I made these little lemon, olive oil & semolina cakes for a picnic last week; they are great for picnics as they are very quick to whip up, and because they aren’t iced they can be transported in their tins or a tub easily if need be. The combination of lemon zest and semolina flour give the cakes a lovely sunny yellow colour, and the drenching of syrup provides a strong kick of lemon flavour and keeps them deliciously moist and soft.
It may look like a very large amount of syrup to use, but semolina absorbs a lot of liquid so the cakes can take quite a lot; don’t be reserved with the soaking, it adds so much flavour and the texture of the soaked cakes is lovely; I think that without the syrup they would probably be a little dry. The olive oil isn’t a strong flavour, it just adds a hint of peppery-ness (and totally makes me feel like the cakes are a little bit healthier), you can replace it with sunflower oil if you prefer, the cakes wont suffer for the swap. The candied lemon slices are also optional, but I like them – as the cakes are otherwise un-decorated they make them a bit prettier and more interesting. They also aren’t really any extra work to make as they are simply cooked in the syrup that you are making anyway.
I baked my cakes in a selection of mini brioche moulds and pudding tins and got ten decently sized cakes – bigger than a cupcake but still individually portioned. You can also bake the cake as one large one in a 20cm square tin; or in a muffin tray in which case I think the recipe will make about 15 cakes – fill them 2/3rds full and reduce the cooking time a little.
- finely grated zest of 3 large lemons
- 150ml (scant ⅔ cup) extra virgin olive oil (or sunflower oil)
- 175g (3/4 cup + 2tbsp) caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 175ml (2/3 cup + 1tbsp) milk
- 200g (1 + ¼ cups) fine semolina
- 75g (1/2 cup + 2tbsp) plain flour
- 3 level tsp baking powder
- juice of 3 large lemons
- 200g (1 cup) sugar
- 2tbsp honey
- 1 whole lemon, very thinly sliced (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease about 10 mini brioche moulds or mini loaf tins and dust with flour. Or grease a 20cm square cake tin and line with baking parchment.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, olive oil, caster sugar and eggs until smooth. Mix in the milk and semolina then sift together the flour and baking powder and whisk in until smooth. Divide the mixture between the tins, filling them two-thirds full.
- Bake for about 25 minutes for small cakes, or 50 minutes for one large one, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- While the cakes are baking make the syrup. Put the lemon juice in a measuring jug and add enough water to make it up to 300ml (1 + ¼ cups). Pour the liquid into a saucepan and add the sugar and honey, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then add the lemon slices if using and bring up to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the lemon has softened. If you aren't using the lemon then just simmer the liquid for 5 minutes then remove from the heat.
- When the cakes are baked, place them in their tins on a wire rack; pour a generous amount of the syrup over each cake - I used about 3tbsp per cake; they can take quite a lot. Leave in their tins until they have absorbed the syrup then carefully turn out and place on the wire rack to cool. The small cakes have a tendency to 'dome' quite a lot, so if you want then to sit flat you can trim off the dome. Decorate with the lemon slices before serving.