Upside Down Lemon Cake
I've been cooking for friends a bit lately. You can tell, because there seem to be quite a few baked goods popping up, and I tend to save those indulgences for times I can pass them along to others. You may remember when I was studying for my oral exams. Or at least, you might remember my complete absence from this blog during that time. Well, one of my good friends is getting ready to take her test. The other day I was sitting with her at school and she looked at me with some seriously fatigued eyes (from those 12-hour reading days!) and asked me how I found the time to feed myself when I was studying. The truth is, I pretty much didn't. I ate a lot of 3 Musketeers bars from our vending machine, and the same 2 or 3 sandwiches from a nearby shop every day. Of course, I immediately invited her over for dinner last Sunday when she was done with her reading.
Anyway, I'll post a bit about what we had over the next couple of days. For now, I couldn't help but start at the end. With the highlight. With dessert. Okay, so I'll warn you upfront. If you don't like the orange peel in marmalade, that slight bitterness that cuts through the sweet, this cake is not for you. But I have more faith than that, I think you're going to love it. Not to mention that it's totally beautiful, with thin slices of stained-glass lemon, near translucent after cooking. The recipe is from the LA Times, which I know pretty much only through the Internet and the warring food sections pitted against each other at The Wednesday Chef. But after this recipe, all I can say is well done, LA Times, well done.
Lemon Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from The LA Times
4 small lemons, 3 if they're closer to medium-sized
1 1/4 cups butter, divided into 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
Wash the lemons since you're going to be using the rind, then cut all of them but one as thinly as possible. Shoot for 1/8". I tried a mandolin at first, but found I had trouble getting whole slices, so switched to the knife. Zest 1 teaspoon of lemon peel from the leftover lemon and set aside. You won't be using the rest of the last lemon in this recipe.
In a 10" oven-proof skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. As the butter is melting, use your spoon to spread it up the sides of the pan as well. Off the heat, add the brown sugar and stir until it is all moistened by the butter. Spread the sugar/butter mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Arrange the lemon slices on top in a concentric circle. The slices should slightly overlap so that the sugar mixture is completely covered. Don't worry if you don't use all of the lemon slices.
This is a good time to preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cut up the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and put the chunks in another bowl. Use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla been into the same bowl. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and vanilla seeds. Add the sugar and lemon zest and continue beating until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in the first egg until it's well combined, then beat in the second.
Add half of the flour, then all of the milk, then the other half of the flour, and beat between each addition so that the mixture is well-blended.
Spread this batter over the lemons and be sure that they're covered evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake is a light golden color and it passes the toothpick test. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before inverting onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature. Be sure to use a sharp knife to cut it, so you can get through those lemon slices!