“It’s the end of the world as we know it…” The R.E.M. song has been playing in my head ever since the coronavirus put us all on lockdown. It’s been nearly a month since I set foot in a restaurant, a workplace, a grocery store, or a school. The Astronomer, June, and I are heeding the advice of experts and hunkering down for the foreseeable future. And while it hasn’t been the easiest of transitions, Michael Stipe was right…I feel fine.
Like most folks with similar interests and in similar lots, I have been doing a lot of pantry cooking and stress baking. The stove has been working hard these days — making big ol’ pots of bolognese, fried rice with forgotten and frost-bitten brats, cold peanut noodles with soy sauce packets, and more anchovy pasta than I care to admit.
The oven has been churning overtime too — baking up loaves of bread and most recently, this Meyer lemon upside-down cake from Nicole Rucker’s cookbook Dappled. The cake didn’t go entirely according to plan. For starters, I baked it in the wrong sized pan — the difference between an 8-inch and 9-inch round can’t be underestimated. And second of all, the sliced lemons, which were intended to pretty the cake’s surface, migrated all over its sides. Still, the texture and flavors turned out well — moist, fragrant, caramelized, and delicious. It brightened up our dinner table and our neighbors’ too. And these days, that’s more than enough.
For upside-down layer
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 large unwaxed lemons, ends trimmed, and sliced 1/8 inch thick
- 1 1/2 cup plus (313 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup sugar
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line it with parchment paper.
Make the upside-down layer: In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/2 cup of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Whisk the mixture until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is glossy and thickened a little. Pour the melted butter and sugar into the prepared cake pan and smooth into an even layer to cover the bottom. Place the cake pan in the freezer until the butter and sugar layer freezes; leave the pan in the freezer until you are ready to transfer the batter to the pan.
In a small bowl, gently toss the lemon slices with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Leave the lemon slices in the sugar to macerate for 10 minutes.
Make the cake batter: Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Set aside. Combine the eggs with the olive oil in another large bowl and beat vigorously with a whisk until well combined. Add the yogurt and sugar. Make a well in the flour mixture and add the wet mixture in three additions, folding in each addition until no dry bits of flour remain. Set aside.
Fan the lemon slices out to cover the melted butter and sugar in the cake pan, overlapping the slices by as much as 1/8 inch. Pour the cake batter directly on top of the lemon slices.
Baking for about 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a serving plate and carefully remove the parchment paper lining. Allow the cake to cool for 1 hour more before serving.