Lemony loaf cake fetes California citrus season

A friend’s gift of some tree-ripened Meyer lemons, redolent of California sunshine, put me in the giving spirit.

Specifically, I’m considering spreading the holiday love around with a batch of lemon bars or bottle of limoncello or a lemon loaf cake in a fancy pan liner. This “very lemon” loaf doesn’t specify Meyer lemons, but the slightly sweet and fantastically floral-smelling fruit would be a lovely variation. Because they aren’t as tart as regular lemons, use more Meyer zest than the 2 tablespoons called for here. I’d at least double it.

Ricotta cheese keeps this cake rich and moist, even before the glaze permeates the crumb. As Chicago Tribune writer Leak Eskin put it, the simple-syrup glaze beats a dusting of powdered sugar any day. Leave that dry mouthful for the season’s pecan snowballs.

Tribune News Service photo

Very Lemon Loaf

4 large or 6 small lemons, scrubbed

1 stick unsalted butter (plus about 2 teaspoons for pan), softened

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 whole eggs, plus 1 yolk

1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

Finely grate zest from the lemons. Measure 2 tablespoons zest, and set aside. Juice lemons. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Heat oven to 350 F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Drop the butter into bowl of a stand mixer. On medium-high speed, beat until fluffy, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed, for about 1 minute. Cascade in 1 cup of the sugar, still beating; beat until fluffy, for about 1 minute. Slide in the eggs and yolk; beat until fluffy. Beat in the ricotta, 2 tablespoons zest and 1/4 cup reserved juice. Slide in flour mixture; beat on low speed just to combine.

Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake in preheated oven until cake is golden-brown on top and a toothpick stabbed in center comes out flecked with crumbs, for 55 to 60 minutes. Cool, for 10 minutes. Run a blunt knife around sides to loosen edges. Turn out; set on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

While cake is baking, make glaze. Pour remaining 1/2 cup sugar into a medium saucepan. Measure in 1/4 cup reserved juice. Simmer until sugar has dissolved and syrup thickens a bit, for about 3 minutes. Brush glaze over top and sides of warm lemon loaf. (You may not use all the glaze.) When cool (or just barely warm), slice and serve.

Makes 1 loaf, 9 by 5 by 3 inches.

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