brunch, desserts

lemon drop cakes.

I woke up this weekend to a cloudy sky and a little bit of a headache. Nothing major, but one of those ones that’s just irritating enough to make you feel like taking it easy would be a good move versus, say, deep-cleaning your closets. And I love cloudy days for doing things at a good, steady, unhurried pace. There’s so much pressure on sunny days, don’t you think? Sunny days make me feel like a loser for staying inside. Sunny days make me feel like I should cast aside any thought of watching reality TV and instead leap into a full mountain-frolic like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music’s opening credits. Sun demands you not waste its time. Clouds? Way more easygoing. 

Cloudy days are my favorite days for baking. Especially when I don’t really need to bake. Cloudy mornings, especially. I like it because you can get up planning to make your normal breakfast, and instead end up with some homemade pastries, all before 9 am. Typically, a cloudy weekend morning would mean either a banana breakfast ring or some muffins, but I wanted something a little more, well, springy. These lemon cakes have been on my radar for a while, and it was about time I made them.

So I put on some cloud-appropriate music and went to work. I shouldn’t even say “work” because these cakes are effortless; literally nothing to them. I assembled them in less than 10 minutes, and a lot of that was mixer time. I also did something I never do, but wanted to try, and that was to use store-bought lemon curd. Now, people, I have a thing for lemon curd. I’ll eat it out of the jar. The bowl. The anything, it doesn’t matter. But I have never, ever once, until now, had store-bought lemon curd; i have a great recipe and I just make it myself. But this recipe called for store-bought, and I thought now would be a good time to test it out.

I was pleasantly surprised. Store-bought lemon curd has a stickier texture than homemade, and is slightly thicker. It’s more candy-like than my lemon curd, which is creamier, more like a lemon pie filling. The store-bought has a tartness to it and a jelly-ish way about it that makes it ideal for these cakes; I haven’t tried it yet with my own lemon curd, but I imagine it would be messier and maybe wouldn’t hold as well to the tops of the cakes. Would I use store-bought curd for recipes where the lemon curd was the big star? No…i really still believe you should make your own. But as a melty topping, store-bought curd works very well, and cuts your prep time by quite a bit.

You should know this started out as one of those ramekin recipes. You know the ones…like little souffle dishes. I’ll give you directions for that way too, but I wanted to make this a fast recipe, and I wanted my cakes a little smaller than the ramekins called for, so I thought: why not a muffin tin? You get more little cakes, and no handling individual cups. Not all ramekin recipes will work in muffin tins, I’m sure, but these worked perfectly. And they made almost double the cakes you’d get using ramekins.

Do you see that? that’s an individually-sized, sticky lemon cake. These have a fabulous texture to them; not at all like a classic cake. I don’t know if you can tell by looking at it (I’m biased; I feel like I can tell, but I’ve eaten 4 of these in the past few days), but the cake itself has a chewy firmness to it. It’s like if a lemon Starburst and a lemon cupcake had a baby. There’s something about it that is extremely candy-like in nature, and the texture really complements the tart lemon flavor.

And then there’s the curd topping. I renamed them “lemon drops” because of how you unearth them from their muffin pan. When they come out of the oven, you let them sit for a few minutes, then poke around their edges to loosen the cake sides from the tin. Then, i took a flat sheet pan covered with wax paper, laid it over the still-warm cakes, and hung on for dear life.

And i flipped them over, using the counter to help the cakes emerge by knocking my muffin tin/sheet pan sandwich against it. After a few good whacks and some peeking, they landed right on their little sheet pan like it was no big deal. Except for one…he was stuck. I got impatient. And I knew I’d have to try one anyway. So…whoops.

Now how could you resist those little lemon candy cakes, especially on a cloudy morning? or afternoon? or evening? They look like a little sun sitting right there on your plate. And they’re so effortlessly impressive, people will think you spent the better part of your day dolloping the curd just so over them. But you didn’t. You made these half-asleep on some cloudy weekend morning. Which is by far the best way to make cake.

Adapted from a recipe for  little lemon puddings  on Nigella Lawson’s website. Nigella is one of my all-time favorites, ever. I know I’ve been boring you with my Momofuku Milk Bar love, but Nigella? She’s all the way at the top for me.

Lemon Drops

  • 12 tablespoons lemon curd (1 tablespoon per cake)
  • 1/2 cup soft unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • juice of 2 lemons, and finely grated zest from 1 of those lemons
Now, if you do it my way, you just need one muffin tin that yields 12 regular-size muffins. If you’d like to do it the Nigella way, then you need 6 small ramekins and 1 sturdy sheet pan (to hold them). See notes at the bottom for the ramekin way.
Serving sizes: for muffin tins, you should get 11-12 servings, depending on how much you fill your cups. For ramekins, you should get 6 servings.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease the muffin tins with butter (do not use cooking spray, it will not work as well, and you need these to pop out easily). Dollop about 1 tablespoon of lemon curd into the bottom of each one to cover.

