The extraordinary Amalfi lemon and a luscious lemon cake
“Their juice has a very low acidity; you wouldn’t expect it to give a kick to home-made mayonnaise, and you can’t use it to replace the vinegar in a salad dressing because it is altogether too gentle for jobs like that. Instead a summer pasta dish can be made by dressing spaghetti with raw garlic, parsley, and the mild but intensely flavoured juice of a Sorrento lemon.”Helena Attlee, The Land Where Lemons Grow
Amalfi is the place for lemons. The last time I went was with Tried and Supplied founder, Domini Hogg, when we went to the Mamma Agata cookery school, a foodie heaven where mozzarella arrived, just five hours old; where fat grapes and ripening red tomatoes grew along curling tendrils of the vines, and where lemons hung, like giant dew drops, from overhead trellises.
So when, in this dank British May, a tantalising email came through from them, with the subject line:
FRESH ORGANIC LEMONS I.G.P. AMALFI COAST STILL available !
I gave in to temptation and dug out this cake recipe. This cake is a sort of first cousin of a lemon drizzle cake, but much lighter. It needs the cream, but it needs to be fairy-light whipping cream to maintain the light-as-air feel.
What is the limone femminello sfusato amalfitano aka Amalfi lemon?
These local lemons are the sfusato Amalfitano, ‘fuso’ being the Italian for spindle – and you can see, particularly the ones on the right in the image above – are a sort of spindle shape, long and thin. They are sweeter than most lemons with a rugged skin, the giants of the family, weighing in at almost twice the norm. The IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) denomination which Mamma Agata writes about so proudly is a Geographic protected denomination (see Confused by PGIs) which means that these lemons can only come from a specific geographic area: along the Bay of Salerno from Positano to Vietri sul Mare. Each lemon has a maximum of nine segments, and few pips.
The Amalfi lemon is cultivated on the old terraces (macerine), originally constructed on rich, porous earth, some thousand years ago. The terraces are protected from the north wind by the mountains, but they bask in the gentle sea breezes and the sunshine.
The harvest begins each year in the lemon gardens closest to the sea, on 1 February and continues through to October in gardens further inland. The flavour is most intense in the middle of the summer.
A luscious lemon cake from Amalfi
Serves – 12
- 3 lemons
- 4 eggs
- 250g/1¼ cups golden caster sugar
- 210g/1⅔ cups icing sugar plus a little more for sieving over and 4 tbsps for the whipped cream
- 80 ml/⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 100g/4 oz butter
- 200g/1½ cups plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 120 ml/½ cup
- A few mint leaves, or thyme also works well, and so does basil
- 500 ml/2 cups whipping cream
- 2 tbsps brandy or limoncello
- Maple or (in my view, the best choice) golden syrup to serve; although local Italian honey would be more authentic.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Grease a 23 cm/9” cake tin and dust it with a little extra flour.
- Zest the lemons (leaving the white pith below) and set aside.
- Squeeze the juice into a saucepan, and set aside.
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks.
- Beat the yolks until frothy and creamy, and then slowly add the golden caster sugar, the milk, the butter and the oil. Then add most of the lemon zest, saving some to sprinkle over the cake later.
- Once the sugar has been completely mixed in, add the flour and baking powder slowly, mixing in to avoid lumps.
- Using an electric whisk beat the egg whites together with a pinch of salt until it starts to form peaks. Then mix in the cake mix, much as you would a soufflé filling into beaten egg whites.
- Pour into the tin and bake for about 50 minutes – if you put a metal skewer in it should come out clean.
- Meanwhile add the icing sugar to the lemon juice and heat until it just begins to turn golden.
- Pour the sweetened lemon juice over the cake (which you can have made some holes in with a fork) while it is still hot.
- Leave to cool. Whip the cream with the limoncello (or brandy) and the icing sugar.