True story. On the way into work yesterday morning, my high heels clicking against the sidewalk and my scarf wound right up under my chin and my shoulders hunched against the chill, my mind wandered to the two clementines I had tucked into my bag before I left home. Small, orange, juicy and perfect. They were my happy place—sad as that might be.
This year though, I’m already eating grapefruit for breakfast and a palm-sized clementine every couple hours. And I’m sneaking lemons and limes into baked goods. I’m like a little kid who snoops for her Christmas gifts before the 25th rolls around, even though she knows she’ll regret it later, when she has nothing to look forward to on Christmas morning. Like her, I can’t help myself.
The cake gets a hit of lemon through both zest and juice. Beyond that, it’s a simple cake, feather-light, with a rustic, crackled, sugared surface. I served it with a dollop of crème fraîche, which was spiked with (what else?) a couple squeezes of lemon juice.
Lemon-Olive Oil Cake
1 large lemon
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Special equipment: a 9-inch (24-cm) springform pan; parchment paper
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease springform pan with some oil, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Oil parchment.
Finely grate enough lemon zest to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons and whisk together with flour. Halve lemon, then squeeze and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (mixture may appear separated). Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined.
Beat egg whites (from 4 eggs) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.
Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Transfer batter to springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer cake to a serving plate.