Last year at the end of August I wrote a post about lemons: when life gives you lemons, make a lemonade. I was talking about sour lemons, obstacles that life throws along your path, obstacles that you can turn into opportunities, or maybe an iced glass of lemonade with a hint of ginger. I was about to get back to my office, with a subtle anguish due to the awareness that the upcoming quarter would have been the last at work, then a whole new life to discover, and reinvent.
This year I went searching for my lemons. Something good remained after the old job, not just anxious memories and boring long hours. During one of the business trips to Naples I met Alberto, and shortly after his wife Elena. They immediately proved to be friendly, fun and whole-hearted people. Thanks to my blog I kept in touch with Elena and our friendship grew thanks to fun e-mails bursting with recipes, tips and memories.
It had been months that I wanted to visit Elena to meet her two daughters, Laura and Elvira, and to enjoy a few days with them in a breathtaking scenery made of lemon trees, sun, sea, generous fish meals and laughter.
Finally we managed to carve out three days at the beginning of August, a short holidays with my sister was everything I could wish for. After her University exams and my Tuscan tours to take pictures for the book we packed lightly and at daybreak
we headed South: Naples, Salerno and then eventually Amalfi. We had three intense, scorching and unforgettable days.
We took a ferry from Salerno and we approached Amalfi from the sea. There is no better way to discover it: just enjoy the salty breeze and hold your breath when you see Amalfi coming out from behind a promontory: a coast town, a crib, a small village scattered of stairs, water fountains, the lemon delights and tourists: but do not be scared by tourists, as soon as you leave the main road to discover a tiny and shady back alley, you suddenly feel like the first explorer of an unknown track. Amalfi has a magical side.
Elena’s family has a holiday house up above Amalfi, among lemon tree terraces and vines, with a breathtaking view of the sea that disappears at night, when everything is silent but a far-away dog barking. The black night is pervaded by the heady scent of lemons.
We spent three days with the family, considered as daughters, fed as children. Before leaving there had been a telephone call between me and Alberto that went something like this: com’on Giulia, Elena told me that you’re on a diet! how is it possible? you’re going to eat our spaghetti with clams, aren’t you? and what about our renowned lemon delights? you should at least taste them… Giulia, you listen to me, there is no chance you come to Napoli and you do not taste everything!
Try to say no… and so it was. Naples and Campania are a praise to life, you have to sing with them.
And so here’s how life gave me lemons this year, a whole bag, if you ask. They are not common lemons, they have been picked up one by one from the trees, they came with a bit of stem and some leaves, as to keep better for the trip and in the following days. These lemons are sweet as a lemon can be, scented with a heady perfume, these are the lemons a friend gave me, they stayed with us for a few days, reappearing from time to time to dress a salad, to be drizzled on grilled fish or squeezed in the water, to cool off the sultry summer days.
Every time I passed by the lemons I was entangled by their scent, I had to bake a cake on a Sunday afternoon to welcome uncles and aunts who would come to hear the stories of our short holidays. I wanted it tangy and soft. During a morning chat in my pajamas with a cup of tea and Emiko on the other side of the screen, as well as on the other side of the world, I was intrigued by the idea of a lemon bundt cake, bathed in lemon syrup, soft and moist.
You mix the cake up in five minutes, then for one hour it fills your kitchen with a festive citrus smell. Do not lose yourself in dreams, though, the cake will disappear quickly, slice after slice: it’s buttery and bright, perfectly balanced. If you have some cake left – alas I’m not so sure of this – it will be a perfect breakfast on a Monday morning, the kind of start that still retains the memory of the weekend.
- Recipe adapted from Taste.com.au: Lemon Yoghurt syrup cake –
- 250 g of butter
- 200 g of caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of 2 organic lemons
- 3 free range eggs
- 315 g of plain yogurt
- 50 ml lemon juice
- 220 g flour
- 80 g of potato starch
- 10 g of baking powder
- 75 ml of water
- 75 ml of lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 100 g of sugar
- Preheat oven to 180°C, then grease and dust with flour a 24cm fluted ring pan.
- Beat with an electric mixer the butter, the lemon rind and the sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Add half the yoghurt and half the lemon juice and mix well to combine. Sift in half the flour with potato starch and baking powder and stir to combine.
- Repeat with the remaining yoghurt, lemon juice and flours.
- Scrape the batter into the greased pan.
- Bake the cake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in cake comes out clean.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack over a baking tray.
- Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup. Combine the lemon juice, the sugar and the cold water in a saucepan over low heat, add the finely sliced lemon rind. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and bring to the boil, then let it simmer until thickened.
- Pour the hot syrup over hot cake and top with the lemon zest.
If life gives you lemons, make a lemonade, but also:
- a soft lemon cake with lemon jam, by Terry, to support the project #IoLaMafiaMeLaMangio. A good cake for an excellent project.
- a lemon frosted lemon cake, a pound cake with a citrus appeal by Joy of baking, you can be sure it will be a success.
- Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake, one of the ten great cakes every cook should have tucked into their repertoire.
- Saveur’s Lemon tart, a classic. Call it ever green, but you’ll find yourself picking up the last crumbles from your plate.
- Make it French: tarte au citron meringuée by Elle à table, a basic recipe you have to know, then play with it and substitute lemon with orange or grapefruit.
Finally, a few more photos of the amazing fresh fish we found in the market, that soon after became our lunch, simply and quickly cooked. The protagonist is always the lemon: it slims you down, it burns fat, eat Giulia! it’s only fish… I had to believe them, what would you have done?
Last but not least, a quick tour of Naples, lived long enough to leave an incredible desire to come back as soon as possible, to plunge back into the narrow streets or design a nativity scene with imaginative figurines and miniatures.
Now I wish you a wonderful and relaxing weekend with your friends and your family. If you find a good deal of lemons, please bake this cake and try to save at least a slice for Monday morning breakfast, you’ll thank me when you’ll start the new week with a radiant smile.