Zest for lemons
The versatile Meyer variety complements sweet and savory recipes
BY DANIELLE ROSE
Living in citrus country, fresh-squeezed orange juice and bags of grapefruit are easy to come by all winter long. So when it comes to backyard citrus, I choose a variety I always need but can’t always find: the Meyer lemon. It’s the most versatile citrus, balancing sweet and savory dishes alike, and it’s always welcome in a cocktail. The blossoms rival the scent of frangipanis in the summer, and the branches are weighed down with big, juicy fruit from fall to spring.
I’ve always been partial to key limes, but I’ve come to realize Meyer lemons are the key lime of the lemon world. They both have a delicate perfume that’s both floral and herbaceous, unlike the simple, sharp acidity of their supermarket counterparts. It’s true that Meyer lemons are not quite as acidic as Eureka or Lisbon lemons, but I find they can be used interchangeably in any recipe. The greatest distinction of Meyer lemons is that you can use the whole fruit, from pulp to peel, thanks to its thin skin with hardly a trace of pith.
The Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and a hybrid of mandarin and pomelo. They’re named after Frank N. Meyer, a food explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who encountered them in China where they were grown as ornamentals. He shipped cuttings back to the United States in 1908. They grew in popularity as a backyard fruit, but commercial growers were reluctant to plant them because the fruit’s thin skin makes them fragile and difficult to ship.
Meyer lemon trees like full sun and they thrive in sandy, well-drained soil. They like to be watered well, but infrequently. They naturally grow about 10 feet tall, but they can be pruned to any height, and even thrive and produce in containers and as small shrubs. Once established, they often produce two crops a year; a large crop in the winter and a smaller one in the spring.
Once I’ve steeped peels in vodka for limoncello, frozen juice for months to come and preserved them in jars of salt, I like to end the season with this showstopper: Meyer lemon pound cake. The buttery cake is speckled with lemon zest. Warm lemon syrup is poured over the top as it cools. A lemon glaze cascades over the sides, and even more zest is sprinkled over the top. It’s pure sunshine, inside and out.
Meyer Lemon Pound Cake
2 sticks unsalted butter, plus an additional tablespoon for the pan
1½ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups sugar
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest, plus another teaspoon to sprinkle on top
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
4 large eggs, room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9″x 5″ loaf pan with butter. Cut a 5-inch parchment sling to line the bottom, with an inch overhang. Grease the parchment, too.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Melt the two sticks of butter in a measuring cup.
Place the sugar and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the lemon juice, eggs and vanilla. Pulse a few more times. With the appliance running, slowly drizzle the butter through the top chute.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Slowly stir in the flour mixture one-third at a time, mixing until just combined.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan. Bake an additional 15 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan while you make the lemon syrup.
Meyer lemon syrup
½ cup sugar
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow it to come to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Once the cake has cooled about 10 minutes, run a butter knife around the edges, then gently use the sling to lift it out of the pan. Place it on a cooling rack over a newspaper or a baking sheet to catch the drips.
Poke the top and sides of the cake with a toothpick or skewer, then brush on the lemon syrup. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature while you make the glaze.
Meyer lemon glaze
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
Whisk the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Spread glaze over cake, allowing some to drip down sides. Allow the glaze to set at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Sprinkle on the additional teaspoon of lemon zest just before serving.