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Plain or Fancy Ligurian Lemon Cake

April 15, 1999
Web posted at: 5:41 p.m. EDT (2141 GMT)

From "Desserts by Pierre Hermé" by Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan (Little, Brown & Company)

Moist, lemony and dotted with raspberries, this simple round cake gets much of its depth of flavor from the unexpected addition of extra-virgin oil. While mild Ligurian olive oil is Pierre's oil of choice, any fine-quality olive oil that's not too assertive will give you what you're looking for -- a cake with a rich aroma, a light olive taste, and a soft texture. Serve the cake plain, just out of the pan, or fancy, spread with meringue, browned in the oven, and finished with fresh berries.

10 to 12 servings

The cake:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons - removed with a zester and very finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
  • 2/3 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil
  • about 1 pint fresh raspberries
  • 1 small sheet of foil for roasting figs


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch round cake or springform pan, dust the interior with four and tap out the excess.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and reserve.

Place the sugar and chopped zest in the bowl of a mixer and rub the ingredients together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Fit the bowl into the mixer with the whisk attachment in place, add the eggs, and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and thick, about 3 minutes.

Set the mixer to its lowest speed and beat in the milk. Add the sifted dry ingredients, beating only until they are incorporated, and then add the lemon juice, warm melted butter, and olive oil, again beating only until blended.

Pour about one third of the batter into the prepared pan -- it should be just enough to form a thin, even layer. Top with enough raspberries to cover the batter, then pour on the rest of the batter, using a rubber spatula to gently spread the batter so that it runs down between the berries and just covers them. You'll have a very thin top layer of batter, and that's the way it's supposed to be.

Bake the cake for 30 to 33 minutes, or until it is golden and pulls away from the sides of the pan: a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately unmold it onto a cooling rack, invert so that the cake is right side up and allow it to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, the cake is ready to serve or to decorate with meringue.

The meringue (optional):

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Confectioner's sugar
  • Fresh raspberries or a mixture of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, optional


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 475°F. Place the cake on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Working in an impeccably clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg white until it holds soft peaks. Add the sugar in a slow, steady stream and continue to beat until the mixture forms firm, glossy peaks. Immediately spread the meringue over the top of the cake, using a metal icing spatula or a spoon. Dust the meringue with confectioner's sugar and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. (Alternatively, you can brown the meringue using a blowtorch.) Top the cake with berries, if you're using them.

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