What makes this lemon loaf stand out is the addition of orange blossom water. Distilled from orange flowers, it encapsulates the heady scent of blooming citrus trees.
It’s that perfumed air you catch on some sunny Southern California mornings, that happy smell that transports you to bucolic groves and wide open spaces. Here, the water is baked into the batter and soaked into the cake, and for extra credit you can reinforce it with an optional glossy citrus glaze.
To make the most of lemons, I blend the zest, which contains essential oils that hold the floral aroma of the fruit, with the sugar. I don’t love biting into wispy strands of zest in a finished cake, so I grind the zest into the sugar in a food processor, then use the machine to quickly mix the rest of the batter. (If you don’t have a food processor or don’t want to wash yours, you can rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips and mix the batter by hand.)
All of the tangy juice from the fruit gets used too. A splash is mixed into the batter, its tartness echoed by yogurt, and the rest simmers into simple syrup for soaking the baked cake. I like to brush it only on the bottom and sides to preserve the caramelized crispness of the top crust. The juice delivers a sunshine brightness, making this loaf as great for breakfast as it is for dessert.
Orange blossom water gives this cake a lovely floral scent and a unique citrus aroma that’s much lighter than the taste you get from orange oil, which would overpower it. If you can’t find blossom water, use pure vanilla extract instead.
ORANGE BLOSSOM YOGURT LEMON LOAF
1 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups granulated sugar, divided
cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat an 8 ½- by 4 ½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray again.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Place 1 cup sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Use a Microplane grater to remove the zest from both lemons, letting it fall directly over the sugar. Juice the lemons into a bowl and reserve; you should have at least 6 tablespoons.
Pulse the sugar until it’s evenly yellow and has the texture of wet sand. Add the oil and pulse until well-mixed. Add the eggs and pulse just until incorporated. Add the yogurt, 1 tablespoon reserved lemon juice and ½ teaspoon orange blossom water. Pulse just until the last streak of white yogurt disappears. Sprinkle the flour evenly over wet ingredients and pulse just until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar with ¼ cup of the reserved lemon juice in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then boil until the liquid is clear, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the remaining ½ teaspoon orange blossom water into the syrup.
Unmold the warm cake and brush the bottom and sides evenly with the lemon syrup. Cool completely on the wire rack.
Time: 1½ hours; makes one 8½-by-4½-inch loaf
Glazed Lemon Loaf: Stir 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and ½ teaspoon orange blossom water into 1 cup powdered sugar to make a very thick glaze. Spread evenly over the cooled cake, letting the glaze naturally drip down the sides.
Lemon Olive Oil Cake: Substitute extra-virgin olive oil for the vegetable oil.
Yogurt Citrus Cake: Substitute other citrus, such as oranges, Mandarins, clementines, grapefruit or limes or a combination, for the lemons.
You can buy orange blossom water, preferably the Mymouné brand, online or in Middle Eastern or specialty stores.
You also can make the batter by hand: Place the sugar in a large bowl, zest the lemons over and rub in the zest. Whisk in the oil, then the eggs, then the yogurt, lemon juice and orange blossom water. While whisking slowly, sprinkle in the flour mixture until the batter resembles pancake batter. Add half of the remaining flour and fold with a spatula just until incorporated and repeat with the remaining dry ingredients.
The cake can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for as long as 1 week.