Pumpkin Pancakes for a Blustery Pooh-Bear Kind of Day

This weekend the weather has turned.  Blue skies have been traded in for a gray mist and much needed rain.  Relentless winds whip branches and leaves off trees.  It is a blustery, Pooh-bear kind of day.  While the wind makes for a restless sleep for me, I check in on my teenage son and see that he is resting soundly.  I know just what I want to make him for breakfast. Letting sleeping giants lie, I slip out to treat myself to a Starbuck’s Pumpkin Latte and to purchase canned pumpkin, a lemon, and real maple syrup.

Pumpkin Pancakes are perfect for a fall breakfast or Halloween dinner!

I’ve had Pumpkin Pancakes on the brain all week after a search for recipes with pumpkin and lemon as ingredients led me to Chef John’s Pumpkin Pancakes.  I follow the recipe exactly, taking heed to spread the thick batter for each pancake with the back of a spoon as opposed to thinning with more milk.  The results are stunning: full of pumpkin flavor and “way better than regular pancakes” according to my taste tester.  While our pumpkin patch days may be over, there is no doubt that we will have many more Pumpkin Pancake mornings.

Chef John’s Pumpkin Pancakes

2 c. all-purpose flour

Whisk together pumpkin purée, egg oil, lemon juice, zest, spices, and milk before gently folding into dry ingredients.

2 Tbs. brown sugar

1 Tbs. white sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. canned pumpkin purée

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

Pure maple syrup is a must. We were also fortunate to have Dakin Farm’s Maple Butter on hand.

1 egg

1 1/2 c. whole milk

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 Tbs. lemon juice

2 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Combine flour, brown sugar, white sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl, and whisk together for two minutes to aerate.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin purée, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, egg, milk, 2 Tbs. of vegetable oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  3. Mix in the flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Do not overmix.
  4. Coat skillet or griddle with 1 tsp. vegetable oil over medium heat.
  5. Pour batter into skillet and spread out with back of spoon.
  6.  Cook pancakes until golden brown on each side.

Makes 8 large pancakes to serve four…or one growing boy.

Use back of spoon to spread batter for each pancake as opposed to thinning with milk which dilutes the pumpkin flavor.

Once Bitten Twice Shy Lemon-Basil-Macadamia Nut Pesto

I call my sister to see how she’s doing.  The past few months have been rough between setting up a new household, shuffling kids back and forth, and dealing with all the emotional ups and downs of substantial change.  And in spite of breaking two lamps in the move,  countless hours on the phone and still no internet connection, a clogged vacuum from ridding the van of hay for the miniature pony, she is still being industrious—a family  trait—and making homemade pesto from bunches of homegrown basil brought in earlier that day by a coworker.

“I love pesto!  Do you like pesto?” she gushes!  I can practically hear her inhaling the basil as it is being blended with pine nuts and olive oil.  I also hear the whir of the blender in the background.   Ouch!

“Yes,” I agree, holding my cell phone at a distance and yelling into the speaker phone.  “I love pesto, too.”

“And pine nuts!” she continues.  Whirrrrrrr-whirrrr!  Double Ouch!

Get creative with your pesto ingredients.  Lemon juice and zest are a must for bright flavor and color!

Pine nuts, however, I cannot so enthusiastically endorse.  You see, the thought of pine nuts transports me back to a time years when a mysterious metallic taste in my mouth plagues me for weeks.  At its worst when drinking my beloved hot coffee, nothing, absolutely nothing tastes good!  I am sure I am destined to a life of disturbed taste buds.  Payback for….what?  So, doing what we all do when facing a question we don’t know the answer to, I Google.

Within seconds I am one of them and have a new definition of PMS to boot: Pine Mouth Sufferers.  “Damn You Pine Nuts” becomes my best new Facebook friend, home to tons of other folks who share my symptoms.  Here I learn that pickle juice and hot sauce are palatable.   I also learn that the Pine Nut, Pinus armandii, a smaller, duller, and more rounded variety than typical pine nuts is thought to be the culprit (a 2011 study in the Journal of Toxicology finds results consistent with this hypothesis).

Chinese White Pine seeds are harvested and sold as pine nuts. These nuts are responsible for “Pine Mouth Syndrome”. Damn you pine nuts.

