I have a medium sized terrace in my apartment in inner Melbourne. Although the terrace gets very hot in summer, I have selected plants that are well suited to the heat. In addition to succulents, there are a few olive trees and a lemon tree. These hardy trees and plants remind me of the parts of Italy where the hot sun beats on the earth and ripens gorgeous citrus fruit.
My lemon tree on the terrace went through a terrible winter last year – its bark was severely damaged, probably by a possum. I went to the local nursery to find out what to do and was told that the tree would die. So every night, Mark brought the lemon tree into the apartment until we were sure that the possums had gone. When I started leaving the tree out at night, I wrapped the trunk in a thick layer of plastic, which I removed every morning. However by that time it was very sad looking and had hardly any leaves. After about 6 weeks, I started to leave the plastic off at night. I pruned the tree back and slowly the bark started repairing itself. Leaves grew and tiny white flowers bloomed and turned into lemons. Today I picked the first of six lemons that it produced. I was terribly excited – my tree had survived and I was eating its fruit.
In celebration of the lemon tree I made a lemon, semolina and pistachio cake drenched in lemon syrup. The cake has a sweet citrus tang and is dense and moist. It is lovely served with creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt. It lasts for days in the fridge. You could make it gluten free by substituting the semolina for super fine polenta and the small amount of flour with gluten free. It is lovely with a coffee on a cold afternoon.
Lemon, semolina and pistachio syrup cake
For the syrup:
1 cup water
240g caster sugar
50ml lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon rind, finely grated
For the cake:
170g pistachios, shelled, unsalted and finely ground
140g self raising flour
100g fine semolina
150g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of Greek yoghurt
extra pistachios for serving
extra Greek yoghurt for serving
Heat oven to 175 degrees. Line and grease a 23 cm cake tin with a removable base. To make the syrup place all the ingredients in a small saucepan on medium heat, Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer about 10 minutes until the liquid thickens into a syrup. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To make the cake, place the dry ingredients (flour, semolina and nuts) in a large mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Set aside.
Beat the sugar and butter until thick and pale (I used a KitchenAide but a hand held beater will do). Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. The next part you need to do by hand. Gradually incorporate the wet ingredients by thirds to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well after each addition. Then add the Greek yoghurt and fold through until well incorporated. Place in the prepared tin and cook for an hour.
In the meantime, strain the syrup to remove any thick lemon zest.
After 55 minutes, start checking the cake – it is cooked when a skewer comes out clean. Once it is cooked, remove form the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. With the skewer, place lots of little holes in the top of the cake. Pour on the syrup so that it runs into the cake through the holes. Let it cool in the tin. Serve with Greek yoghurt and scatter on some roughly chopped pistachios.