Corona notwithstanding, the last few weeks I found myself on multiple worktrips. After 2 years of working from home, it took me a moment to get back into the groove of work travel. But I also remembered that provided I am organised enough, even early morning flights don’t need to be particularly taxing – by making sure that my bags are packed way before (an early) bedtime and waiting for me in the kitchen are my reusable water bottle, keep cup, a piece of fruit and something for breakfast like a slice of banana bread or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Alas, I am only human, so sometimes I arrive at the airport empty-handed. Which means I inevitably get my breakfast from the local Starbucks – and inevitably end-up disappointed. My latest (disappointing) discovery was the Starbucks Lemon Loaf.
A cake that manages to be both sturdy and dry, overly sweet with a flat lemon flavour that simply cannot come from fresh lemon zest and that is covered in a weirdly greasy glaze. And while lemon has never been my go-to choice for cakes, I knew there had to be an easy and better way to make a tasty lemon loaf cake at home. In fact, one idea that had been at the back of my mind for a long time was to bake a lemon loaf cake using preserved lemons.
I had a sort of grown-up version of a Lemon Drizzle Cake in mind. Many of these types of ideas never make it beyond a never-ending list of ideas stored in my iphone. But when I recently saw recipes for preserved lemon cakes both on Bon Appetit and in Claire Saffitz‘ new book, I decided to finally try this idea. And this is how we ended up with the recipe for today’s cake:
A Lemon Drizzle Cake that is sharp and intensely lemony in flavour thanks to a combination of fresh and preserved lemons and with a unique aroma from the latter. Moist thanks to a combination of oil and yoghurt, the cake holds up well in the way pound cakes or French gâteaux de voyage do – i.e. cakes that travel well and easily last a few days. While the thick white glaze is entirely optional, it is highly recommended. It helps seal in the moisture from the cake, gives it a neat finish and also provides a nice contrast to the otherwise not overly sweet cake.
And now that I started baking with preserved lemons, I definitely want to try the other preserved lemon ideas on my list. Maybe the next thing to try will be to revisit the Swiss Lemon Roll my grandmother often made for us when I was a kid – I am thinking a preserved lemon labneh mousse for the more traditional lemon mousse filling would be a great upgrade for this classic cake!
And yes, I realize that preserved lemons, traditionally made from Moroccan citron beldi, are very much an acquired taste. Cured in salt they are, unsurprisingly, extremely salty (although you can easily address that by rinsing them under water, only using their rind and/or briefly blanching them in boiling water). At the same time, they are also very fragrant, with a similar aroma to bergamot lemons.
Beyond their more traditional applications in Moroccan cooking, preserved lemons are a fantastic addition to many other dishes – be it as a substitute for fresh lemons in garlic yoghurt or in gremolata, used in a simple sauce to dress grilled fish, and even in pasta (for example, I really like making a tuna, green olive (especially buttery Castelvetrano) and preserved lemon ragú inspired by a lamb pasta dish I had at Tail Up Goat in Washington D.C. many years ago). And here, they provide an intensely fragrant and sherbetty lemon flavour to a loaf cake that is both familiar yet intriguing and a recipe I know I will turn to time and time again.
PS: I never meant to let this blog go quiet for as long as I did but life (quite literally) got in the way these last few months – I am expecting my first child this summer and it turns out that growing another human being leaves little extra energy besides eating, sleeping and working for things like recipe testing, photographing and writing. But now that the famed second trimester energy is here, I am hoping to be back in this space a bit more regularly (at least before the newborn sleep deprivation hits!).
Preserved Lemon Drizzle Loaf
For the cake
275g all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
100g Greek yoghurt
2 preserved lemon, cut into bite sized chunks and rinsed well
Zest of 1 lemon
150ml sunflower oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
For the drizzle
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp sugar
For the glaze
125g icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and butter a loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
Whisk together the flour with the baking powder and set aside.
In a food processor (or in a mixing jug using an immersion blender), blend the Greek yoghurt with the preserved lemon and the lemon zest. Set aside.
Beat the eggs with the sugar until light and fluffy, ca. 5 minutes. Continue beating while you slowly pour in the oil.
Once all the oil has been absorbed, stir in the Greek yoghurt and lemon mix.
Lastly, fold in the flour.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake the cake for ca. 65-70 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
In the last 5 minutes or so of the cake baking, prepare the drizzle – in a small saucepan heat the water, lemon juice and sugar until the sugar has fully dissolved.
Once the cake is out of the oven, pierce it all over with a wooden skewer and brush on the drizzle until there is nothing left of the syrup.
Wait for 5-10 minutes before carefully removing the cake from the loaf pan and placing it on a rack to come to room temperature.
For the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar and milk until smooth, then slowly spread all over the cake.
The cake will keep at room temperature for 4-5 days.