Side note: Others suggest the aftertaste could be a difference in how people experience the nut (sort of like how some people’s genes make them prone to odoriferous pee after eating asparagus or some people’s genes allow them to detect the smell while others’ do not!?!).

In any event, while I am not ready to endorse the pine nut anytime soon, I certainly don’t have the heart to douse my sister’s enthusiasm.  Her industrious spirit inspires me  to face the large pot of basil I grew from seed with some sort of plan.  Heading to my Trader Joe’s after work, I buy olive oil and parmesan cheese and…not pine nuts, particularly after reading the new disclaimer on the package which warns:  Some individuals may experience a reaction to eating pine nuts, characterized by a lingering bitter or metallic taste.

Instead, I am drawn to the bag of comparably priced meaty macadamia nuts next to my metallic mouth nemesis.  Macadamia nuts have a creamy texture and mild nutty base perfect for canvasing pesto flavors.  Back up plan in place, I head home to begin my own whirring frenzy.

The fun thing about making pesto is that you don’t have to follow a recipe once you know the basic ingredients.  It’s really about adding and adjusting to your taste and being creative in the process.  Even so, I will share my approximate ratio of ingredients for this metallic free sister inspired batch.

Once Bitten Twice Shy Lemon-Basil-Macadamia Nut Pesto

Five cups or so loosely packed, washed basil leaves
10 oz. dry roasted macadamia nuts
12 oz. freshly shredded Parmesan Cheese
10 or more plump garlic cloves
Juice of two to three Meyer lemons and zest of one (wonderful for flavor and for keeping pesto a vibrant green)
One cup Olive Oil, more or less
Kosher salt to taste

My on-hand Acme Farms and Kitchens Produce Box additions: Green leafy parts of two to three large Swiss Chard leaves (avoid red stemmed variety for color aesthetics), one plump shallot, one large Poblano pepper.

With the exception of kosher salt, olive oil, and cheese, place all other ingredients in food processor.  Slowly add oil while blending. Lastly, blend in cheese and add salt a teaspoon at a time, sampling until desired taste with all ingredients is reached.

Great storage tip: Spray/coat ice-cube trays with canola or olive oil.  Spoon pesto into individual ice-cube wells and freeze.  Once frozen, remove from tray, wrap individually in foil and place in a freezer bag and return to freezer.  Remove a few cubes at a time, defrost, and add to hot steaming pasta for an easy and delicious pesto pasta dinner come winter.

Yield: Three dozen cubes.

Pesto stores well in the freezer.  Seal individual cubes in foil and freeze for useon pizza, pasta, bruschetta or in your favorite Quiche recipe come winter.

Perhaps you have been lucky enough to find a reliable source of pine nuts that don’t leave a bad taste in your mouth–or maybe you are just genetically blessed.  As for me, I’ll be playing it safe from now on.  Once bitten, twice shy.  I think my sister would agree.

Lemon Apple Slaw and Aunt Betty’s Barbeque* Beef

The first day of fall and my Akane and Liberty apple trees are gleaned of their fruit.  That means more apples than I can eat!  I make mention of apple pie but my son is not in the mood for sweets, he says, having filled up on Cowboy Cookies pulled from the freezer.  He is set on having Lemon Chicken again for dinner, however, and the only produce I have on hand besides apples, is a lovely little head of organic green cabbage and, of course, plenty of lemons.

A simple autumnal slaw: cabbage, apples, a lemon, mayo and sugar.

Looks like it’s time for an autumnal slaw.  And, in honor of the equinox, I use equal amounts of cabbage and apples.  🙂  It’s what I’ll be bringing to an 80th birthday party luncheon next weekend as an accompaniment to take our favorite fried chicken from the neighborhood pub.  Yum!  Next time ’round, I’ll make my Aunt Betty’s Barbeque* (see bonus recipe below) to go with.  I can taste it now…

Lemon Apple Slaw

4 cups green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
4 cups chopped apple with peel on
1 c. real mayonnaise
Zest and juice of one lemon (approximately 2-3 Tbs. juice and 2 tsp. zest)
1 Tbs. sugar
1. Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest, and sugar.  Blend until sugar is dissolved.  
2. Mix dressing with cabbage before chopping apples. 
3. Toss apples with cabbage and dressing one cup at a time to prevent apples from browning. 
4. Cover and chill in refrigerator for two hours before serving. 
5. Plate on cabbage leaves and garnish with walnuts and a wedge of lemon  if desired.

