A polenta cake from pastry chef Hannah Buoye, of A16 Rockridge in Oakland, was the model for this dense, moist dessert. As the sliced lemons bake under the cake and absorb butter and brown sugar, they take on a marmalade-like quality. Be sure the cake is fully baked before you remove it from the oven (see step 6), or it may sink.
3/4 cup butter, softened, divided
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 or 3 whole Meyer lemons, plus zest of 2 large Meyer lemons
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup flour
3/4 cup fine cornmeal, such as Bob's Red Mill
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray inside of a 9-in. springform pan with cooking-oil spray. Snugly line pan with a 12-in. circle of parchment paper*, pressing pleats flat. Spray parchment with oil; set aside.
Bring 1/4 cup butter and the brown sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pour into lined pan and spread evenly.
Thinly slice 2 lemons crosswise, using a handheld slicer and removing seeds with a knife tip as you go. Discard ends. Set a small lemon slice in center of butter mixture in pan. Arrange more slices in overlapping circles to fill pan (each slice should overlap the previous one by half). Save any extra lemon for other uses.
Beat remaining 1/2 cup butter, the granulated sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed to blend, then on high until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 egg at a time, scraping inside of bowl and beating well on high speed, about 1 minute per egg. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Combine milk and vanilla.
Add a third of flour mixture to butter mixture and blend on low speed; scrape inside of bowl. Blend in half of milk mixture. Repeat to incorporate remaining ingredients, ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into pan; spread evenly.
Bake until cake springs back in center when lightly pressed, 50 to 55 minutes (it will be well browned). Let cool in pan on a rack at least 2 hours. Run a thin knife between parchment and pan; release rim. Invert cake onto a plate. Remove parchment and cut cake with a serrated knife.
*For an even circle, use a pencil to trace around a 12-in. plate onto parchment.
I made the recipe exactly as wriiten. The cake was pretty and tasted good but was dissapointingly dry. However , the next day I made a lemon syrup ( boiled fresh lemon juice with sugar), poked a bunch of holes in the bottom ( non lemon side) of the leftover cake and poured on the syrup, Voila! Problem fixed, cake was delidious, moist and super-lemony!
"Be sure the cake is fully baked before you remove it from the oven (see step 6), or it may sink." At 50 minutes the middle was still jiggly. I baked it another 15 minutes (checking in 5 minute increments) and though it sprung back when lightly touched, it's sitting on the cooling rack...sinking. I won't cut into until tomorrow evening so I hope the flavor and presentation make the effort and the use of 4 Meyer lemons (precious and expensive here on the East coast!) are worth it. I'll come back to correct star rating tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
I made this for my monthly potluck. The tart lemon topping with the little crunch of the cornmeal is great, and the cornmeal cake is sturdy enough to stand up to the slightly gooey lemony topping. The sides are quite crunchy too! I think this wants some kind of not-too-sweet dollop of something cream-based -- like barely sweetened whipped cream. I will definitely make this again.
This was actually my very first cake, and I'm shocked at how well it came out, so it must be easy to get right. There really is an ombre effect! And it tastes great (like cornbread with a sweet lemony topping).
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