welcoming spring with a slice of meyer lemon tea cake

Phenologically, spring has nearly sprung. Snowdrops and crocuses have begun to bloom outside my window. Daffodils and tulips have ventured above the soil. And just look at these aspen buds. Not only is 2011 the Year of More Chocolate for me (a successful second run of 2010’s delicious Year of Chocolate), but it is also the Year of Starting to Recognize Tree Buds. It was not something I ever noticed. Granted, I’ve only recently become confident in identifying many species by their bark (how dare I call myself a forestry grad student??), but buds never captured my fancy. I like to think that it’s because they’re up in the canopy, out of reach of my never-quite-the-right-prescription-glasses-wearing-face.

But this isn’t always the case. It wasn’t the case for this aspen, which had been felled by a real whirling dervish of a beaver, a hungry fellow who had taken down at least half an acre of trees. Impressive.

And so it was that I became more familiar with aspen buds. Add that to my list of buds that I’ve at least paid attention to this year, if not learned to recognize: American basswood, maples (of various sorts and sizes), American elm, white ash, Siberian elm, and now bigtooth aspen. Check. I should have done this years ago.

In between all this fierce bud learnin’, I’ve been appreciating spring’s arrival. A minor snowy setback early in the week lessened my enthusiasm temporarily, but it’s back. And what better way to enjoy the increased length in daylight than by eating a sunny-flavored dessert?

I bought a bag of Meyer lemons the other day with just this recipe in mind. I figure that we’re nearing the end of winter’s exotic citrus train of delights, so I’d better get it before it’s gone.  I’d never cooked with Meyer lemons before, but the aroma that filled my kitchen (and living room, and bedroom) made me want to do so more often.

The lemons are boiled in water for 15 minutes, to reduce their tangyness to a more manageable level, before being pureed. If you haven’t smelled a Meyer lemon being cooked or boiled, I recommend buying one (or five) and trying it out.  Herby comes to mind, although herbs that I can’t quite pin down. Fresh. Sharp. Wonderful.

I’ve been getting outside more in the past few weeks, and it’s been terrific. And it’s all because of the flora – every year they repeat the same cycle, but it always feels like something new. New, and very exciting. I’m not a fan of hastening the seasons along, as time moves fast enough without my help, but I find spring a very welcoming time of year.

This appetizing cake is simple to make, and is rewarding.  It should be consumed with something else, such as fruit (all that I had on hand were a few frozen raspberries), and perhaps tea, because the cake itself is quite dense and filling. Due to its lengthy baking time at a relatively high heat, exposed areas will become somewhat hardened, and the top may crack. I’m not picky – a treat is a treat.  But if I make this recipe again, I think I’ll candy some orange or lemon slices to be served with the tea cake.

Meyer Lemon Tea Cake {recipe adapted from Everyday Food’s Simple Lemon Cake}

Makes 1 tea cake


3/4 lb. Meyer lemons (approximately 6)
Pinch of salt + 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter
2 c. sugar
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 tsp. baking powder
2/3 c. whole milk
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Powdered sugar, for dusting
Fresh fruit and whipped cream, for serving


Preheat over to 400 F. Butter and flour a 9″ round, 2″ deep cake pan.

Remove lemon ends and cut into thin rounds. Cover with 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, and continue to boil for 15 minutes while partially covered. At this point, the lemons should be very tender. Drain them and blend in a food processor (remove the seeds if feeling industrious – I was not).  Add the butter and mix.  Add sugar, eggs and egg yolks and mix to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Combine milk, vanilla and almond extracts in a liquid-measuring cup. Add flour mixture to lemon mixture in two parts, beginning and ending with the milk mixture.

Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Bake until the cake is golden brown and cooked in the center. While the baking time can be as little as 40 minutes, my oven required closer to 55 minutes before the tea cake was baked fully. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before removing from pan. Let cool completely for 1 hour. Before serving, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with fruit and whipped cream, if desired.



7 thoughts on “welcoming spring with a slice of meyer lemon tea cake

  1. Look at those Aspen buds! I took a winter tree ID class as an undergrad, but sadly most of that knowledge has left my brain. Grad school beckoned, I guess. Your cake looks great! Where were those crazy colored pictures taken?

    1. Brianne: The cake was great, and it got even better after sitting overnight. More lemony, more eggy, more moist. More mmm. The crazy colored pictures are of some graffiti that can be found while strolling around Bangor looking at aspen buds!

  2. Whoa–cute little photo there with the pumpkin! And, of course, the cake looks exquisite. Can’t wait to see what’s next! Yummmm

    1. Mum: I love that picture! …in honor of all the pumpkin finding we’ve had together, and all the pumpkin finding we’ve been apart for :( Although to pumpkins, I do not say Yummmm!

    1. Rich,

      Don’t think I have forgotten my claim to visit your shop ! I have remembered it, and actually talk semi-regularly about how much I hope to visit. Unfortunately, I just haven’t been able to make it there this fall… my scheduling hasn’t permitted me. I’m hoping that wherever I end up moving next month will permit me to stop by during the moving process.

      It definitely sounds worth it to drive out of the way for some Meyer lemon truffles, weeeehoooo !

      I’ll let you know if and when it works out to come and try your wares. Until then, take care:)

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