Lemon Apple Slaw.  A crisp, zingy accompaniment to your favorite fried chicken or barbeque.

 

Note: This slaw is very versatile.  It can be served as a meal in itself with the addition of a can of albacore tuna, for example.  Like its Waldorf cousin, green grapes and diced celery can be included as well.  The tart and tangy flavor will also go great with any barbeque, particularly my Aunt Betty’s Famous Beef Barbeque, bonus recipe below:

Aunt Betty’s Famous Beef Barbeque (exactly as she has written)

6 lb. boneless chuck roast

1 or 2 large onions

3 bay leaves

3 c. water

Bake at 350 degrees at least 3 hours or until meat easily pulls apart.  Shred, reserving liquid.

Sauce

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

2 1/2 cup liquid from meat

1/2 c dark brown sugar

1/2 c. clear Karo syrup

1/2-1 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 Tbs. dried mustard

Simmer 15 min.; pour over meat; heat.  Aunt Betty says, “I’ve found this makes enough sauce for 12 lbs. of meat.”  Freezes well. 

*Aunt Betty spells barbecue with a “q” and that is correct, too!

Let me remind you of…Lemon Chicken

But first…I shall recount my day.

It is Saturday.  At 9:30 AM my 17-year-old son comes into my room, sits next to me on the bed where I am still sleeping, and–while cuddling the cat–informs me that he has  been up since 7:30 AM, has showered and washed his hair, and is ready to “do something.”  Dressed in the new long sleeve American Eagle shirt that I got him (at 40% off on the back to school say, mind you), he is looking sharp.  And awake.   So, I head down stairs to make a cup of coffee and find that he has already unpacked my Starbucks VIA (I gave up on coffee makers long ago) and put the little packets in the stainless steel creamer pitcher from my grandmother, just like I do.  Clearly, he has already had his cup.

While sipping on my coffee, I make a few calls to family member on the other coast and catch my mother first.

“It is a beautiful day and Drew and I are going to go do something,” I tell her.

“Isn’t it a blessing to be able to say that and with confidence?” she asks.

It is, I agree.  A beautiful day.  Feeling better.  Mother and son time.

Soon after, we head downtown to the Farmer’s Market where we have an early Ethiopian lunch.  The most tender chicken, golden potatoes, and red sauce with nutmeg and cardamom to soak up in the spongy flatbread or injera. 

A delicious Ethiopian lunch at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market.

Tummies full, we stroll through the market, stopping to smell Red Barn’s heavenly lavender soap slices (made by a now retired math teacher) and admiring the heirloom tomatoes at Tiny’s Organic.  It is a beautiful,  warm early fall day and so we head on to our next destination: Stimpson’s Nature Reserve.

Once onto the trail, we pass the beaver pond and hike up a steady incline for a three-mile loop that will take us deep into the forests so typical of the Pacific Northwest.  Tall cedars and hemlocks line a trail that has become dusty after a dry summer…okay, that parts not so typical.   Sunlight streams through the dense forest.

Waiting for Mom to catch up.

Next on our agenda?  My famous Cowboy Cookies, per his request.  (Bonus recipe below, although no lemon is involved).  🙂  Once home, he settles onto his computer, I find a move on HBO (Sommersby) and the baking begins.

A couple of hours and garage cleaning spree later, it is nearing time for dinner.  We contemplate going to the store for some salmon, but he suggests we just “make something we have here.”  Smart boy.

I check the freezer.  “Mini-tacos, tilapia with Cajun seasoning, or chicken?” I offer.

“Chicken,” he replies.  Very smart boy.

I take two skinless/boneless chicken breasts out to thaw and know just what I will make–after we return from walking the dogs, that is.

Two tired and happy dogs later, I wash my hands in warm, sudsy water and am ready to get cookin’.   I scrub and quarter the Yukon Gold Potatoes and rinse and slice the narrow leafed Lacinato Kale from my bi-weekly Acme Farms and Kitchen local and organic Produce Box.  Both go into pots of boiling salted water.

