The cusp between fall and winter is all about comfort and traditions for me. Our family doesn’t really have a lot of traditions, no rules about who cooks what on Thanksgiving, no Christmas sweaters or egg nog parties, but every so often, a recipe becomes so entrenched in our family’s history, it’s a tradition all by itself. My mum’s lemon squares and Aunt Tina’s Pineapple Upside Down cake are just those kinds of recipes.
My mum is an Aussie (hence the “mum” bit) so afternoon tea is no stranger to me. In fact, I’m kind of obsessed with it. It’s an extra meal and everything is tiny, which I love. It’s thoroughly indulgent and unnecessary, but too much fun to pass up. When thinking about classic desserts in my family, an afternoon tea seemed like the perfect setting to update them. Instead of plain lemon squares, I mellowed out the sweetness with some brown sugar and vanilla, and added a hit of rosemary for an herbaceous twist. For Tina’s upside down cake, I went with the season and switched pineapple to pear, with lemon thyme syrup to cut through the sweetness. They’re perfect with a cup of soothing chamomile. Enjoy!
ROSEMARY LEMON SQUARES
Sweet, tart, and with a twist, these lemon bars are perfect bites for afternoon tea, picnics, or just to have on a plate for guests. They look gorgeous and are super simple to whip up. Enjoy!
INGREDIENTS (FOR CRUST)
2 cups flour
8 oz butter, room temp
1/2 cup powdered sugar
INGREDIENTS (FOR FILLING)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the scrapings of a vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon rosemary, really finely chopped
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar for dusting
Pre Heat oven to 350F
For the crust, work together the flour, butter, and powdered sugar until it forms a dough. Spread it on the bottom of a greased 9×13″ baking dish (I used a glass one) and pat down so it’s evenly distributed. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden brown, and cool.
For the filling, whisk together the eggs and sugars until fully combined and a pale yellow hue. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) and whisk until just combined. Pour over the crust and bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Garnish with little sprigs of rosemary if you like. Enjoy!
PEAR UPSIDE DOWN CAKE WITH LEMON THYME SYRUP
(I revisit the same recipe from February, 2009)
Who doesn’t love a syrupy, warm, gorgeous cake. My aunt recently brought over her lovely pineapple-upside cake. It looks like a stained glass window, with maraschino cherries and pecans dotting the glistening surface. And while I’ll gobble up that cake faster than anything, I wanted to mix it up a little and revamp this fabulously retro cake. So the pineapple was switched with pears, which have an earthiness that suits the cold weather outside perfectly. And instead of melted apricot jam to paint the surface, I made a lemon-thyme syrup, which brings a liveliness to this scrumptious tea cake. One cake is technically enough for 8, but I might make an extra to enjoy with a cold glass of milk after everyone has left.
2, 8.5 ounce cans of sliced pears
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup golden brown sugar
1/2 cup pear juice, reserved from can
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon double acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
INGREDIENTS (FOR THE SYRUP)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 bunches of fresh thyme
1/2 cup white sugar
Pre heat oven to 350 F.
In a small pot, stir together the lemon juice, sugar, and whole bunches of thyme. Heat the mixture on medium for about 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolves and the liquid is clear. Take off the heat and set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
Spray a 9 inch pie pan with non-stick spray, then pour the melted butter into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter, and press down, to moisten all of the sugar. Separate the pears from the juice, and dry them out on a paper towel. Slice the pear slices in half, and arrange in the pan in whatever pattern you like (i did a sort of pin wheel design).
For the batter, sift the dry ingredients and set aside. Whip the eggs for one minute on high, until light and frothy. Add the sugar slowly, still beating on high until the eggs are very pail and light (4 more minutes). Add the vanilla and pear juice, beating slowly. Add the dry ingredients, also beating on low. Pour the batter evenly over pears in the pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and pulling away from the edges.
Once baked, immediately flip the cake out onto a platter. Do this by placing the platter over the pan, and flipping gently. Don’t immediately remove the pan. Let it rest for a minute or two so it can completely unstick itself.
While the cake is warm, cover the entire cake with the lemon-thyme syrup with a brush. Let the cake sit for 30 minutes, just to let the syrup soak in. Serve alone or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!