In the food processor, mix all the remaining ingredients except the lemon juice. When all has combined into a thick batter, add the lemon juice and blitz quickly to mix. Add the batter to the ramekins, blobbing it on top of the curd, until the mixture comes 2/3 of the way up the sides.  Smooth the tops, then place on a thick oven tray and bake for 18-20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and set the entire muffin pan onto a wire rack to let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Take a thin knife and go around each cake, gently loosening it from the tin. Try to not disturb the cakes too much.

And now, the fun bit; un-molding your cakes. Get a flat sheet pan and cover with a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper. Take the flat pan and the paper, and lay it over the cakes in the tin. Gripping the tin and the sheet pan together with both hands, quickly flip everything over so your muffin pan is now on the top and the sheet pan is on the bottom. Gently but firmly smack the sheet pan/muffin tin combo, still holding together tightly, against the counter to help unearth your cakes.

Slowly lift the muffin tin, checking to see if your cakes have fallen out. If they have, fantastic! If most of them have, that’s great too; loosen the hangers-on with your thin knife and they should pop right out. If they’re mostly still in the muffin tin, lower the tin against the sheet pan again and hit the counter a few more times (with the sheet pan, not your face). Check cakes again; they should be mostly out, except for that one which “accidentally” flips over and needs to be disposed of right away. If there is lemon curd hanging out in the bottoms of the cups, spoon it over the top of the cakes.

Serve immediately while still warm with ice cream, or just by themselves. Any leftover cakes will be just as delicious at room temperature, where you should keep them in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Notes: If you use ramekins, do everything the same up until filling the cups with the lemon cake batter. Set the ramekins on your sturdy sheet pan and carefully place in the oven. When baked, remove the ramekins from the sheet pan and place them onto a wire rack to cool. To unmold the cakes, loosen just like you would with the muffin tins, but as they are individual servings, you can unmold them right onto your serving plate (instead of having to do the whole sheet pan/flippy bit).

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30 Comments

  • Reply Brianne March 28, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Oh, these are fun. They remind me of those “lemon magic cakes” that King Arthur Flour sells in their catalog. You know, the ones that you mix up from the box and then somehow create their own “magic glaze” while baking?! Creepy. Your recipe sounds much more reasonable.

    I like cloudy days for their moody light. It makes great photos. But a sunny cake like this one would definitely brighten any kind of day.

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      oh my gosh i’m so happy someone else thinks the mystery glaze is creepy! IT IS!! i totally know what you’re talking about and i agree wholeheartedly.

      same here…my photos look so much better (or maybe i feel more inspired) in cloudy weather. Although i do picture your cloudy day as superior because you also have the lighthouses and the sea (or that’s how i imagine you). 🙂 we don’t have quite the scenery, but cloudy mornings, which is when i normally do my baking, are the best for getting things done.

      • Reply Brianne March 29, 2012 at 9:10 am

        Cloudy days with lighthouses and the sea are within my reach! We don’t live on the coast, but since Kevin is studying oceanography, we are desperately trying to move coastward.

  • Reply Emma March 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I like pre-made curd because it is less eggy. Not that eggy bothers me but I like the not-egg-yet-super-tanginess of store-bought curd. Lots of hyphens in that sentence.

    Oh, and getting up AND making goodies before 9 am on a cloudy weekend morning? Not for me 😀

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      emma, i love your hyphens! I do it all the time. You totally summed it up for me right there; it IS the non-egginess that makes the store-bought all tarty and candy-like. I didn’t think of it like that, but it makes totally sense.

      it’s ok…crazies like me get up early to bake. some days i’d rather sleep in, but i have an 18-month old who has more of a say in that than i do, so we make the best of it. tiny lemon cakes seem to be the next best thing to my pillow. 🙂

  • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina March 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    What. Is. This?

    I just died a little. OMG. These are like, the MOST divine things I’ve ever seen. I pinned it. I’m going to make these for someone and prance around like I solved the issue of world peace.

    Also, it’s cloudy today. Which means my hair frizzed. THAT is what cloudy weather means to me. I look like Don King. Only cuter.

    Also #2, CONGRATULATIONS! to my dear bloggy friend Shannon for winning for her Pi(e). Now I don’t have to take revenge against anyone, since you took top honors.

    Seriously, the honors couldn’t have gone to a better and more deserving and AMAZING chef. Yes, I called you a chef. In my opinion, that word is reserved for the BEST and greatest. And you are. I’d squeeze you if I could.

