Unlike one of my friends who has a passionate love for lemon desserts (her favorite cookie is lemon, of all the flavors out there), I feel solid meh about citrus candy. Don’t get me wrong, I like a sweet and spicy lemon bar or slice of lemon cream pie as much as the next person – assuming the next person is cool with citrus fruits – but I would certainly go for a decadent chocolate number if I had the choice. What makes me so … ambivalent about lemon, especially about lemon cake? I enjoyed and cherished them, but they have never topped a list for me.
So I decided to face both a culinary and personal challenge: could I create a lemon cake that I really loved? Could I shake my indifference and mixed feelings? My goal was not only to have an unforgettable, delicious lemon cake, but also to know that I, too, could be a citrus dessert person if I tried.
Starbucks’ iconic lemon ice cream bread – the overly sweet, one-dimensionally flavorful, yellow-tinged leg that can be seen in locations around the world – shows what I find problematic about many lemon cakes. They tend to invade the area of ”I AM A LEMON CAKE”: aromatic, yes, but also on one little too strong, aggressively bright and erring, either too sweet or too mouthful. Accompanying ingredients like blueberries and ginger are often lost in the mix, overshadowed and underestimated.
To solve this problem, I wondered if I could make lemon the secondary, complementary flavor in his cake of the same name (last time I checked there weren’t any rules prohibiting this). Instead of turning to the spices or herbs commonly associated with lemon, I wanted to investigate the possibility of citrus pairing on citrus. Could two citrus fruits coexist and even work together in the same cake? So I landed on yuja (also known as yuzu) in the form of a Korean lemon tea with glasses – which, to put it clearly, is a kind of tangy jam with honey tips. My guess was that, unlike orange or lemon-flavored grefruit, for example, yuja could fuse instead of being in contradiction to it.
I have to report that my stomach has not misled me. Yuja works in two ways in this cake recipe: If you strain the tea beforehand, you will get a smooth, syrupy jam with the batter as well as pieces of lemon zest for garnishing later. There’s still a bit of lemon juice and lemon zest in the cake (technically it’s a lemon cake, after all) but it’s a pleasantly subtle lemon flavor that adds to the complexity of the yuja rather than weighing the stage. Yuja’s unique brightness is particularly evident in the whipped cream, which is only sweetened with the jam, and in the concentrated yuja peel that tops the cake and gives it a nice citrus flavor.
This is a no-frills spring cake – single-layer and cozy, yet elegant and nuanced – that can decorate your dessert table and Keep yourself company for another afternoon of Zoom meetings. It’s citric but balanced, surprisingly complex, and a bit luxurious. And it made me realize that I was am a fan of lemon cake; It was only necessary to reinterpret the classic with a different taste. I would prefer this happy lemon yuja cake to chocolate every day – extra whipped cream, please.
Lemon yuja cake
Yield: A 9 inch round cake
For the cake:
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (120 grams) of all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon peel, depending on how much lemon flavor you like
2 large eggs at room temperature
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons of lemon tea (yuja), such as This one here (Strain the bowl and seeds before measuring and save the bowl for garnish.)
½ cup (120 grams) high fat sour cream at room temperature
Just under ¼ cup (40 grams) of whole milk at room temperature
For the yuja cream:
1 cup heavy whipped cream, cold
3 tablespoons of lemon tea (yuja) (strain off the peel and seeds before measuring and save the peel for garnish)
Pinch of kosher salt
Yuja peels out of the tea that was reserved after sifting
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom with parchment, and grease the parchment. Place the cake pan on a baking sheet.
Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking powder, and salt. Put aside.
Step 3: In a large bowl, stir the butter with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until smooth. Add the sugar and lemon zest and cream the mixture until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Cut off the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 4: Add the eggs one at a time and beat until they combine after each addition. Scre the bowl again, then whip the almond extract (if used), lemon juice, and strained yuja tea until smooth.
Step 5: Sift half of the dry ingredients over the butter mixture and beat until just combined (a few flour stains are fine). Carefully stir in the sour cream and milk, then sift the remaining dry ingredients and stir until everything is well mixed and the batter is smooth. Be careful not to mix too much.
Step 6: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a small offset spatula or rubber spatula.
Step 7: Gently slide the pan and baking sheet into the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating the pan in half until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully loosen the edges by running a small offset spatula or paring knife around the edge. Gently turn the cake onto a cooling shelf.
Step 8: While the cake is cooling, make the yuja cream: combine the cream, the strained yuja tea and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the cream for about 1 to 2 minutes until soft to medium peaks form.
Step 9: When the cake has cooled completely, spread the whipped cream on top and garnish with the reserved yuja bowl.
Note: If you plan to eat the cake over a few days, I recommend wrapping the unfrozen cake tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature, then slicing it and adding it to the whipped cream and garnishing for serving. If you store the assembled cake (covered) in the refrigerator, let it soften at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes before enjoying.