“It’s going to get loud,” I warn before pounding and tenderizing the chicken breasts till they double in size.  I set half a stick of butter in a large skillet to melt while juicing a Meyer lemon. Some of the juice gets poured over the pulverized side of the chicken so that it soaks into the nooks and crannies and the rest gets added the butter in the skillet.  After flouring the chicken breasts on both sides, I place them in the pan to brown.   I sprinkle a little garlic salt on one side and when ready to turn, a little kosher salt on the other.  When the chicken breasts are nearly done, I add a few fresh rosemary leaves from my herb garden to the chicken breasts.

Meanwhile, more butter, kosher salt, and rosemary leaves are added to the potatoes.  The kale is plated with a dab of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.

We eat.  He is hungry and quiet.  Soon, however, he comments, “The chicken is good!”

“It’s easy,” I tell him.  “Lemon Chicken.”

“But what’s that flavor?” he asks.

“The rosemary?” I suggest.

“No, that flavor on the chicken?” he probes, indicating that something more must be making the chicken so tasty.

I take another bite and can taste what he means.

“Fresh squeezed lemon juice,” I tell him.  “It’s amazing how well pure lemon juice goes with chicken,” I say and he nods in agreement.

I promise to show him how to make it next time.  So easy.  So good.

He cleans his plate.

“There is more of everything,” I tell him.

“I think I’ll just have a little dessert now,” he says.

That means Mom’s homemade Cowboy Cookies and Grandma’s Cake Batter Ice Cream.

What else is a growing boy to do?

Cowboy Cookies
1 c. sweet cream butter with salt (microwaved for 15-seconds)
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 c. old-fashioned or steel-cut oats
1 c. rice crispies
1 c. sweetened flaked coconut (optional but chewy good)
1 c. Ghiradelli milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream brown sugar, sugar, and butter.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla and beat till well-blended.  Add flour one cup at a time with soda and salt.  Stir in oatmeal, rice crispies, coconut, and chocolate chips.  Drop by 1 1/2″ cookie scoops onto baking stone or greased cookie sheet.  Bake 12-15 minutes.  When you smell ’em they’re done!  Makes three dozen yummy cookies.

Chewy cowboy Cookies. Chocolate, coconut, rice crispies and oats.

A Pelargonium Point of View

Pelargonium.  Pelargonium.  Pelargonium.  What a lovely and, sadly, underutilized name for an equally lovely plants species more commonly, if not incorrectly, known as “scented geranium.”   While related to geraniums, pelargoniums are in a class of their own and the scented cultivars come in a variety of fragrances: mint, rose, lemon, nutmeg, apricot, ginger, and more.  Just browse through your local nursery and gently rub the leaves to release the essential oils and determine which ones tickles your fancy, er…nose. 

The flowers of Orange Fizz are quite beautiful and, when rubbed, the leaves smell even more citrusy and lemony than those of the lemon pelargonium!  Note the asymmetrical flowers, a distinguishing characteristic that separates pelargoniums from geraniums.

Scented pelargoniums are put to use in recipes both culinary, such as this recipe for Quince Jelly with lemon pelargonium leaves, and cosmetic as in this recipe for Bath Vinegar: 2 oz rosemary, 2 oz rose petals, 2 oz lavender, 2 oz mint, 2 oz rose geranium leaves, 6 cups apple cider or white vinegar, 1 cup rose-water. Mix herbs and flowers together; add vinegar. Bottle and steep in refrigerator for 3-6 weeks. Strain and rebottle. Add a few fresh herb sprigs and the rose-water. Or, just crush a few leaves and add to a hot steeping bath!

For a delightfully easy flavored and scented sugar to enhance teas and recipes, layer your choice of clean, scented pelargonium leaves between layers of sugar and store in an airtight jar for a week before using.  I used the finer castor sugar with two complimentary pelargonium varieties, Lemon and Orange Fizz.  Heavenly!

Layer scented pelargonium leaves and sugar to add flavor and fragrance to your teas and recipes.

Another easy use is to add a few scented leaves to the end of a drier cycle when clothes are hot and the leaves can tumble and transfer their fragrance.  I think the Victorians had the right idea, however, by lining walkways with scented pelargoniums and herbs such as lavender so that when full skirts brushed by, essential oils would be released into the air, imparting their heady fragrance to passersby.   

And while today’s hemlines don’t accommodate such a romantic notion, what could be easier than to plant of pot of your favorite pelargoniums on a patio table so that you can absentmindedly touch their leaves and smell their hidden gifts on a sunny, daydreamy day? 

