Lemon Cake

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One of my favourite cakes to make at this time of the year is the Clementine Cake from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, a cake which Nigella has quoted as being one of the most popular from her first cookbook, one which happens to be a firm favourite for me – I have 3 copies (UK, US and iPad version) just to prove my point.

The Clementine Cake is made from cooking a few whole clementines for a few hours until they are soft and capable of being mashed to a pulp, to which you add a whole carton of eggs, some sugar, almond meal and baking powder. Using the whole fruit means that you get maximum flavour for your cake, not to mention a very moist one. I love this cake because it lends itself well to many occasions, whether as a rustic cake for afternoon tea, a dessert with some crème fraîche or wrapped up to take to the park for a picnic. I’ve even left out the baking powder to make it a gluten-free cake when required.

Although clementines are abundant and in season at the moment, I happen to love the lemon variation which Nigella offers. If you love lemon cake, I don’t think you can find a more lemony lemon cake than this. And especially at this time of year in the middle of Europe, a welcoming lemon cake is just the burst of sunshine you need on those grey and gloomy wintry days.

Given that this cake is comprised mostly of whole lemons, it makes sense to use the best-quality lemons you can find. That said, the disadvantage of using organic lemons is having to pick out the millions of seeds. Some of the seeds will be pulverised in the food processor, but many will remain in the purée. My preference is to pick them out unless you want a seed-studded cake.

Another (not very scientific) finding of mine, gathered from the many occasions upon which I have made this cake, is to use fewer but slightly larger fruit, rather than more and smaller fruit. In other words, it is better to use 3 medium-sized lemons than 4 little ones. The same rationale applies also if you wish to use oranges or clementines in place of the lemons. I find that what you want to avoid is having too much skin which can make the overall cake taste a bit bitter. To that end, I also choose fruit which has a fairly thin peel which you can easily gauge by feeling the fruit; a thick peel means more pith, which means more bitterness. Don’t worry too much about this though – if the fruit tastes good, you’re off to a good start.

Lemon-Cake-3

And as for cooking the lemons, you can follow the instructions as per Nigella’s recipe and cook them in simmering water for about an hour, or you can zap them in the microwave for a few minutes. I have read about the latter method from a few people who claimed to have saved lots of time and energy (literally) when making this cake. I don’t own a microwave so I can’t comment, but one thing for sure is that you will miss out on perfuming your kitchen with the wonderful citrus aroma.

Being a very moist cake, there is a tendency for the cake to be quite “wet”, particularly in the centre. I just bake it until a metal skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean and is not sticky to touch. But baking the cake in a ring tin eliminates this problem entirely.

The cake keeps quite well for a few days in a covered container, but I would be extra careful in warmer weather; this cake does not like warm and humid temperatures, meaning that it will go mouldy rather quickly if it is not kept in a cool place.

As this Lemon Cake is merely a variation of the original Clementine Cake (which, in turn, is based on Claudia Roden’s Orange Cake), it goes without saying that you can use the same weight of almost any citrus fruit in this cake. For oranges and clementines, you should reduce the sugar to 225 g and cook the fruit for about 2 hours. I have found that lemons require less time than oranges and clementines to cook, mostly because lemons are generally smaller. You should cook the fruit until it breaks easily upon the touch of a spoon. If you cook the fruit for too long, they will start to break down, releasing some of their flavour into the cooking water.

I realise now that I seem to have provided a lot of “tips” for what is, in effect, a really simple cake. But having discussed this cake at length on various food forums over the years, I thought it would be helpful to document my two cents worth here 🙂

46 Comments

  1. Jo 12 January 2012

    No butter??? Count me in! My hubby adores Madeira cake which is often a touch lemony so I think I have to bake this this weekend, maybe even tomorrow. I feel like treating him to something I know he’ll love :). Gawjus as ever hunny buns x

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Are you referring to the Madeira Cake in HTBADG? That’s another favourite of mine, though I have many favourites 🙂 And yes, surprisingly there is no butter in this cake, unless you count the butter used to grease the tin. Although there is a fair amount of eggs and sugar, given that the main ingredient is fruit, I think you could call this a healthy cake 🙂

