2 large or 3 small lemons
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk (preferably whole milk)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Tip: Use a citrus zester for fresh zest. Use standard measuring cups and spoons or scalesfor accurate measuring.
- Preheat oven to 350o degrees F. Use a 10 inch cast iron skillet. You can substitute any heavy 10 inch ovenproof skillet with an ovenproof handle, or a 9 inch or 10 inch round or square cake pan, or a 10 inch springform pan with the outside wrapped in heavy duty foil to prevent leakage.
- With a sharp knife, slice the lemons thinly, about 1/8 inch thick, and discard any seeds. Place the lemon slices on paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
- In the skillet, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter is completely melted, stir in the brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the lemon slices; increase the heat to medium high to bring to a boil and cook lemon slices for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and arrange the lemon slices, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom of the skillet.
Tip: If you are using a cake pan or springform pan in place of a skillet, then use a medium size heavy saucepan to melt the butter, stir in the brown sugar until thoroughly combined, add the lemon slices, bring to a boil and cook the lemon slices for 2 minutes, then pour the mixture into the cake pan, arranging the lemon slices, slightly overlapping, to cover the bottom of the pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; sift or whisk together to mix. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir the milk and vanilla together. Set aside.
- In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, lemon zest, and sugar until light and fluffy.
Tip: To cream, start by placing the butter and lemon zest in the bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed begin by beating the butter and lemon zest about 1 minute until it is smooth and light in color.
With the mixer still on medium speed, slowly add the sugar to the butter, either one tablespoon at a time, or in a very slow steady stream, taking from 4 to 8 minutes to add all of the sugar, and beating until the butter and sugar are fully incorporated and the mixture is a light, or pale yellow color, with a fluffy texture. While adding the sugar, stop the mixer occasionally to scrape the mixture off the paddle and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends evenly.
- Add egg yolks one at a time, beating until thoroughly mixed. Each egg yolk should be fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next egg yolk, taking about one minute to blend in each egg yolk.
- With the mixer on low speed, add about one third of the flour mixture, mix just until the flour is almost completely blended. Scrape the bowl down, and add about one half of the milk mixture, blending just until mixed. Scrape the bowl down again and continue alternating with the flour mixture and milk mixture, ending with the last portion of the flour, and stirring just until blended.
- In another medium mixing bowl and using clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Using a balloon type whisk or large rubber spatula, gently fold about ¼ of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten the batter, and then fold in the remaining egg whites.
- Pour batter over the fruit in the skillet; use the back of a spoon or rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly and smooth out the top.
- Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until a long toothpick, wooden skewer, or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place skillet on a wire cooling rack to cool for 5 minutes.
- Run a thin kitchen knife around the edge of the skillet to loosen the sides. Invert the skillet onto a serving plate. Leave the skillet in place one or two minutes before lifting to let the syrup drip down onto the cake. Carefully lift the skillet off of the cake. If any fruit has stuck to the skillet, remove and place it back on the cake.
This cake is best when served still warm, along with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Use a sharp knife to cut the cake as the lemons are a little difficult to cut cleanly.