A Pot o’ Pelargoniums. Left to right: Lemon, Rose Geranium, and Orange Fizz.

Besides having different names, here are some others ways to distinguish a geranium from a pelargonium:

Flowers True geraniums, known as cranesbill in reference to the shape of their fruit, have symmetrical flowers with ten fertile stamens. Pelargoniums, on the other hand, have bilaterally symmetrical flowers with up to seven of the ten stamens fertile. 
Seeds  Geraniums fling their seeds away while Pelargonium seeds float away on the breeze and usually have a ‘feathered ‘ end that Geraniums don’t have.
Perennial vs. Annual  Pelargoniums are tender perennials, usually planted as annuals, and occur naturally almost entirely within South Africa.  Geraniums are perennials that come back each year.
Leaves  Those of true geraniums are usually deeply divided and cut while those of most groups of pelargoniums are not.  Scented pelargoniums are the exception, with leaves that are often deeply dissected and pubescent (fuzzy) which helps them to beat the heat.
Growth Habit  Pelargoniums have rather thick, succulent stems, originating as they do from typically more mounding in form with many slender stems arising from a central core, and fibrous roots.

And lest we lapse in remembering to call the pelargonium by its correct name, consider this point of view penned by Pelargonium Poet Laureate and flower hobbyist/hybridizer Cliff Blackman:

Ode from a Peeved Pelargonium

I am a Pelargonium–it truly is my name.

Please don’t call me geranium–it’s really not the same.

My tribe has many species and lot’s of cultivars, too,

with flowers that are zygomorphic (this seems to be known by few).

I have an adnate nectar tube–a quite distinctive feature–

to entice the bees to my flower as this ensures my future.

 

With a nature that is so friendly and with humans to assist,

my ability to hybridize has been impossible to resist.

I sometimes cross quite easily from the ones that you select,

creating lovely hybrids–those ones you must collect.

 

I have branched to many subgroups which include the popular four:

namely regal, zonal, ivy and angel but there are also many more.

So if you grow my offspring that descend from me,

I am a Pelargonium!  Please use this name for me.

Lemony Olive Oil Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

lemony olive oil banana bread

Lemony olive oil banana bread with chocolate chunks and caramel lemon glaze.

I have been dying to make this lemony olive oil chocolate chunk banana bread, but had to wait a good week for my bananas to ripen.  Finally, the bananas could practically mash themselves and I set to work. 

In case you are interested, the original recipe calls for all bittersweet chocolate.  I chose to use half and half dark so the sweetness and flavor of the chocolate comes through.  I also added more zest to the cake and glaze.  As you can see, I used a buttered and floured bundt pan but you could use two medium greased and floured loaf pans as well.  

Moving on to the glaze, I thought the brown sugar a little grainy so decided to add 1 Tbs. of butter and caramelize the brown sugar.  I got a little carried away though, and boiled mine too long which resulted in a chewy candy like shell.  You can also use all confectioners sugar for a more traditional icing. I can tell you though, lemon and caramel are to die for together and I will definitely be exploring this combination in the future! 

But for now, here is a hearty, healthy banana bread with a lemon twist.  Wrap a large slice up in brown waxed paper, tuck it in your knapsack, and enjoy as a snack after a bike ride or stroll through the park.   Even better on day two.

Lemony Olive Oil Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

For the batter:

  • 1 cup / 4.5 oz/ 125 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup / 5 oz / 140 g whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup / 4.5 oz / 125 g dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz / 58 g coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz / 58 g coarsely chopped milk chocolate
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g mashed, VERY ripe bananas (~3 bananas)
  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml plain, whole milk or Greek yogurt
  • Zest of 1 lemon minus 1 tsp.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Banana Bread Batter

Wet and dry ingredients before being folded together.

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup / 3 oz / 85 g sifted dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz / 55 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 5 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. reserved lemon zest
  • 1 Tbs. butter
Lemon Caramel Sauce

Lemon Caramel Sauce: When sauce comes to a boil, stir for 30 seconds and remove from heat. Cool just until thick enough to pour over bread.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350° F, and place rack in center.