      Reply
      • Jo 13 January 2012

        Exactly what I was thinking Thanh – remember, almonds turn on fat burning genes, this cake will clearly make you LOSE weight as you eat it 😉

        Strangely I’ve never made the Madeira from HTBADG despite Hungry Hubby’s penchant for the store bought cake (sorry foodie pals!). Think he’ll prefer this one though – am about to go out and will bring home said lemons this morning 🙂

        Reply
        • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

          No need to apologise at all! I must also confess that I love the madeira cake which I used to buy from the supermarket when I lived in Australia – I think it was made by Top Taste. It was surprisingly moist and really flavourful that I would eat several slices in one sitting! You know, faced with the choice between the Top Taste version and a Nigella’s madeira cake, I think I would have a hard time deciding!

          Reply
  2. Caroline 13 January 2012

    Have you never made this Jo? This was the first cake I baked I think or at least one of the first five. I remain in love with it ever since. Glad to know it works in a bundt cake. You can get gluten free baking powder Thanh. Lovely piccies and i adore your enamel colander. All the tips are great too, especially the ones about the size of fruit.

    Reply
    • Jo 13 January 2012

      No hun, never made this or the clementine cake! Think my first ever Nigella cake recipe was the brownies in Express! I’m going to buy lemons later as I really want to make this today 🙂

      Reply
      • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

        Jodie – You’ve never made the Clementine Cake? Like Carrie, it was also one of the first things I made from HTE. I’m so excited that you’re going to try this lemon version as I personally prefer it to the clementine version, though I make both quite regularly depending on what’s in the fruit bowl. Please let me know what you think of this cake!

        Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Hi Carrie! Thanks for your lovely compliments 🙂 I know you can buy gluten-free baking powder but it’s not readily available in Switzerland and I think I would only use it once in a blue moon. But I was relieved to find that the recipe worked fine without the baking powder 🙂 It obviously just doesn’t rise as much. The colander is actually ceramic and I use it more as a fruit bowl because it is so lovely that I always want to keep it on display!

      Reply
  3. Anita Menon 13 January 2012

    No butter , no flour. I am sold. Thanks for the wonderful tip. I find that for certain recipes the middle of cake doesn’t really rise that well as compared to the rest of the cake. Using a ring eliminates that chance and that is such a wonderful wonderful idea!
    The lemon cake looks most interesting. I am bookmarking this.

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Hi Anita! Given that I make this cake so often (no one has told me to stop just yet!), I’ve been experimenting with different cake tins, just to vary things a little. A ring tin can indeed eliminate problems with cakes which sink a little in the centre or are prone to being slightly undercooked. I hope you will get to try this cake or a version of it!

      Reply
  4. Sam-I-am 13 January 2012

    I have made the Clementine Cake several times, and you are right Creme, the smell of the house when boiling the citrus fruit for hours is just heavenly. I know 7 minutes in the microwave is supposed to do it, but I just can’t bring myself to do it! Beautiful post in every aspect as always! Thx. S x

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Hello Sam!! Lovely to see you here as always 🙂 I agree that the lovely aroma from cooking the fruit would be enough for me to avoid the microwave method. But if you’re pushed for time, I guess it’s good to know of an alternative method. I hope you will try the lemon version one day 🙂

      Reply
  5. sopa boba 13 January 2012

    fantastic, I´d like a little piece to have breakfast now, congratulations

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Hello! I happen to have been having a slice at breakfast each morning this week with my cup of tea. I love dessert at breakfast 🙂

      Reply
  6. Julia 13 January 2012

    Ahhh been making this sort of cake since before nigella was a twinkle in her publishers eye!!! It truly is a wonderful cake and is traditional to serve at pesach. Ive had the mould problem and would keep in the fridge next time. I love the idea of making it in a ring mould, do you know what size yours is.

    Love this post, gorgeous bright and sunny all of them.

