The Magnificent Meyer Lemon

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It seems so very fitting that this is the time of year when citrus fruit is at its best. These last few weeks the temperature has been sticking firmly around the freezing mark.  Is it only me or was it warmer last winter? I cycled everywhere last January and February! This year my bike hasn’t seen daylight for weeks. So these zesty bursts of brightness feel pretty essential. I always look forward to enjoying clementines and tangerines at their sweetest in January and lately I’ve been stock piling blood oranges- greedily peeling each newly bough batch to see if their ruby shade has intensified with the passing weeks.

This year, I found a real, unexpected treat on a routine trip to Tesco, of all places, where I stumbled upon a pack of MEYER LEMONS. I can’t tell you how excited this made me.  I’ve never seen them in this country but remember them fondly from my New York days.  For those of you unfamiliar with the fruit, imagine if a lemon and a mandarine had a lovechild.  Basically, it has all the zesty freshness of a lemon minus that bitter edge. Less sour, more sweet. Plus you can eat the skin and rind, like a giant yellow kumquat. They are hugely popular in the States, where Wikipedia tells me they were introduced over a hundred years ago. Which begs the question- what took the rest of us so long??!

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Anyway, I hope they are on their way to becoming a regular supermarket feature over here as well.  Although they did actually sit for days in my fruit bowl before I finally decided what to do with them- too much choice!  Like garden-variety lemons, these Meyer cousins actually work well in both savoury and sweet dishes, so I mixed and matched. Here are the results.

First up, the ultimate lazy weekend brunch pancakes.  These could also be made in miniature as little blini style nibbles, topped with a little creme fraich and dill.  They are very light and fluffy, almost soufflĂ©-like, which makes them a bit less robust for cooking and flipping, but definitely worth the extra care once they’ve hit your plate.  

Buckwheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Mayer Lemon and Dill
served with smoked salmon and creme fraiche
Serves 4

You will need:

100g buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 egg whites, 1 whole egg
140ml (half pot) buttermilk
1 tbsp maple syrup
about 1.5 tbsp chopped chives
zest and juice of 1 meyer lemon
olive or coconut oil

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Method:

1. Place flour and bicarb in a large bowl with a pinch of salt.  Whisk in the buttermilk, whole egg and maple syrup then add the chives, lemon juice and zest, beat well. 

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until thick, frothy and just holding their shape in soft peaks.  Carefully fold into the pancake batter. 

3.  Heat a good glug of oil in your best non stick pan and add a ladelful of pancake batter.  These might be a bit tricker to flip than your average pancake- a palette knife will help. 

4.  Serve straight away or keep warm in a low temperature oven while you crack on with the remaining batter.  Try the pancakes with smoked salmon and a dollop of creme fraiche.  For a sweeter version, omit the chives and add another tbsp of maple syrup and serve with berries.

In doing my Meyer Lemon recipe research, trying to sift through the overwhelming possibilities, I stumbled upon quite a few pizza recipes topped with whole slices of the fruit.  While this intrigued me, I’m not sure I would want them to feature quite so prominently on my dinner plate.  However, it did get me thinking about how they might work as a topping for other bread-based products, something sharable like focaccia.  My take on this is based on my go-to recipe for bread of this kind- the Schiacciata from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ which is totally failsafe and has all of the light airiness that you’d want from an Italian flatbread. 

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Meyer Lemon and thyme Focaccia
Makes 1 large focaccia loaf

You will need:

350g strong white flour
150g Italian 00 flour
2 tbsp sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
20g fresh yeast
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
small bunch thyme, some leaves picked
2 meyer lemons, thinly sliced

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Method:

1. Place flours and salt in a large bowl.  Mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of blood temperature water in a small bowl or jug.  Measure out 300ml of blood temperature water, adding the yeast mixture along with 2 tbsp of the olive oil. 

2. Make a well in the flour and add the liquid ingredients, mixing until it begins to form a dough.  Tip onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes until you have an elastic dough.  You can of course use a stand mixer if you prefer.  Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour.

3.  Meanwhile, place thyme stems in a small bowl, cover with cold water and set aside.  Oil a large rectangular baking sheet generously. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6. 

