Consider the humble lemon...

A few posts ago I mentioned lemons among the staples in my kitchen that I rely on every day. When I’m improvising a weekday dinner, I often get to a point when I know my dish needs a little something, but I’m just not sure what. Enter the lemon. A quick squeeze or a little rasp of zest usually does the trick, and lifts an already OK pasta/ soup/ salad into something more than the sum of its parts. It’s like the high note in a musical chord. Or a really excellent backup dancer that supports the performance of the main act. Lemon plays an important role in so many dishes—but one that is easily overlooked.

So today, I thought we could celebrate this little workhorse with a few amusing lemony facts (which I learned from the, and then some cake.
-The lemon originated in the Middle East, and around the end of the 12th century began its travels around the world as a treatment to ward of scurvy among sailors on long sea voyages.
-The use of lemons on warships and cargo vessels was required by English law, and became so associated with this use that people began to refer to English ships as ‘limejuicers’ and to English sailors as ‘limeys’
-Catalan priests once declared that lemons were the fruit of the devil, as evidenced by their distinctly not-perfectly-round shape, in contrast to the more worthy, very round orange. Therefore (and this is my favourite fact,) the priests excommunicated the poor lemon.
-However, it didn’t always get such bad press—Cassanova believed lemons were a powerful aphrodisiac. And he should know.

And now, for the cake. I’ve mentioned this one before as the inspiration behind my orange and almond scones, but this time we’re ditching the holier-than-thou orange for the bad-boy lemon. This recipe is Nigella Lawson’s, and is great for entertaining non-gluten-eating guests.

Flourless Lemon Cake

3 large lemons
250 g ground almonds
6 eggs
A pinch of salt
250 g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cover the lemons with water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 2 hours. I recommend putting a lid on the pan, because if you’re anything like me you’ll forget the lemons are on the stove, water evaporating away, and 2 hours later you’ll come back to find their dried and possibly charred remains.
Once the lemons have cooked, drain the water off and leave them to cool. When they are at room temperature, cut them open and look for any seeds that might be lurking within, and get rid of those.
Then take all of your ingredients in a food processor and whiz together to form the batter. The lemons go in skin, pith, flesh, and all.
Dump the mix into a lined springform cake pan, and bake at 190C for about 45 minutes, or until cooked in the middle. If it is getting dark on top you can cover it with foil while it finishes baking.


rcakewalk said...

Ohhh... This is a lovely cake, you can't go wrong with Nigella! (I love your cake stand, too...) I am surprised I never knew about the lemons being excommunicated, it is fascinating to know that. I have to make this sometime soon, I think I recall seeing the recipe in one of her books - It's hard to forget the use of 3 whole lemons skin and all! (But I do have those preserved lemons, which are already soft... I wonder if I could use them and shortcut?!)

Unknown said...

DELICIOUS! Lemons are of the devil, hilarious!

M. said...

oh...this sounds delicious...gluten free treat...
almond and lemon taste lovely together :)

Stephfret said...

RCakeWalk- I cheated on the cake stand! It's actually a plate resting on top of an upturned bowl...would love to hear if the cake works with preserved lemons!

Julia- I know, it cracks me up to imagine the devil sitting around thinking of how he can work mischeif on making it...not round!

M.- Thanks! Yes I forgot to tag it as gluten-free but it's a great one to pull out when non-gluten-eating friends come around.

Monique in TX said...

Preserved lemons (at least the Moroccan ones) are usually put down in salt, aren't they? That might not be so good in cake..

Stephfret said...

I don't know much about using preserved lemons but I wonder if you rinsed the salt off before using them if they would work in a sweet dish? I found this link to a semifreddo made with salt-preserved lemons, which sounds intriguing:, and also this one for preserved lemon and almond polenta torta: It does seem like an unconventional choice but maybe it's a stroke of genius? Only one way to find out...

rcakewalk said...

yes, when I do it, I will rinse the lemons well... I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out!! (I haven't forgotten about making this, I just have other sweets to eat up! I'm hoping to make it soon!)

Stephfret said...

I understand- so many things to cook, so little time... I'm definitely intrigued by the idea though, and have been thinking of preserving my own lemons since you mentioned it!

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