Apparently I’ve reached the point in my life where five years passes as if it were one week. A blip on the radar.
Without the omnipresent, constantly tallying, and minutiae-recording hand of social media, I’m not sure I would remember where I was five years ago, or how long it’s been since I last physically shared the same space as some of my friends.
Scratch that; I’m certain I would lose to many details through the transom of my brain—because when pressed, I couldn’t even recall where Dan and I ate dinner last Saturday. (It was the Verona Inn, where we had our favorite bowl of tots; thanks, Instagram!)
Five years ago, I was clambering over the red rocks of Canyonlands and Arches National Park; I was waiting to have my first Shake Shack of the season at Citi Field; and I was first introduced to “Lisa’s cake”—a recipe that has become secondhand to me and a first response whenever I’m asked to contribute a little something to a meal.
Lisa and I have been friends for so long—so long that we used to hang out and dissect the first season of America’s Next Top Model on secondhand couches in our crappy New Jersey apartments—that all my memories of our many meals together are blurring into each other.
I had all these rose-colored reminiscences of us eating slabs of this citrus-and-yogurt loaf at a succession of dinners at her succession of Brooklyn apartments. Turns out she only made this cake for me once—when she brought it as a breakfast snack for a sleepover at my house five flipping years ago!—but the association is indelible.
Lisa adapted the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who took it from an Ina Garten recipe. Over the years, I’ve melded the recipe with elements of an olive oil pound cake I used to make, added honey for a New Year’s Eve party theme, made it citrusier (totally a word) and adding a crunchy sugar glaze from David Lebovitz’s zucchini cake.
In my head, though, it’s still “Lisa’s cake.”
Though Lisa originally baked a grapefruit version as her breakfast gift, over the past five years, I’ve made this cake with any and all citrus fruits I can get my hands on. I can tell you it’s equally bright and refreshing with a combination of grapefruit and lime, or Meyer lemons, or the blood oranges and Cara Cara oranges I used for the cake pictured here.
Baking one of these cakes during the final dregs of winter, when citrus is still plentiful but before the tangerine tulips and golden daffodils nudge themselves out of the ground, has become a yearly habit of its own. It serves as a reminder that warmer days—and opportunities for al fresco cake eating with friends—are on their way.
- nonstick baking spray
- 2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces; 133 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons citrus zest (from 1 grapefruit, 2 oranges, or 3-4 lemons or limes)
- 1 1/2 cups (6 3/8 ounces; 180 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 227 grams) plain Greek yogurt or coconut yogurt
- 3 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons honey, divided (see below)
- 1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil with a pronounced flavor
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed citrus juice
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed citrus juice
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spritz an 8-inch round cake pan, a standard loaf pan, or 4 mini loaf pans with nonstick baking spray. Line the bottom(s) with parchment paper.
- Pulse the sugar and citrus zest together in a mini food processor in 2-second bursts about 10-15 times, until the sugar is moist and beautifully stained by the zest.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
- Whisk the yogurt, eggs, and 2 tablespoons honey together in a large bowl. Stir in the citrus sugar, then stir in the flour mixture.
- Gently stir the olive oil into the batter with a silicone spatula or spoonula until it's completely incorporated. Work slowly—you'll get there. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the cake is domed, golden brown, and slightly cracked on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Transfer the whole thing to a cooling rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
- Stir the citrus juice with the remaining 1 tablespoon honey in a small pan over low heat just for a minute or two until the honey warms and dissolves into the juice.
- Poke holes evenly across the cake with a toothpick, then slowly pour the warm juice evenly over the cake, letting it soak in.
- Let the cake cool for 15 more minutes in the pan, then remove and cool completely on the rack.
Make the glaze:
- Whisk the powdered sugar and juice in a small bowl just until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the granulated sugar—it won't dissolve but will remain, well, granular and crunchy.
- Place a piece of waxed paper underneath the cake on its cooling rack.
- Pour the glaze evenly over the cake, allowing the excess to drip down the sides and onto the waxed paper.
- Let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours, until the glaze hardens.
- Slice and serve.
The unglazed cake can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or well-wrapped (in plastic wrap and foil) in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight if frozen and then bring to room temperature before glazing.
The cake can be glazed a day before serving; store loosely covered at room temperature. (This is obviously your excuse to buy a cake dome!)