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Hi Julia! Yes, I think this recipe has been around longer than Nigella, though she has been quite successful in putting her name to the clementine version. The ring mould I use is 20cm. My 20cm cake tin actually came with a ring insert which has been quite handy, sort of like two cake tins in one 🙂 I think the fridge is also a good idea in warmer weather, or just making sure that the cake is eaten within a day or two! Thanks again for popping by 🙂

      Reply
  7. Csilla 13 January 2012

    Oooh it really looks very moist, indeed!! I’ve been on a lemon kick lately, so it’d make an excellent addition to that series 😉 I mean, as soon as I get my oven back, hopefully fixed.
    ps. do you think it’d be too much if i added a layer of lemon cream or curd or a poppy seed butter cream inside of the cake?

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 13 January 2012

      Hi Csilla! I hope your oven will be up and running soon – I don’t know what I would do without mine! I think this cake would be a bit too dense to be supported by any curd or buttercream filling, such that any filling might ooze out to the sides. But I would definitely serve some lemon cream or curd on the side – that sounds delicious!

      Reply
  8. Denise 13 January 2012

    So funny: I made a version of this cake just yesterday! Will be in a post next week. Loving this recipe too:)

    Reply
  9. Me And My Sweets 13 January 2012

    it’s sound wonderful! I really have to try this recipe! Btw, your blog is very very nice looking!!

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 14 January 2012

      Thank you! 🙂 I’ve just had a quick peek at your blog and it’s very cute!

      Reply
  10. Amber 14 January 2012

    Looks and sounds delicious!! I am a huge fan of lemon so I can’t wait to try this. I’m going to have to wait a bit because my friend made this http://www.pauladeen.com/recipes/view2/gooey_butter_cake for dessert yesterday and I couldn’t stop eating it. No cake until February for me! I will come back to this recipe though 🙂

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 16 January 2012

      Wow, that cake sounds really decadent but it must be heavenly! I’ve always been intrigued by Paula Deen but have never tried any of her recipes.

      Reply
  11. The Food Sage 15 January 2012

    I’m always on the look-out for good lemon cake recipes. Thanks for sharing this one.

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 16 January 2012

      Hello! Lovely to see you back 🙂 Hope you’ll get to try this recipe sometime.

      Reply
  12. NYinRome 15 January 2012

    Hellooo oh I am soo delighted to have popped in as I am without a computer recently and only have got loaned this notebook for a few days now. I joined the Nigella forum when there was alot of discussion going on about the clementine cake, and do remember all the chat and comments, and I made it and fell in love with it instantly. I also recall you always describing how good it was made with lemons and how much you prefered it. I am now loaded with lemons and have just said to hubby earlier, what shall I bake today? something lemony and citrus-y…no cravings for chocolate or creams after the holidays for sure….now this is going to do it.
    Creme, I have been following your so very gorgeous and charming posts (the ceramic shop blew me away) but haven´t been able to comment and let you know how much I am enjoying them all and how your blog is a burst of fresh air from your photography to your writing and design…..I find it so charming and refreshing and warm. It has and is becoming more so, a lovely place to visit. Complimenti 🙂 oh my i´ve gotten carried away :S

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 16 January 2012

      Hello!! So wonderful to see you here 🙂 I remember the many threads from the Nigella forum discussing this cake and I think only I and a few other people had tried the lemon version. If I ever had a lemon tree in my garden (how wonderful would that be?!), I think would be making this cake every week! It is indeed a great way to use up lemons. If you liked the clementine cake, I think you would also like the lemon version.

      Thank you so much for your lovely compliments! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoy visiting my blog because I also like it here very much 🙂 It’s really nice to know that other people enjoy reading my posts – it makes the many hours that I spend here worthwhile, so thank you again!

      Reply
  13. Reem | Simply Reem 16 January 2012

    This looks perfect!!!
    Can you believe it I have not tried this cake yet and I proclaim myself as a true Nigella follower….
    God your cake look so very well done, moist and rich…. Delicious…

    I am on a cake spree these days will try this one… Beautiful!!!

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 16 January 2012

      Hello Reem! Oh don’t be too hard on yourself 😉 I’m also a big Nigella fan and have yet to try many of her recipes, despite owning all of her books. I find that, once I discover a recipe which I really like, I end up making it over and over again, to the detriment of trying new recipes. But this cake is indeed worth making again and again, which I have done for perhaps 10 years now! Please let me know if you do this cake – I would love to hear your thoughts.

