Fluffy and tender cake flavored with the floral notes of meyer lemons and a sour pop of ground sumac. This cake is sweet and tart and is soaked in a lemon syrup to accentuate that sharp contrast in flavor.
One of my favorite desserts ever is Ina’s lemon cake. It’s not the cake part that gets me, it’s the lemony syrup that the cake is soaked in. It makes the edges both super sweet and sharp, and the combination is my absolute dessert weakness. If you like lemon curd you’d like the syrup; both have that addictive quality of perfectly balanced sugar and acid.
This cake was made with Ina’s in mind. Here, meyer lemons. I did tell you I had a few bags in the kitchen I needed to use up. Meyers are more floral than a regular lemon, a little less tart and less acidic – hence the addition of sumac to the batter. What is sumac? Sumac is a fruit ground into a spice, typically used in salads, on meats, and you’ve likely seen it sprinkled on hummus.
So you might be thinking, if sumac is a spice used as a dry rub or on salads why use it in a cake? Well, adding sumac to a baked good helps to accentuate the citrus’ tart quality. I’ve found it goes really well with the floral, mildly acidic meyer lemons and, it also adds a beautiful, natural pretty pink pop to the cake.
The combination of sumac and meyer lemon here is a perfect harmony. The interior of the cake, thanks to yogurt and lots of air beaten into the sugar and butter is very tender. The edges are squishy with the yummiest syrup. For toppings, I’ve done powdered sugar on top or a glaze but really it’s just for looks, the cake doesn’t need it as it strikes that perfect balance between sweet and sour.
Meyer Lemons: If you cannot find meyer lemons, you can make the cake with orange juice and zest. Meyer’s are somewhere between an orange and a lemon and with the addition of sumac you are looking at a very fitting substitute. I would however, use regular lemons for the syrup in this case – the sharpness of that syrup is what really brings this cake home and the orange won’t have enough to do the job.
Sumac : I always buy it from nearby middle eastern stores but if there aren’t any in your vicinity, this is the one I’d recommend on amazon. You might think why buy a big pack for just one cake? But you are going to LOVE it. You’ll be putting it on your salads everyday!
Butter: Softened to room temperature so it will beat easily with the sugar (and aerate). If using salted butter, reduce the added salt and add just a pinch of fine sea salt to the batter. European or american style butter is fine.
All purpose flour: of a medium or low protein content. I use Gold Medal or King Arthur.
Fine sea salt: fine means it will dissolve easily and quickly into the batter. Don’t use table salt which has a ‘salty’ taste.
Yogurt: Greek yogurt is thick and has been strained to remove excess water. Nonfat or full fat works fine.
Eggs: Whole large eggs, best to bring them to room temperature before you begin. Do this by placing them in a bowl of warm water.
Start by buttering the bundt pan and then flouring it to prevent the cake from sticking. I tend to use a baking spray that has flour in it (in my experience it most effectively prevents sticking.
Use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to make the batter and set the sugar in the bowl. Zest the meyer lemons over the sugar with a fine zester (not a grater – this will give you too much pith from the lemon and make the batter sour). Rub the zest into the sugar, this helps release the oils from the zest for better flavor.
Add the rest of the flavorings (sumac, vanilla and salt) and the softened butter. Affix the paddle attachment and beat the butter until the mix is very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed so it aerates evenly.
With the mixer on, add the eggs one at a time – allowing each to fully incorporate before adding another. Scrape the bowl as needed.
In a small separate bowl, whisk together the meyer lemon juice and the yogurt.
Add the flour to the bowl and begin mixing it in. Pour the lemon/yogurt in as it mixes.
Beat the batter until it’s fully mixed, but stop as soon as it is to avoid over mixing. Scrape the bowl as needed.
Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Smooth over the top to even it out. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean.
Out of the oven, make the lemon syrup by cooking the lemon juice and sugar in a small pot just until the sugar dissolves.
Out of the oven, poke holes all over the cake with a cake tester or a skewer. Pour the lemon soak over the cake. Let the cake set for about ten minutes, then overturn it onto a plate.
If you’d like to do a glaze, combine 3 tablespoons of citrus juice with 1 cup powdered sugar (in the photos I used blood orange juice so it would be pink!). Pour over the cooled cake.
Note: this recipe can be halved and baked in loaf pan.
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