These are no ordinary lemons. They are Meyer lemons, big and blowsy, a deep yellowy-orange, the colour of fresh egg yolk. The smell and feel are both quite different to the pocked and gnarly Eureka, say: smoother, sweeter, riper, heavier in the hand. They are poreless, and at times almost round, and their leaves are dark and glossy. And they came from our friends’ garden. Before we got to the lemon tree, I was taken on a tour by their eight-year-old daughter, who picked me a posy of clover to eat (peppery) and we examined the orange tree we had given them as a present, which was actually two trees grafted on to one root. Their avocado tree was huge with leaves like big, green jazz hands. There were no more avocados though, so we stood and admired the foliage.
The lemon tree was matted with cobwebs. There was a birdhouse that hung from one of the branches which looked as though it had its own hammock, so cleverly had the house been divided by the spider’s yarn. When we brought the lemons home and lifted them out, spiders skittered over the surfaces of the fruit, unmoored. I liked the way that parts of the tree were still attached; bits of branch, leaves sprouting, as if the fruit was still in the throes of living.
We are back to the stagnant heat again. All this week there will be nothing to break the seal. The air is utterly still where we are, and at night one feels cloaked in it. The only place to be is the coast where there is a sea mist and a breeze. Inland we are engulfed; like characters from a Tennessee Williams play, we are bathed in a halo of glowing sweat. It seems the next logical step is a silk negligee and a bottle of scotch.
Although it may seem strange, being in the kitchen at times like this is actually a reprieve. Inside is cooler. Of course, if you have a glut of lemons, making lemonade would be perfect on days like these: a jug filled with ice and mint, frothing with syrupy lemon fizz. But this is a light cake and goes well with fresh seasonal fruit (the first apricots are in). I wanted to do something sufficiently involving and I liked the processes involved. I have made this flourless; it gives it a lovely dampness and it goes down beautifully. (In fact I wanted to call this post Rising Damp because the memory made me smile but I couldn’t fit it all in).
I blanched, roasted and ground the almonds myself – it makes a difference if you like uneven nuttiness in a cake, which I profess I do. It doesn’t rise and fall quite as dramatically as other ‘broken’ cakes I have featured, such as the chocolate marmalade slump cake and the bitter chocolate olive oil cake but it has the same softly flattened character.
Lemon, almond, olive oil cake
Adapted (almost beyond recognition) from Pastry Studio
I am quite hardcore here about the almond preparation but using a packet of already ground almonds is totally acceptable. Give them a gentle toast in a frying pan beforehand to release flavour. If you are using regular lemons, the cake will generally be sharper and taste more lemony.
5 free range eggs, separated
150g (5½ oz) sugar, divided
175ml (6 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
175g (6 oz) blanched, toasted and ground almonds
½ tsp salt
1 tbs sugar, for the top of the cake
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Lightly grease a 23cm (9in) cake tin with olive oil and line with parchment.
Beat the yolks and just under half of the sugar until thick and pale. Reduce the whisk to medium speed and drizzle in the olive oil. Then add the lemon juice and zest. The mixture may look a bit sloppy. Sift half the ground almonds into the batter and fold in gently. Sift in the remaining almonds until combined, making sure to lift up the batter from the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Slowly rain in the rest of the sugar until they hold a soft, satiny peak. Fold a third of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter, then fold in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and gently tap the bottom on to a work surface to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle the 1 tbs of sugar on to the top of the cake (don’t omit this as it gives the cake a nice crunch). Bake until the cake is puffed and golden – about 30 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Release the cake and let it cool completely. Gently invert the cake and remove the paper. Serve with some crème fraîche and some poached apricots or other seasonal fruit.