Sift flours and baking soda into large bow.  Whisk in sugar and salt. Add the chocolate pieces and combine well.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together olive oil, eggs, mashed banana, yogurt, zest, and vanilla.  Pour banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined.  Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until light golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Test with toothpick and remove as soon as nearly done to keep bread moist.

Transfer pan to wire rack.  Cool for 10 minutes then turn loaf out.  Cool completely.

Bake 40-45 minutes until lightly golden and toothpick inserted comes clean. Perfection!

When cake is cool, prepare the glaze. In a bowl, whisk together the sugars and the lemon juice until smooth.  Transfer to small saucepan and add 1 Tbs. butter.  Cook and stir for one to two minutes over medium-high heat, just enough to melt brown sugar and reach a boil.  Stir for 30 more seconds.  Take care not to boil too long as sauce will harden like candy. Remove from heat and cool just until glaze has thickened enough to drizzle over top of bread.

Lemon Banana Bread

A slice of lemony olive oil chocolate chunk banana bread with caramel lemon glaze. Perfect with a cold glass of milk.

 

Adapted from Cook This Now: 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make, Hyperion, October, 2011

Have a Happy Lemon Birthday!

Lemon Layer Cake

Lemon Layer Cake makes any birthday brighter.

If you can at all help it, never work on your birthday.  I learned that the hard way one year.  Working the day before your birthday, however, is fantastic.  It’s like having a birthday for two days in a row.  For example, after a morning meeting, I came back to an office decorated with a lovely bouquet, a mile high lemon cake, homemade muffins and, thoughtfully, a bowl of lemon drops, referencing my Lemon Drop Lady post.  

Lunchtime was filled with waves hello and cheery voices from various grades and groups of students  calling, “Happy Birthday, Ms. Loverbean!”  Sixth graders don’t mind throwing in a few hugs.  Such dears! After lunches, the office staff sang to me and and demanded a little speech, which was all about how great they are to work with, naturally.  We sliced up and distributed the rich, dense, lemony cake and went about our day all the sweeter.  

With so much cake still left on the plate, I asked a nearby class of  six ELL (English Language Learners) if I could share some with them.  They were delighted at the prospect so I cut six thin slices, grabbed several school milks, and joined their class.  First, though, they sweetly stood and sang Happy Birthday to me in Spanish.  Ifeliz cumpleaños!  Word must have gotten around because after that, a group of seventh and eight graders came by to sing for their cake too.  Complete with the “cha, cha, chas.”  Like the multiplying loaves of bread and baskets of fish—or the Energizer Bunny—this cake kept giving.  

Now, I was able to wheedle the recipe out of our amazing secretary, but she was a little reluctant to share.  And not because she is greedy.  She notes that the original recipe said to cut the two layers in half, but they cake layers didn’t seem high enough.  So, being the common sense, no-messing around kind of gal that she is, she just made two more!   Still, we all loved it and the denser layers stood up to the height.  My boss says that this weekend she is making a similar, but lighter lemon layer cake from the Best of the Best cookbook for her son’s birthday. We will have to make that later to compare.

No matter, lemon always makes birthdays better.  And even more so when you get to brighten someone elses day by having your cake and sharing it, too.  🙂

Jeanne’s Meyer Lemon Layer Cake

 Lemon Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon emulsion (can use extract)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • ¼ cup Meyer lemon juice

Lemon Filling

  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh Meyer lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten

Lemon Butter Cream Frosting 

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh Meyer lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon emulsion (can use extract)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 8 inch round pans. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the lemon emulsion. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk and lemon juice, mixing just until incorporated.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
  4. To make filling: In medium saucepan, mix together 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Mix in 6 tablespoons butter and 3/4 cup sugar, and bring mixture to boil over medium heat. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly. In small bowl, with a wire whisk, beat egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in a small amount of the hot lemon mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the sauce pan, beating the hot lemon mixture rapidly. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes, or until thick (not to boil).
  5. Pour mixture into medium bowl. Press plastic wrap onto surface to keep skin from forming as it cools. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate 3 hours.
  6. To make frosting: In large bowl, beat confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest until smooth. Beat in milk and lemon emulsion, and increase speed and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
  7. To assemble: With long serrated knife, split each cake layer in half horizontally, making 4 layers. Place 1 layer, cut side up, on a serving plate. Spread with half of the lemon filling. Top with another layer, and spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Add third layer, and spread with remaining half of the lemon filling. Press on final cake layer, and frost top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Refrigerate cake until serving time.

