Lemon tea cake

There were lemons in the Garden of Eden. I’m sure of it. To imagine a place of perfection without these yellow jewels of acidity is impossible. Though northern India claims its origin, the lemon has been regarded the most significant fruit in Middle Eastern and European cuisines for centuries. And for good reason.

In the earliest celebration of this tart fruit, The Treatise of the Lemon, are signs of its most glorious pairing with the sweetness of sugar. The book’s author Ibn Jamiya, physician to Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt (1137-1193), included recipes for lemon syrup and sweet lemon preserves. My own early memories of sweetness are the same: lemon delicious, lemon meringue pie, lemon soufflé, and lemon tart. But what I recall most warmly is Jan’s lemon tea cake.

I met Jan in rural Queensland. She was married to a Baptist pastor to whom I was assigned as a pastor-in-training. I travelled a great distance every weekend from an urban seminary to a small, remote town in the state’s south. Every weekend Jan welcomed me into her home. Every weekend she cooked for me. Jan was a keen gardener, and most of what she cooked came from her backyard. Her lemon tree was prolific.

My earliest years of ministry training were challenging. I was not a natural. I was shy, tentative and awkward. Somehow Jan understood. Each time I walked into her kitchen or sat at her table, I felt safe. In the midst of all that was difficult, her simple and sweet cooking was a sustaining gift of affirmation and warmth.

Like all good food memories, this one is impossible to recreate. But I’ve tried and the outcome is not bad. It’s simple, sweet and lemony. Jan would be pleased.

Here’s what you need

Cake batter

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup raw castor sugar
  • 60 grams cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • I egg

Lemon filling

  • 60 mils lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup raw castor sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 60 grams butter

Here’s what you do

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Grease a small round cake pan, lining the base with baking paper.
  3. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl.
  4. Add the sugar and the cubed butter and work together with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  5. Add the egg and work into a wet dough with your hands.
  6. Press 2/3 of the dough into the base of the pan, working it evenly to the edges.
  7. In a small saucepan combine the lemon filling ingredients (juice, sugar, egg and butter) and stir over a low heat until the filling thickens. It should coat the back of a spoon.
  8. Pour the lemon filling over the base to within a centimetre of the edge.
  9. Crumble the renaming dough evenly over the filling.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes until nicely browned.
  11. Cool in the pan.

You can serve the cake dusted with icing sugar. Jan always did. And share it with someone you care for. They will know you do.


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