4. Tip out the dough and knead briefly before stretching and punching out to cover the baking sheet.  Cover and leave to rise for a further 30-40 minutes.  Towards the end of the rising time, drain the thyme and shake off any excess water.  Once the dough has puffed up, arrange the lemon slices and thyme sprigs over it and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.  Sprinkle with a little sea salt.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding when the base of the bread is tapped. The lemon may caramelise a little, cover with some foil if it starts to turn very brown.  Allow to cool on a wire rack before sprinkling with a few extra thyme leaves and tearing into. 

I suppose all these meyer lemons have reminded me of other foodstuffs that I miss about my time in the big apple.  In particular the Eastern European and Jewish heritage which lends so much to the baking culture that is taken for granted there- the most amazing bagels, of course, but also wonderful cakes like the babka.  This twisty loaf cake is usually made with chocolate and cinnamon, but can of course be filled with anything you like.  It is made from a yeasted dough and in that respect reminds me a lot of some of the braided loaf versions of cinnamon and cardamom buns we have in Sweden. 

 This recipe is not for the faint-hearted.  Adding the butter by hand is a nightmare as the dough and the fat will not seem like they want to mix together at all, rather just slip and slide around each other.  Trust me, they will come together with a little patience.  It is also essential that the butter is at room temperature.  Of course, if you have a stand mixer this will save you the agony, but as I do not as yet own one (my little Bow kitchen has no space for such luxuries), this is the way that I roll. 

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Meyer Lemon, Cardamom and Pistachio Babka
Makes 1 babka

You will need:

For the dough:

250g plain flour
50g golden caster sugar
15g fresh yeast
1 egg, beaten
zest and juice of half a meyer lemon
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the filling:
50g green pistachios
25g golden caster sugar
60g butter
2 tsp cardamom
zest and juice of 2 meyer lemons

 Method:

1. To make the dough, combine the flour and sugar with a pinch of salt in a large bowl.  In a small jug, measure out 75ml of water and dissolve the yeast into it.  Add the egg, lemon juice and zest and beat well.  Make a well in the flour and add the liquid ingredients, mixing until just combined.  

2.  Tip out the dough onto a well floured work surface and knead to come together.  Continue kneading by hand for about 10 minutes, until elastic.  You can test this by pressing a finger lightly into the surface of the dough, pulled slightly taunt.  It should slowly spring back.  At this stage, you can start adding your butter, a tsp or so at a time, kneading and folding until it starts to dissolve into the dough before adding the next teaspoonfull.  This will take time and be very messy and greasy.  There’s no way around it, but it will work with patience.  Put the radio on.

3.  Place the now quite greasy dough into a medium sized bowl.  Lightly grease a bit of cling film and cover the bowl, placing in the fridge to rise slowly overnight. 

4.  To make the filling, simply blitz the pistachios and caster sugar until the nuts have broken up to a fine powder.  Add the butter, cardamom, lemon zest and juice and blitz for form a smooth paste.  Refrigerate until the next day.

5.  Generously oil a 900g/1lb loaf tin and line the base with rectangle of parchment and remove the filling from the fridge to soften slightly.  Tip the dough out onto a well floured work surface.  Roll into a thin rectangle, about the size of an A4 piece of paper.  Spread with the filling then roll into a sausage-like shape.  Trim the ends to remove any messy edges then, using a large sharp knife, divide the roll in half lengthways.  Lay each half next to each other vertically.  Pinch the top ends together before gently twisting the two halves of dough around eachother by lifting each side over the next.  When you get to the bottom, pinch these ends together as well. 

6.  Carefully lift into your prepared loaf tin- it might be a bit to short for your babka, in which case simply curve it in to form a snake-like shape.  Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about 1.5-2 hours in a cool spot. 

7. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/gas mark 6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a skewer inserted to the cake comes out clean.  If it starts to brown a bit too much, just cover with foil and continue to bake.  Leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before turning out to a wire rack.  For extra sweetness and as I often do with cinnamon buns, I brushed my loaf with a light sugar syrup while it was still warm.  Slice to serve with a cup of tea or coffee. 

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