    Lemon Layer Birthday Cake

    Lemon Layer Birthday Cake

Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie

There is nothing quite as refreshing as a chilled slice of tangy, lemon meringue pie.

A Slice of Lemon Meringue Pie for Breakfast

A slice of Lemon Meringue Pie for breakfast brightens up a grey, rainy Northwest morning.

Lemon Meringue Pie is the perfect dessert, whether following a light luncheon on a hot summer’s day or a rich, five course meal.  It is no accident that three of my friends made it their dessert of choice for Christmas dinner.  You would have thought that after a meal of prime rib, twice-baked potatoes, crescent rolls, ambrosia salad, and butternut squash, we would have not been able to manage dessert.  But that’s the beauty of the versatile Lemon Meringue.   It has the capacity to make you feel lighter after a full meal and is the perfect refreshment, whether served with a hot cup of coffee or a glass of chilled, sparkling Prosecco.

For years, I used my mom’s traditional recipe, but always thought I could improve upon it (Sorry, Mom!).  I love a deep, lemony filling and a hint of vanilla in my meringue.   My original recipe, below, has more filling than most and is sure to please lemon lovers.   Enjoy!

Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie

One 9-10″ deep dish baked pastry shell (Alan’s Pastry Crust is my current favorite pie crust recipe)

 Filling

2 c. sugar
6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
6 Tbs. cornstarch
5 eggs
4 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. freshly grated lemon peel
3/4 c. lemon juice
Meringue*
5 egg whites
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
8 Tbs. granulated sugar
Preparation
1. Set out eggs and butter and bring to room temperature.
2. Prepare a single pie crust using your favorite pie crust recipe, in a 9-10″ deep dish pie pan.  Prick holes on bottom and sides of crust with a fork.  Bake at 425° for 12 minutes, or until lightly golden.  Remove baked pie shell and place on cooling rack.  Reduce oven temperature to 35o° and adjust oven rack to the middle position.
3. While pie crust is baking, grate lemon peel until you have 1 Tbs.  Next, roll lemons on counter to release juices inside.  Juice lemons (3-5, depending on size) until you have 3/4 c. lemon juice.  A bit of pulp is fine.
4. Separate egg yolks from the whites of 5 eggs.  Put whites into a medium mixing bowl and yolks into a small, heat proof bowl.  Beat egg yolks slightly with fork.  Set aside.
5. Prepare meringue, following directions below, so that you are ready to spread it over hot pie filling.
For the Meringue
In a mixing bowl, combine room temperature egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually add in sugar, 2 Tbs. at a time, beating on high-speed until stiff, glossy peaks form and sugar dissolves.
For the Filling
In a large saucepan, whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch, and a dash of salt.  Over medium-high heat, gradually stir in the 2 1/2 c. water, a little at a time, to avoid clumping.  Continue to stir and cook until thickened and bubbly.  Reduce heat, cook and stir for an additional two minutes.  Remove from heat.  Gradually whisk  hot filling into the beaten egg yolks until about half the filling is added.  Return all to saucepan, stirring continuously.  Bring to a gentle boil once again.  Add butter and stir until melted.  Remove from heat.   Add zest and slowly stir in lemon juice until fully integrated.
To Assemble
Pour hot filling into baked pastry shell.  Spread meringue over hot filling, taking care to seal all the way to edges of pie crust to prevent shrinkage.  Use the back of a spoon to draw meringue up into peaks or, try my technique, swirl and lift using your pointer finger.
To Bake
Place pie on center rack and bake for 12 minutes at 350° oven or until meringue is a golden, toasty brown.  Watch carefully to make sure meringue doesn’t burn.
Michelle's Lemon Meringue Pie

My Mile High Lemon Meringue Pie

Cool on a wire rack.  Slice when completely cool.  Store at room temperature.

*There are forums on the web to address what some consider the issue of a “weeping” meringue.  Some eschew covering or refrigerating the pie.  If you must cover though, pinch foil into a tent and place over pie so as not to touch meringue.

Personally, I don’t worry about a meringue that weeps.  As a young girl, the little drops of golden nectar that formed in the nooks and crannies of the snowy peaks and valleys fascinated me.  I thought their amber beads added beauty and mystery to the meringue.  Guess the perfect meringue is in the eyes of the beholder!

