6 peak-season citrus recipes: This easy lemon loaf cake puts the sun in Sunday (even if it’s raining)

Orange blossom yogurt lemon loaf cake
(Genevieve Ko / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. We’re in peak citrus season in Southern California and the lemons, oranges, grapefruit, limes, citrons and mandarins are overflowing. Mountains of citrus reached toward the sky at the Ken’s Top Notch stand at the Hollywood Farmers Market last weekend. Pink-hued Cara Cara oranges, sweet-tart seedless Tango mandarins and lumpy, knobby, easy-to-peel Dekopons (“the uglier the better”) covered tables.

“I couldn’t come to the market and not get these,” one woman said, filling her bag with Daisy mandarins (the sign for them said, “sweetest mandarins in the world”). “They’re the best I’ve ever had.”

Oscar Hernandez, market manager for Ken’s Top Notch, confirmed that Daisies are the Reedley-based farm’s bestseller, because they have unparalleled sweetness and complex flavor. “My wife puts them in salads, lots of restaurants buy them for cocktails,” he said.

Cara Caras also are in high demand, he noted. Try them in a Cold And Salty Orange Salad from former Times cooking columnist Ben Mims, who utilizes at least a few varieties of citrus along with punchy ingredients like capers, feta cheese and Castelvetrano olives.


One citrus variety might be winding down (at least at Ken’s Top Notch): The oro blanco grapefruit, prized for their “white gold” flesh” and mild, sweet flavor, has a relatively short season. Sonoko Sakai, Los Angeles cooking instructor and author, and her friend Alaina Wong turn them into Oro Blanco Marmalade.

At Arnett Farms there were Buddha’s hand citrons; bergamot oranges; pomelos; Meyer lemons; and Kishu, Fairchild, Nova, Golden Nugget and Satsuma tangerines. Samples of Moro blood oranges were split open to reveal violet-red fruit.

Their tangy, berry-like flavor pairs with roasted beets in a winter salad of Beets And Blood Oranges With Mint and Orange Flower Water from chef Suzanne Goin. She uses just 1 or 2 drops of orange flower water in a dressing with blood orange juice, red wine vinegar, shallots and olive oil.

Key limes were also available at Arnett — make pie while you can: Nicole Rucker’s Key Lime Pie recipe includes a slab variation that you can cut into squares, and it feeds a crowd.

Among the mandarinquats, Nagami kumquats, Makrut limes and Valentine pomelos (pink-fleshed and sometimes even heart-shaped), JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch stocked Sevilles, the bitter (also called sour) oranges available between January and March in very small quantities in California.

But a favorite citrus to use for baking is the abundant, ubiquitous lemon, because it’s so bright and tart and seems to cut through any combination of flour/butter/eggs — the way it does in these two easy, lemon-y cakes come from former Times test kitchen directors Genevieve Ko and Donna Deane. Ko’s Orange Blossom Yogurt Lemon Loaf Cake combines lemon juice and zest with tangy yogurt. For Deane’s Lemon Upside-Down Cake, whole lemon slices (with the peel) and brown sugar line the bottom of the pan, so that when it’s flipped, there’s a layer of caramelized, jammy, tart-sweet, sunny lemon.

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Cold And Salty Orange Salad

For a chilled, tangy, salty salad, Ben Mims layers slices of at least three different kinds of sweet citrus, seasoned with a simple vinaigrette and garnished with paper-thin celery slices, crumbles of feta and torn pieces of Castelvetrano olives. He suggests using a mix of navel or Cara Cara oranges or any kind of mandarin, but blood oranges always “since their deep red flesh and stripes add colorful contrast.” A rice vinegar dressing along with citrus zest and a pinch of chile flakes mingles with the citrus juices. “The vinaigrette makes the oranges taste, um, orange-ier!”
Get the recipe.
Serves 2 to 4. Cook time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hour unattended.

A salad of sweet orange citrus marinated in a salty-things vinaigrette with feta, celery, anchovies, olives and capers.
(Ben Mims/Los Angeles Times)

Beets And Blood Oranges With Mint And Orange Flower Water

Chef Suzanne Goin makes a winter salad of roasted beets with blood oranges, both the juice and pulp for maximum effect. “I always want dressings to be juicy,” she said. This is an especially good side dish for rich entrees, a counterpoint with citrus that’s “bright and not heavy.”
Get the recipe.
Serves 6. Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

Recipe: Beets and blood oranges with mint and orange flower water
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

Nicole Rucker’s Key Lime Pie

The floral, spicy, tart notes of fresh Key lime juice and zest go into a delicious creamy filling for this pie lined with graham-cracker crust and topped with whipped sour cream. To serve a crowd, try the slab pie variation and cut it into bars.
Get the recipe.
Makes one 9-inch pie. Cook time: 30 minutes.

Nicole Rucker's Key Lime Pie.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times / Prop styling by Joni Noe)

Lemon Upside-Down Cake

This lemon upside-down cake, inspired by an orange caradamom upside-down cake from pastry chef David Lebovitz, is prepared in a skillet lined with brown sugar and thin slices of lemon (peel and all). When baked, the sugar and lemon juices turn into a jammy marmalade-like topping.
Get the recipe.
Serves 8. Cook time: 55 minutes.

Lemon upside–down cake.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Orange Blossom Yogurt Lemon Loaf Cake

For your Sunday baking pleasure: an easy loaf cake that gets its bright, sunny flavor from lemon juice and zest. Warm from the oven, it’s brushed all over with lemon syrup.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 45 minutes.

A lemon loaf cake.
(Genevieve Ko / Los Angeles Times)

Oro Blanco Marmalade

The mildly sweet “white gold” fruit of oro blanco turns into this luscious, golden-hued marmalade at the hands of cooking teacher and writer Sonoko Sakai and her friend Alaina Wong — who use the grapefruit straight from a tree in the yard and incorporate a method Sakai says she got from her friend Saba Parsa of Saba Jams. But you can use any grapefruit. Just make sure it isn’t sprayed, because you’re using the whole fruit.
Get the recipe.
Makes 11 half-pint jars. Cook time: 5 hours 30 minutes plus overnight cooling.

Sonoko Sakai's oro blanco marmalade at home in Highland Park.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

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