Citrus for sunshine

When life gives you lemons, make dessert

click to enlarge Orange upside-down cake - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MEYER
Orange upside-down cake
If 2022 has you wanting to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head, let me invite you instead to whip up one or all of these sunny citrus desserts. Citrus is in peak season right now, so it's a perfect time to take make some lemonade out of whatever lemons life continues to hurl around. These cheerful key lime pie-inspired Sunshine Bars keep well and are perfect for gifting to an overworked friend, as is this elegant orange upside-down cake. Or indulge yourself with a cozy lemon pudding cake, an heirloom recipe that's been a family favorite for four generations.

Lemon Pudding Cake

2 tablespoons butter

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs

One lemon, zested and juiced

1 cup milk

¼ cup flour

A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a two-quart baking dish. Cream together the butter and sugar. Separate the eggs. Add the egg yolks and lemon zest and juice and mix thoroughly to combine. Mix in the flour and salt, followed by the milk. In a clean bowl beat the egg whites to stiff peaks before gently folding them into the batter. Pour into the buttered baking dish and set in a pan of hot water in the preheated oven. Bake in the water bath for 45 minutes. A lovely light golden crust will form on top with a luscious layer of sauce on the bottom. Serve warm.

Sunshine Bars

For the crust:

1 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 10 whole graham crackers)

1/3 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

For the filling:

1 each whole lemon and orange

4 whole limes

3 egg yolks

1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk

For the whipped cream:

½ cup heavy whipping cream

2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an eight-inch glass baking dish and line with parchment paper. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter and mix well. Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of the baking dish and transfer to a preheated oven and bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and set aside. Leave the oven on.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. Wash and thoroughly dry the fruit. Zest half the orange and half the lemon and one of the limes to yield a heaping tablespoon of zest. Juice the orange, lemon and limes to yield 2/3 cup juice. Set aside.

Add the egg yolks to the bowl of a food processor (or use a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment). Process for one minute (beat on high for three minutes if using a mixer and whisk), then scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the zest. Turn on the machine and add the sweetened condensed milk in a slow stream. Process for 30 seconds, then stop and scrape down the sides once more. With the machine running, add the juice and process for a final 30 seconds.

Pour the filling over the baked crust and smooth with a spatula. Transfer to the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until the filling is just set. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack before covering and refrigerating for at least six hours or preferably overnight.

When ready to serve, whip the cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Cut the bars into two-inch squares and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Bars keep in the fridge for up to five days (wait to put the cream on until just before serving) and can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to two months.

Orange Polenta Upside-Down Cake

For the caramel:

6 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the cake:

3 whole oranges (I like to use one each of a blood or raspberry orange, cara cara orange and a regular orange.)

3 tablespoons butter at room temperature

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¾ cup sugar plus one tablespoon, divided

¾ cup plus one tablespoon all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons polenta, or coarse cornmeal

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, at room temperature

6 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature

Position the rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees. First make the caramel. In an ovenproof 10-inch diameter skillet combine the sugar and water and whisk to dissolve over medium heat. Once dissolved, stop whisking and increase heat to medium high. Bring the mixture to a boil without stirring (this will cause your caramel to crystallize) and cook until the syrup is a golden amber color. Remove the skillet from the heat and whisk two tablespoons of butter into the caramel. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, slice the oranges into 1/16-inch slices and arrange them in overlapping concentric circles on top of the caramel in the skillet. Brush the sides of the skillet with olive oil and set aside.

Whisk the flour, polenta, baking powder and salt in a bowl to blend. In another bowl beat together the butter, olive oil and sugar until light and fluffy. With clean hands, separate the eggs. Add the egg yolks one at a time to the butter mixture. At low speed add half the flour mixture, followed by the milk, and finally the last half of the flour, mixing until just incorporated.

Using a clean bowl and whisk, beat the egg whites until foamy, then, with mixer running, slowly add the sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff beaks form. Gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites in two additions. Spread the batter over the orange slices. Transfer to a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.

Let cool five minutes, then run a thin knife around the edges of the skillet to loosen the cake. Place a large plate upside down on top of the skillet and, using oven mitts, quickly invert and gently rap the plate on the counter to dislodge the cake. Cool completely at room temperature. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt.

Ashley Meyer lives and writes in Springfield, where she is currently enjoying the ethereal aroma from the blossoms on her potted Meyer lemon tree, with hopes that this year it will finally bear fruit.