What do you think?  Does a weeping meringue represent tears of joy or tears of sorrow?  Share your tips and techniques for baking this classic American dessert!

A Sea of Meringue on a Rainy Day

Later in the afternoon, we visit Nonna and her husband, who  has not been well.  In spite of how hard she works to care for him, Nonna  greets us at the door looking elegant as usual.  Today she is stylishly dressed in a lemon yellow V-neck cashmere sweater and buttoned-down Oxford shirt.  It was almost as if she knew that in addition to fried chicken, cole slaw, and potato salad, we brought the rest of our Lemon Meringue Pie for dessert!  We had a lovely visit full of laughs and, of course, lemons. Nonna decorates an antique trough with lemons and rustic finds.

Lemon Cashmere Nonna

Be Mine Valentine: Lavender Lemon Cookies

Okay, y’all!  Valentine’s Day is just around the corner!

I’m not trying to channel Paula Dean, but these beauties are buttery!  Yum!  This recipe, adapted from Wine Imbiber, will be updated with pictures of my own later.  Just thought you should have it in time for weekend Valentine’s Day baking.  They freeze well and are even better made ahead, allowing the lemon zest to permeate the cookie base.   I eliminated the 2 Tbs. of lavender blossoms from the cookie base as called for in the original recipe.  The lavender buds in the icing will carry plenty of flavor and fragrance.  Looking forward to using the light violet sanding sugar in my cupboard as well!

Bonus recipe: If your cupid loves cupcakes, try this Lemonade Cupcake with Fresh Raspberry Frosting.  Another frosting option for cookies, too!

Lavender Lemon Valentines

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract or lemon emulsion*
1–1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (about 2 large lemons, preferably Meyer)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 to 2–1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Optional: Colored sugar for decorating

Cream together the butter and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Mix in the lemon extract and zest. Set aside. Sift together the salt, cornstarch and flour. Add this to the butter mixture and stir until the flour coats the butter but isn’t completely worked in.   Using your hands, lightly rub the ingredients together until the mixture is no longer dry. You will know it is done when it forms easily into a dough ball. Try not to overwork the mixture or you will end up with tough cookies. Flatten the dough out into a disc and place in a plastic re–sealable bag. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to three days).

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Take the fully–chilled dough and place it on top of a piece of parchment or a Silpat.  Using a rolling-pin, roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/4 to 1/3 inch. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. This dough barely spreads, so don’t worry about leaving a lot of space between each cookie. Remove the scraps from between each cookie and re–form into a flat disc. (If dough has become too soft or warm, re–refrigerate it for a few minutes before attempting to roll it out.)  Note: If you prefer to decorate the cookies with colored sugar alone, sprinkle it on before baking.  Lift up parchment paper or Silpat and place on top of cookie sheet.  Transfer sheet to upper third of oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the cookies just start turning golden on the edges.  Allow to cool before icing.  Tip: to get a perfect cut on the first roll, use Wilson’s Hearts Combo Cutter.  No scraps left behind!  I purchased mine, along with the lemon emulsion, at my local mall from The Kitchen Collection.

*Professional bakers almost always use emulsions over extracts. Unlike extracts, emulsions have a more potent, robust flavor that won’t bake out as they are alcohol free.  Available at Kitchen Collection.

Lemon Lavender Icing

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon, preferably Meyer)
1–2 tablespoons lemon juice

Whisk together first three ingredients. Start mixing in lemon juice by using one tablespoon at first, then continue adding in only enough to produce a smooth, fluid icing. You can add glaze over already sugared cookies for an extra special touch.  It is easiest to ice the cookies by dipping the tops into the icing and turning them over onto a wire rack with a paper towel underneath to catch drips.  

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 c. powdered sugar
A drop of two of yellow food coloring, for a soft, pale yellow

Using an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese and the butter. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice, mixing to combine. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Frost cookies then run knife under warm water and smooth over frosting for a nice finish.  Decorate by adding a few lavender blossoms beneath the heart dimple or sprinkle with colored sugar. 

Wine recommendation from wine imbiber: A Champagne or sparkling wine pairs best with these cookies. We enjoyed them with a bottle of Bailly Lapierre’s Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Réserve sparkling wine.