If Life Hands You Lemons, Make Cake: Lemon Upside-Down Cake

Recently I bought some Meyer lemons at Whole Foods purely on impulse. Needing some way to put them to use, I looked for a recipe to showcase the flavor of the fruit. While there are many recipes written specifically for Meyer lemons, I decided to go with one that was not, a Lemon Upside-Down Cake that was on the list of the Los Angeles Times' 2007 top ten list of recipes. Since it features slices of fruit, I figured that it was a perfect use for this sweeter variety of lemon.

You make this cake in a cast iron skillet. I melted butter in the pan, brushed some of the butter up the sides, combined the rest of the butter with brown sugar and spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan, and arranged overlapping slices of Meyer lemon on top. When I decided to make this recipe, I envisioned using our Benriner mandoline to whip out paper thin slices of lemon. I found out that using the mandoline was a mistake, because it squashed the interior of the fruit. So I cut the lemon slices with a knife.

You top the lemons with a batter made from butter, vanilla bean seeds, granulated sugar, lemon zest, eggs, milk, flour, baking powder, and salt. You bake the cake, let it cool for five minutes, and then invert it onto a serving plate.

There was relatively little liquid in the pan when I inverted the cake, so the process was fairly neat. I was bringing the cake to an office party, so I made it the night ahead and served it at room temperature the next day. Slicing through the lemons was a bit difficult, but I used a serrated bread knife to gently saw through the lemons without tearing them. The interior of the cake was bright white, speckled with tiny vanilla seeds, and had a fine, tight crumb.

The caption of the photo that appears online with the recipe describes this cake as having a "marmalade-like" top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it). That characterization is spot on. The fruit itself provides a sharp bite, but the cake right underneath it is soaked with brown sugar and butter and has a jammy consistency. The flavors of the vanilla cake, the sweet jammy layer, and the tart lemon slices are nicely balanced and simply delicious together. Even though Meyer lemons are sweeter than common lemons, the lemon slices were still puckery sour, but I appreciated the strong flavor and texture that they contributed to the cake.

Overall, this cake is quite interesting and unusual, not to mention beautiful. I have to say that 2007 was a good year for recipes from the Los Angeles Times, because I have made the other cake from that year's top ten list -- the Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Caramel Glaze -- and it was also amazing, although Tom says that he likes the lemon cake even more. I really need to work my way though the rest of the dessert recipes from the L.A. Times' recipe vault!

Recipe: "Lemon Upside-Down Cake" from the Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2007.


Louise said…
If you still have Meyer Lemons and like Lemon Pudding Cake, try this http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/reviews/Lemon-Pudding-Cake-with-Raspberry-Sauce-101375 Not the recipe given, but the one from A Cook in Fresno. I use 1/3 cup flour and bake it in 6 1-cup ramekins for 35 min. It gets high marks every time.