About Time for Lemon Mint Cake

Fresh mint and Meyer lemons (finally!) from my backyard star in this simple, satisfying cake.
Fresh mint and Meyer lemons (finally!) from my backyard star in this simple, satisfying cake.

I have known my share of late bloomers.

But my Meyer lemons? Well, they sure take the cake — literally.

Usually at year’s end, I watch the oval green citrus on my dwarf backyard tree grow ever larger, then slowly start turning bright yellow before taking on a warm orangey-yellow hue by February.

Not so in 2020. For some odd reason, they stayed dark green beyond that winter. Moreover, they remained like that throughout the entirety of 2021, and into the first half of 2022.

Could it be that like the rest of us, they simply needed to chill during the worst of the pandemic? If so, who can blame them?

After their extended hibernation finally ended, I was more than ready to finally use them to full effect in — what else — this “Lemon Mint Cake (Gateâu au Citron et a la Menthe).”

The recipe is from “Gateâu: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes” (Scribner, 2022), of which I received a review copy.

It was written by James Beard Award-winning writer Aleksandra Crapanzano, who grew up in Paris and New York, and has been a food columnist for the Wall Street Journal for a dozen years.

If you’ve ever visited a patisserie, and gawked at the display cases, you might think that all French cakes are elaborate creations. But Crapanzano sets the record straight, by spotlighting more than 150 recipes that Parisians are more apt to bake on a regular basis in their own home ovens.

They are unfussy, uncomplicated, and timeless ones that more than deliver on flavor and satisfaction. In short, the kind of cakes that I, and so many others, gravitate toward at home.

With charming illustrations by Cassandre Montoriol rather than the usual glossy food photos, the book showcases cakes for every occasion and for enjoying for no reason at all. They run the gamut from “Cardamom Cake,” “Almond Rum Cake,” and “Bittersweet Chocolate Espresso Cake” to “Boozy Peaches and Mascarpone Layer Cake,” “Mocha Yule Log,” and “Chorizo, Piquillo, and Chevre Savory Loaf.”

A cake that's perfect for this time of year -- and beyond.
A cake that’s perfect for this time of year — and beyond.

The batter for the “Lemon Mint Cake” is rich with a cup of butter, sweet from light brown sugar, and nutty from the addition of almond flour, as well as all-purpose. The zest of two lemons gets stirred in, as well as a full cup of finely chopped fresh mint leaves, which conveniently, also grow in my backyard.

The profusion of chopped mint turns the batter a speckled green. In fact, the cake bakes up looking a lot like zucchini bread, only round instead.

Softened butter, along with confectioners’ sugar and a splash of fresh lemon juice get mixed together for the icing. I especially like the method for making this frosting, which calls for keeping the stand mixer going on low speed as you slowly add in the sugar, a little at a time. It results in a flawlessly smooth consistency.

Slather the icing on top in a thick layer, and you’re ready to help yourself to a slice.

A golden cake with green speckles from all that chopped mint.
A golden cake with green speckles from all that chopped mint.

It’s a moist cake with a compact yet light crumb. Because you’ve used only the zest in the batter, the lemon flavor is not startlingly sharp but very gentle. The same is true with the mint. It’s not a breezy Thin Mint cookie-like taste but a more subtle coolness on the finish.

You could add a drop of mint extract, if you wanted to up the minty flavor. Or shower on more lemon zest over the frosted cake before serving for a bigger hit of citrus.

But as is, this modest, no-nonsense cake definitely was worth enduring several winters to finally savor.

A cake that needs no special occasion or reason to enjoy.
A cake that needs no special occasion or reason to enjoy.

Lemon Mint Cake (Gateâu au Citron et a la Menthe)

(Makes one 9-inch cake)

For cake:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup almond flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup whole milk

Grated zest of 2 lemons

1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

For the icing:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons lemon juice or limoncello

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment and butter the sides of the pan.

In a stand mixer or using electric beaters, cream the butter and brown sugar together until the color is light and the texture is fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk and beating after each addition to combine. Stir in the zest and the mint.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to come to room temperature before icing it.

To make the icing: Cream the butter on low speed in a stand mixer or using electric beaters. Keeping the mixer running, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar. Once combined, increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and beat for another minute to incorporate. Spread the icing with an offset spatula over the surface of the cake.

From “Gateâu” by Aleksandra Crapanzano

More Lemon Cakes to Enjoy: Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake by Saveur

And: Chunky Lemon Cornmeal Cake (With Sumac) by Dorie Greenspan

And: Meyer Lemon Cake by Sunset Magazine

And: Meyer Lemon Coffee Cake by Martha Stewart

And: Meyer Lemon Tea Cakes with Pomegranate Glaze by Valerie Gordon

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