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Blingtime for lemons

Let this season's precious fewer fruits sparkle and shine in desserts that make the most of every sweet-tart bit of golden citrus.

March 14, 2007|Susan LaTempa and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

PILED high in a big bowl on the kitchen counter, flamboyantly yellow lemons are usually eye-catching accidental still-life artworks this time of year. Their pure, primary colors and shapes warm the room. But this season, after the citrus-freezing weather, lemons have become little luxuries. Maybe we should be displaying them one at a time in velvet-lined cases.

It's a new way of thinking about an everyday ingredient. And the lemon stands up to the scrutiny, of course. Every bit of the fruit is precious to the cook -- the peel (rich in aromatic oil), the tart flesh -- nothing need be discarded. Instead, showcase the lemons you've lovingly selected at the farmers market in these three desserts that make the most of the fruit's unique panoply of flavors and textures.

A lemon upside-down cake with a deliriously marmalade-like topping was inspired by an orange and cardamom upside-down cake recipe from David Lebovitz, a longtime pastry chef at Chez Panisse (the recipe is on his website, www.davidlebovitz.com).

A Shaker lemon pie, adapted from a recipe by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson ("Tartine"), is an unusual two-crust creation with the elegant combination of simplicity and beauty (or in this case, deliciousness) that informs the Shaker ethos. Both use lemon slices, rind and all, and can be made with regular or Meyer lemons (those mellow, thin-skinned beauties).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 15, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Lemon upside-down cake: An article on lemon desserts in the Food section on Wednesday included a recipe for lemon upside-down cake that called for 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter. In fact, one cup plus 2 tablespoons of butter is 2 1/4 sticks. For the corrected recipe, please go to latimes.com/food.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 16, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Lemon upside-down cake: A correction Thursday for the lemon upside-down cake recipe in Wednesday's Food section gave the wrong amount of butter. The correction should have said that the correct measurement for the recipe is one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter. For the corrected recipe, please go to latimes.com/food.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 21, 2007 Home Edition Food Part F Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Lemon upside-down cake: A March 14 article on lemon desserts included a recipe for lemon upside-down cake that called for 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter. It should have said one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter. For the corrected recipe, please go to latimes.com/food.

Meyer lemon muffins use chopped lemons in the batter and are each topped with a lemon slice that becomes almost candied as the muffins bake.

Each recipe calls for a slightly different approach to using whole lemons.

For the Shaker pie, cut the lemons into paper-thin slices at least three hours before you plan to bake (or the night before), toss with sugar, and let set. This tenderizes the peel. This step is not necessary if you're using Meyers. The result will be a tangy filling with beautifully textured bits of fruits suspended in lemon curd.

Sliced lemons and grated peel account for the zesty flavor of the lemon upside-down cake, which pairs a classic vanilla cake with a not-too-sweet topping for a satisfyingly adult dessert. Select small lemons for this cake; they're the ideal size. Arrange about 30 slices, overlapping, in a mixture of melted butter and brown sugar in a 10-inch skillet. Top the fruit mixture with cake batter, and bake.

When the cake is done baking, it's inverted onto a serving plate and the top magically displays a lovely arrangement of caramelized lemon slices.

Our recipe for Meyer lemon muffins calls for Ceylon cinnamon, and is worth looking for, (although regular cinnamon may be substituted). Ceylon cinnamon, or "true" cinnamon, is made from a different tree than the commonly used cassia cinnamon, and has a delicate flavor with citrus overtones that will underline the floral flavor of the Meyer lemons.

Use a blender or food processor to chop the Meyer lemons to be incorporated into the batter, but pulse briefly and do not allow the fruit to turn into puree. You want to see bits of peel in the muffins when you bite into them.

Each muffin is topped with a lemon slice and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar -- a jaunty advertisement of the citrusy pleasures within.

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susan.latempa@latimes.com

donna.deane@latimes.com

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On the Web

Technique: For a guide with step-by-step photos of making and unmolding an upside-down cake with a marmalade-like top, go to latimes.com/food.

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Meyer lemon muffins

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: Makes 18 muffins

Note: From Times test kitchen director Donna Deane. Ceylon cinnamon (also called "true" cinnamon) has citrus overtones and a delicate, complex flavor. It's available in specialty stores including Penzey's Spices in Torrance, (310) 406-3877; www.penzeys.com. You may substitute one-eighth teaspoon ground cassia cinnamon.

2 cups flour

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3 Meyer lemons, divided

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Cut two lemons into 1-inch pieces. Put them in a blender and pulse until the lemon is finely chopped. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk, butter and chopped lemon. Stir.

3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the lemon mixture. Stir just until all ingredients are moistened.

4. Spoon the batter into well-buttered cups of muffin pans, filling each half full.

5. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle about one-fourth teaspoon over each muffin. Cut the remaining lemon into 9 paper-thin slices; cut each slice in half. Top each muffin with half a slice of lemon.

6. Bake about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Run a small spatula or knife around each of the muffins to loosen, remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

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