Meyer lemons. Spring. Triple layer cake. Meringue. Curd. Laughter. Tears. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Family. Easter.
Whew. After a whirlwind weekend, I thought I’d share a few things with ya’ll since I was thinking of you all weekend anyway. It’s true. First off, let me say that Easter holiday is very special to me. It’s a time of year when I count my blessings and give all the praise to the One who deserves my thanks. For me the world would be a very dark, dismal and downright scary place to live, and I do not for one minute forget what He has done for me. I know, there are those of you who are not believers, and you might not understand all of this or even want to, but this I know for sure. He Is Risen. He is Risen Indeed. And oh, how He loves us so. Whether we want Him to or not.
So. Easter. The mere mention of it sets me in a mood for something most definitely sunny. And that thing is lemon curd. Meyer lemon curd, to be precise. Have you ever had a Meyer lemon?
Oh sweet thing, if you have I’m sure you are changed forever. I am. If you haven’t, then let me tell you a story so you understand. Years ago I lived in the San Fransico Bay area, when I was an art teacher for a charter school. I’d taken a teaching contract in East Palo Alto, California, and had to move from Reno, where my family was, to San Mateo, where my step sister lived.
She so very nicely said I could stay with her while I did my training (the corporate kind, where you basically sit on your ass in a hotel conference room for eight hours a day while a corporate trainer places transparency after transparency on an overhead projector, as if you’ll remember any of it when a kid throws a chair on your watch, while you flip through your matching corporate binder with your “team”. All of this while eating bagel after cookie after Diet Coke for three weeks straight. None of us pooped for a month. Really. But that’s another story.) And I did stay with her for a little while, in the basement laundry room, on a fold out couch, and paid her laundry money for my spot. She was kind to do it, and I learned to sleep with the sound of the dryer as my white noise.
I moved three blocks away into a house with a porch, and blue hydrangeas in the garden. It was in San Mateo that I discovered these bright orangish lemons. When I would walk at night (remember the caloric bagels?), inhaling the heavy perfume of star jasmine that hung thickly in the fading summer sun, I would spy several bushes just laden with these lemons, which at the time I thought were small oranges. Upon closer inspection, which had to be accomplished by trespassing, really, into someones yard (sorry!) I discovered the two thin skinned orbs I slid ever so casually into my sweatshirt pockets on one of my walks were not oranges at all. No.
When I laid them on the cutting board and sliced one in half, the most invigorating aroma filled the air. The fragrance was fascinating, at once orange and lemon, and the taste was completely mind blowing. I later found out the Meyer lemon is a cross between a Mandarin orange and a lemon, and was cultivated by the Chinese. In 1908 a man named Frank Meyer, who worked for the USDA, brought a plant back to the States from a trip to China. Hence the name. The fruit became the super foodie rage when Alice Waters and Martha Stewart got a hold of one or two back in the 80s.
So there I was, living in the Bay area, surrounded by all of these neighbors who planted Meyer lemon trees as decoration. That’s right. They hardly used these lovely lemons in their kitchens! Yes! They let these beauties fall to the ground and rot. I know! Which made me feel less guilty about boldly walking to a house the next block up one Sunday afternoon, giant Mervyn’s bag in hand (think of a bag that would hold a queen-sized comforter or lots of beach towels) and rapping on the metal door. The generous man who lived there, in that small little house flanked by two fruit laden trees, said I could have ALL of the fruit, if I wanted. Well my eyes were just bugging out of my head! Encouraged by a welcoming wave of his hand, I started to pick those lemons. And pick. And pick. And pick. Until that bag was straining, so that the word Mervyn’s looked more like this:
M E R V Y N ‘ S
I was running out of room. So I did what I had to do. I stuffed some lemons into my pockets. I stuffed more into the hood of my sweatshirt, which by this time was wrapped around my waist, since I was starting to sweat with the effort of all that picking. And when all of the lemons were secured either on my person or in my overstuffed sack, I started to walk towards my house. Which was now very far, it seemed. So I did what any sensible person would do. I left the bag in his driveway, and sprinted home, the lemons in my sweatshirt hood jiggling and almost falling overboard. I started laughing with heaving breaths, bending over and holding my knees. Then I got into my car, careened around the block and drove those lemons home. I spent the next weekend juicing and zesting, freezing my treasure into little one-cup sized bags.
Now what, you may be asking yourself, did I do with all of that citrusness? Oh you would be amazed at the uses. How about a little Meyer lemon vinaigrette over roasted asparagus with tarragon? Or what do you think of Meyer lemon butter with grilled salmon? Or how about some Meyer lemon scented shortbread cookies? Meyer lemon pie? There are many, many Meyer lemon lessons I could teach you. But this Easter weekend, I decided on a white layer cake, filled with Meyer lemon curd and covered in meringue frosting. I had to. I wanted to taste the flavor of spring, to feel the lightness airiness of the meringue on my tongue, and to celebrate. Laughter. Family. Forgiveness. And the King.
You can find Meyer lemons at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or the yard of your neighbor. Of course you can make half a batch, but then you won’t have any leftover for toast after you’ve filled the cake.
Meyer Lemon Curd
12 local egg yolks (save the whites for the cake frosting)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup Meyer lemon juice (zest all the lemons before juicing)
1 1/2 sticks sweet salted butter
pinch of kosher salt
In a non-reactive saucepan, add the yolks, sugar, zest and juice. You’ll need about 8-9 lemons for this recipe. Stir with a whisk and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until you can coat the back of a wooden spoon with the curd. It will be the texture of heavy whipping cream. Remove from heat. Chop the butter into small pieces and add to the curd, stirring to melt. Transfer to a glass bowl, cover and put in the fridge until chilled. The curd will thicken as it cools.
White Triple Layer Cake with Meringue Frosting
3 1/2 cups cake flour (if you don’t have cake flour use all purpose, but take out 2 tablespoons per cup and replace with cornstarch)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1 2/3 cup whole milk or half and half
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Sift all of the dry ingredients into a bowl. In a mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy and light. Add the eggs and blend. Measure the milk, yogurt, oil and vanilla in a measuring cup. Add to the mixing bowl, alternating the dry and wet ingredients, and blend until smooth, about a minute or two. There should be no lumps, or just a few. Divide the batter into the three pans. The easy way to do this is to use an ice cream scoop, counting the scoops into each pan, starting with six scoops each, then measuring the rest out evenly. Know what I mean? Bake for 22-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter (this stabilizes the frosting so it stays on the cake)
pinch of kosher salt
8-9 egg whites (use the rest for a pitcher of gin fizzes)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Place all but the vanilla in a large glass bowl and set it over a larger pot of simmering water (you just need a few inches of water). This is your new double boiler. Hooray! Use an electric hand mixer to whip this all together on low, then on high speed until the whites are stiff. Add the vanilla. Remove from heat.
Now you will frost. Find a cake plate or a pretty platter. Start with the flattest cake. Remove from the pan and spread with the cooled curd. Add another layer. More curd. Add the third layer. Make sure the cakes are centered. Start piling a big blob of meringue on the top of the cake, and using a flat spreader, lightly frost the top and sides with a generous amount of meringue, swirling as you go. Cover the whole cake. Finish by decorating with Meyer lemon slices, cut in half then twisted, for added drama.
This cake will sit patiently all through a big Easter dinner, or any other dinner, until you slice into it and serve up big lemony slabs to your family and friends. And the best part? This cake is so light you can have another slice in a hour.