    • Reply shannon March 28, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      This. is. for you. Because you and I were talking about our shared love of fruity candies and also lemons, and then i got to thinking about fruity candy, and then this sounded really good, sort of like candy, and…poof. Jen-inspired dessert. Because it’s basically a big lemon candy cake. All i ask in return is that there are photos of you prancing around like you solved the world peace crisis.

      oh no! you’re cursed with cloud-induced hair frizzle! i’m sorry…thankfully i don’t have that, but i know people who are afflicted. yeesh.

      Thank you thank you thank you! i was a little worried about you taking people out, and i was hoping you wouldn’t have to. And, ahem, i’m teary…a chef? A CHEF!??! i am beside myself, because i doubt i deserve that, but i promise to try and live up to your opinion of me, which is leaps and bounds greater than my own opinion of my baking. 🙂 I squeeze you right back.

  • Reply Kiri W. April 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Mmmm, beautiful! That looks so creamy and delicious 🙂 Well done!

    • Reply shannon April 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      thank you so much! and so easily done…it was almost no work to put together, which i think made them that much more delicious.

  • Reply Choc Chip Uru April 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    These cakes are like little drops of spring fallen into a cake tin and baked.
    I love them 😀

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    • Reply shannon April 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      oh, what a lovely way to put that! they tasted like little drops of spring…so lemony and really fresh. i love that you love them 🙂

  • Reply Part Time House Wife April 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    This is perfect! Just Perrrrfect!! I have a jar of lemon curd that needs to be used up just sittin in my fridge!
    I’m making these tomorrow!
    Buzzed, and pinned!
    Ps, I have that same place mat! love it too!

    • Reply shannon April 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      yay! it’s always nice to help someone clean out their fridge a little bit; you can’t let lemon curd just go to waste! 🙂 and they’re so easy, it’s great.
      i use that place mat all the time…it seems like it goes with everything. one of my favorites for sure.

  • Reply Janet@FCTC April 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    What a cool idea! I love that you get a double hit of lemon with the topping and in the cake itself. Gotta try this one 🙂

    • Reply shannon April 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Janet, if you like lemon, you’ll love these; they have huge lemon flavor, especially with the store-bought curd!

  • Reply Anita at Hungry Couple April 3, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Oh, I love these! And I totally agree about being more likely to be in my kitchen baking on a cloudy or rainy day. Sunshine just DEMANDS that I go out in it. The sun can be so b*tchy that way 🙂

    • Reply shannon April 4, 2012 at 8:29 am

      ha! the sun can be so b*tchy that way! exactly what i was thinking. rain and clouds basically beg you to bake something and cuddle up with it. and these were really fun to cuddle up with, right out of the oven.

  • Reply Jaime April 4, 2012 at 2:39 am

    Absolutely beautiful recipe! I love lemons and these gorgeous cakes with that glossy curd topping…looks too yummy to resist!

    • Reply shannon April 4, 2012 at 8:26 am

      jamie, i’m happy these little cakes make you smile! they did the same for me once the popped out of their tins.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog April 4, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Oh my gosh, I want one. I have to have one. They look amazing! I adore lemon curd. These look so easy. I’m going to have to make these asap!

    • Reply shannon April 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      jennie, if you love lemon curd, you do need these! they’re like little lemon candies and they basically melt in your mouth. easily one of my favorite lemon recipes, and i’ve already had requests for another batch.

  • Reply Sandra April 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Cutie patooties! I feel the same way about sunny days. Warm and sunny and staying inside seems like such a waste of a good day. These are going on my must make list.

    • Reply shannon April 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      “cutie patooties” totally applies here, Sandra. and they’re sort of effortlessly cute; no messing about with decorating them, etc. which makes them even better.

  • Reply Kelsey @ K&K Test Kitchen April 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    These are adorable. I adore lemon cakes and lemon curd and this combination sounds incredible!

    • Reply shannon April 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      if you’re a big lemon fan, Kelsey, truly; try these IMMEDIATELY. i get excited just thinking about them, and it makes me want to make another batch for the weekend.

  • Reply Mark @ Chow Down Seattle April 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    These look so tasty! Thanks for posting!

  • Reply Peggy Saas June 21, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Ok the first post I read on your blog and I am hooked! You had me at ‘lemon drop cakes’. These puppies are going to the top of my must-try list. Gorgeous!

    • Reply shannon June 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      oh peggy, i’m so happy you’re hooked; it’ll be lovely having you around. and thank you! these are one of my absolute favorites of anything on the blog (or of anything i’ve ever made). and they’re almost shamefully easy, even though they look like you slaved over ramekins and a water bath. i hope you enjoy them as much as i do.

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