Sunday, 4 May 2014

Eugenio Montale | Lemon Bundt Cake with Lemon Curd

My search for a lemon poem took me, via the as yet unexplored Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee, an evidently captivating travelogue through the citrus groves of Italy, to twentieth century Italian poet  Eugenio Montale. Any writer who proclaims to have 'wanted to wring the neck of the eloquence of our old aulic language, even at the risk of a counter-eloquence,' is bound to attract my attention. In his poem 'The Lemon Trees', written in 1925, Montale offers a less than sensual poeticized image of lemon gardens.

Listen: the laureled poets stroll only among shrubs
with learned names: ligustrum, acanthus, box.
What I like are streets that end in grassy
ditches where boys snatch
a few famished eels from drying puddles:
paths that struggle along the banks,
then dip among the tufted canes,
into the orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better, if the gay palaver of the birds
is stilled, swallowed by the blue:
more clearly now, you hear the whisper
of genial branches in that air barely astir,
the sense of that smell
inseparable from earth,
that rains its restless sweetness in the heart.
Here, by some miracle, the war
of conflicted passions is stilled,
here even we the poor share the riches of the world –
the smell of the lemon trees.

Above: Bartolomeo Bimbi's painting of the many varieties of lemon grown in the garden of Cosimo Medici

See, in these silences when thingslet themselves go and seem almost
to reveal their final secret,
we sometimes expect
to discover a flaw in Nature,
the world's dead point, the link that doesn't hold,
the thread that, disentangled, might at last lead us
to the center of a truth.
The eye rummages,
the mind pokes about, unifies, disjoins
in the fragrance that grows
as the day closes, languishing.
These are the silences where we see
in each departing human shade
some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion dies, time returns us
to noisy cities where the sky is only
patches of blue, high up, between the cornices.
Rain wearies the ground; over the buildings
winter's tedium thickens.
Light grows niggardly, the soul bitter.
And, one day, through a gate ajar,
among the trees in a courtyard,
we see the yellows of the lemon trees;
and the heart's ice thaws,
and songs pelt
into the breast
and trumpets of gold pour forth
epiphanies of Light!

Eugenio Montale, 'The Lemon Trees' | trans. William Arrowsmith

Far from evoking idyllic images of an Arcadia-like paradise, Montale's lemon trees can be found in unexpected locations: on patches of rough ground at the end of an obscure path or in the enclosure of a courtyard amid the noise and monotony of an urban landscape. In the stillness of the day, through a half-opened gate, beneath a heavy sky, bursts the yellow of the lemon trees, their migrant scent explodes in the air. And it seems to me that this fleeting moment of physical enjoyment is far more precious than the search for some 'final secret', for some transcendental truth.

~ Lemon Bundt Cake with Lemon Curd ~

This is no ordinary lemon cake – intensely lemony, moist and tender. Certainly one of the best I've tasted, let alone made. The addition of lemon curd in the batter creates luscious pockets of gold that burst in the mouth. I've made a number of changes to the original recipe, the most significant ones being the use of liqueur to enhance the lemon flavour and of buttermilk, simply because I couldn't resist the temptation.

(Adapted from The Kiwi Cook)

170 g butter
170 g caster sugar
zest of 3 lemons
3 eggs
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp limoncello
60 g ground almonds (or you can use plain flour)
190 g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
60 ml buttermilk, well-shaken
60 ml lemon juice
150 g lemon curd

juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp sugar

Limoncello glaze:
185 g icing sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp limoncello or gin

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C (340 F). Grease and flour a 6 cup capacity bundt pan.

Prepare the cake batter:  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt, add the ground almonds and set aside.

Rub the lemon zest into the sugar. With a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter for about a minute. Scrape butter down the sides into the centre of the bowl. Gradually add the caster sugar with the lemon zest and beat together on medium–high speed until the mixture turns pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With speed on medium-low, beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure they are fully incorporated after each addition. Add a spoonful of flour with each egg to avoid curdling. Beat in the vanilla extract and limoncello.

Mix the buttermilk with the lemon juice. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture into the egg mixture in 5 parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, until just combined and no flour can be seen.

Pour about half the cake batter into the bundt pan. Over the top of that, spoon or pipe in an even ring of lemon curd around the middle of the cake mixture, but don’t let the curd touch the sides of the pan. Spoon over the rest of the cake mixture.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 45-50 minutes depending on the oven, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. (I baked mine for a total of 46 minutes and reduced the temperature to 175 C after 30 min.)

Prepare the syrup: Put the lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl and warm gently until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil and bubble for 1 minute.

While the cake is still hot, pour the hot lemon syrup into the pan. Cool in the pan for 6-10 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely. Then carefully lift the cake onto a serving dish or platter and apply the limoncello glaze.

Prepare the limoncello glaze: In a small bowl, mix together the lemon zest and juice, limoncello  and icing sugar (you may need to adjust quantities to get the right consistency) until the mixture becomes smooth and thick. Pour over the top of the cake after  and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides. Do so in 2-3 turns to achieve a layered effect.

Decorate with lemon zest.


  1. You have such a wonderful blog. I love the way you present poetry to accompany each photo. Lemon is a personal favourite, and I'd love to try this cake!

    1. Beth, thank you so much for your kind words. Lemon is a personal favourite for me too and I absolutely loved this cake.

  2. What a lovely poem and lovely looking cake too!

    1. Hi, Jessica. Thank you for your visiting!