread evenly in prepared pan, pressing crust about 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until well browned. Remove from oven; reduce heat to 325 degrees.

3 While crust is baking, start the filling. On a plate (so as to catch all the juice) cut the lemon(s) into 1/4-inch slices and remove the seeds. Place the lemon slices and juice in food processor (a blender might also work) along with the sugar and cornstarch. Process for 45 seconds. Let stand to macerate a little until crust is done.

Note: I use a Cuisinart food processor. If you use a mini processor or a blender, it might take longer than the times given here.

4 When crust is done, remove from oven; reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Add eggs, butter, vanilla and salt to lemon mixture. Process for 30 seconds. Pour the filling over the hot crust. Bake at 325 degrees for about 22 to 25 minutes, or until it feels slightly firm to the touch.

5 Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

06 March 2014

Tangerine Marmalade

Tangerine marmalade can be made well past the traditional marmalade-making months of January and February (Seville orange season), using different tangerines as the seasons come and go. Satsuma, December-February; Page, January-March; Pixie, March-June; Minneola, April-June. 

This is my third and final post about marmalade--until next winter when I will probably post Seville orange marmalade. I've learned a lot since my first two posts, Satsuma and Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Meyer Lemon Marmalade. Though they are both quite good, they are rather heavy on the peel. Using more water improves the jelly to peel ratio. 

This recipe gives directions for how to deal with tangerines that, unlike Satsumas, are difficult to peel and have seeds. And it deletes the doneness test given in the other posts. I've discovered that marmalade has a better consistency when cooked considerably less than any of the popular doneness tests would have you cook it.

If you're going to be making marmalade or any kind of preserves, you will need a scale. Though my old non-digital kitchen scale always got the job done, I heartily recommend the OXO Good Grips 11-pound digital scale. I use it nearly every day for one thing or another.

By the way, the superb toast in the photo above was made with English Muffin Toasting Bread.

Tangerine Marmalade (water-bath canned)

(Makes 5 half-pint jars)

1 1/2 pounds tangerines
1/2 pound Meyer lemons
7 cups water
2 pounds (4 1/2 cups) sugar

1 Scrub the fruit well. Cut the ends of the tangerines, and cut the tangerines in quarters lengthwise. Cut the peel off each quarter. Cut the peels (including those ends you cut off) into short, very narrow strips. Coarsely chop the peeled tangerines, removing all the seeds (pips). Trim a tiny bit off the ends of the lemons and discard those bits, then halve the lemons lengthwise. Cut each half into four wedges; remove the seeds (lots of seeds, probably two dozen, in a Meyer lemon). With the wedge on its side with the peel toward you, slice crosswise very thinly. Scrape the fruit and juice into your jam kettle (I use my 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven). 

2 Add water to the fruit in your jam pan. Bring to a full boil. Boil, uncovered, for 7 minutes; no need to stir. Remove from heat, cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate for 8 hours or for a day or two.

3 When ready to make the marmalade, get your jars ready. Get out canner (or large pot deep enough that water will be 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars), two kitchen towels, 2-cup glass measure,
thermometer, jar lifter, tongs, half-pint jars, new lids, bands.

4 Put a folded kitchen towel in the bottom of the large pot (unless, of course, you have a canner with a rack). Fill 2/3 full of water and begin heating the water. Heat extra water in a teakettle or saucepan. Submerge clean jars and new lids in the hot, but not boiling, water. They'll be hot in about 10 minutes, but just keep them below simmering until ready to use.

5 Bring fruit mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil gently, loosely covered, about 30 minutes, or until peel is tender; no need to stir. Stir in sugar all at once until dissolved. 

6 Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (big bubbles all over the pan that cannot be stirred down), stirring frequently. Keep it boiling hard for about 30 minutes, or until it registers 220 degrees, stirring occasionally, till the end when you will need to give it a gentle stir pretty much constantly. When done*, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes (keeps the peel from sinking to the bottom of the jars).

Note: *Doneness can be difficult to determine. There are several tests recommended by various experts. I've tried them all, and they don't work for me. In my experience, they all result in overcooked marmalade. I cook it until it's 220 degrees and "looks right." If the marmalade has thickened and darkened a bit and it's 220 degrees, have the courage of your convictions and take it off the heat. After you've made it a few times, you'll get a feel for it.

7 Do one jar at a time. With tongs, remove a jar and lid from the water. Using the 2-cup glass measure, ladle the hot marmalade into the hot jar, leaving 1/4-inch headroom. Stick a knife or something (I use a chopstick) into the filled jar right next to the glass in about 4 places to release any air bubbles. Check the headspace measurement again and add more marmalade if needed. Wipe off the top of the jar with a damp towel, carefully place the lid and screw the band on (but don't tighten it). Repeat for all the jars. Put the water back on the heat.

8 Return filled jars to the water bath, adding enough hot water to have water 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Jars must be upright and not touching. Heat to a gentle boil, covered, and set timer for 10 minutes. Adjust the heat to keep the water at a simmer. After 10 minutes, move the pot off the heat and take off the lid. Let the jars sit in the water for 15 minutes. If you're not using a rack with handles in your "canner" and don't have a jar lifter, just ladle out some of the water so you can lift the jars out with an oven mitt. Remove the jars and set them on a kitchen towel on the counter. The lids will make a popping sound when they seal, so just count the pops as the jars start cooling. Leave them undisturbed for 24 hours. Then, if you lost count of the pops, check the seals by pressing on the center of the lids; they should be a bit concave and not move. Properly sealed jars are ready to be stored in the cupboard. Any jars that did not seal should be stored in the refrigerator.

Note: Of course, it's nearly time to start thinking about Strawberry Freezer Jam and, in a few short months after that, Peach Freezer Jam.