      Reply
  14. Me and My Sweets 16 January 2012

    Hi!

    I’ve baked the cake and it’s such a lovely cake! However, I used a bit too much skin so it came out a bit too bitter for my taste, but I really loved the juicyness of the cake. I linked back to your blog, from my post, hope that’s ok.

    http://meandmysweets.blogspot.com/2012/01/lemon-cake.html

    Johanna

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 16 January 2012

      Hi Johanna! I’m so happy to hear that you tried this cake, but a bit disappointed for you that it came out a bit bitter. I wonder if perhaps the lemons were not cooked for long enough? It should be soft enough that it breaks easily when you touch it with a spoon. Thanks for the link to your lovely blog!

      Reply
  15. Gerry 25 March 2012

    I just made a different whole lemon cake today & it’s directions may solve your seed & time problems. It has you thinly slice the lemons – which lets you easily pick out seeds as well as boil faster – only 15 min or so, more if you like. It was wonderful!

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 25 March 2012

      Hi Gerry! This sounds like an interesting recipe. May I ask who’s recipe it is? Slicing the lemons would certainly cut down on the cooking time – a big plus – but I wonder if you would lose some of the flavour from the lemons in the cooking water? But if you are only cooking them for 15 mins or so, I guess this might not be a big problem. Thank you for letting us know about this suggestion!

      Reply
  16. Tania 15 May 2012

    Hi, please tell me what almond meal is?

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 15 May 2012

      Hi Tania,

      Almond meal is ground almonds. Most supermarkets stock this alongside the nuts and dried fruits. You can usually buy two sorts of almond meal – one produced from peeled almonds which give a pale, yellow colour when ground, and one produced from almonds with the skin where you will have flecks of brown. Both taste pretty much the same but using the latter will also mean that your cakes will have little flecks of brown throughout.

      If you can’t find almond meal in the shops, you can simply finely chop whole almonds in a food processor.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply
  17. Conni 24 October 2012

    I absolutely love Meyer lemons so when I saw this post I marked it and put it aside until I could get some Meyer lemons. Today I was finally able to get lemons and have already made this cake. Oh my goodness! Sooo easy and delicious! My heart is full and I can now go to bed with a smile permanently fixed on my face. Thanks for such a wonderful post and recipe.

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 24 October 2012

      Oh how lucky you are to find Meyer lemons! They would indeed be really lovely in this cake. Thanks for coming back to let me know that you tried this recipe!

      Reply
  18. Jane 12 February 2013

    Hi, I have my lemons on the boil/simmer! just wondering if you know if this cake is ok to cut and freeze?

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 15 February 2013

      I don’t ever freeze my cakes so I can’t answer your question. However, I have asked around and the consensus seems to be that you can freeze this cake. Otherwise, it is a cake which keeps really well. I hope you enjoyed this lemon cake!

      Reply
  19. […] whole meyer lemon cake (adapted from eat, little bird) […]

    Reply
  20. Nic 9 June 2013

    My lemon tree has so much fruit on it that I decided to give this recipe a try, well I am now in to my third weekend of baking these cakes for family, friends and my work colleagues! Wow! It’s just gorgeous to eat and makes the house smell wonderful especially in the winter months of Perth, WA. Thank you for posting your blog, your recipes and photo’s are quite lovely.

    Reply
    • eat, little bird 10 June 2013

      Hi Nic,
      Thank you for your lovely feedback! How lucky you are to have your own lemon tree. This would indeed be a great recipe to put some of those lemons to use, and your friends and family are very lucky to have you 🙂

      Reply
  21. Faith 22 August 2014

    WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching
    for lemon cake

    Reply
  22. Mina 19 January 2015

    Is there anything I can use instead of almond meal as I am allergic to all nuts?

    Reply
    • Eat, Little Bird 19 January 2015

      I’ve only tried this recipe using almond meal, so I’m afraid I can’t help in suggesting any substitutes.

      Reply

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