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Upside-down muffins feature winter's best citrus

Recipe:  Meyer lemons require a light hand in baking


Lemond slice muffins in tin
The muffins are flipped after baking, revealing the Meyer lemon slices on the
bottom. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Any bright, ripe citrus is welcome in winter, but I have a special place in my heart for Meyer lemons. Believed to be a cross between a mandarin and a lemon, a Meyer lemon is sweeter, more golden and more floral than a regular lemon. The relative lack of pith means Meyers can be eaten whole (OK, spit out the seeds), though I usually try to use the fruit as accents in savory dishes. It makes wonderful vinaigrette, for example.

However I haven't baked with Meyers as much as I'd like. I decided to change that when the crop ripened on my tiny backyard Meyer lemon tree.

But the baking recipes I came across were so loaded with sugar and other ingredients that I had to wonder if the creators had trusted the Meyer lemon's flavor. The fruit is sweet-tart; it doesn't need syrup AND glaze to make a delicious treat.

So I went back to an old cookbook, the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library "Muffins and Quick Breads," which has several citrus recipes. I decided to remake a recipe for Lemon Slice Muffins -- designed for tart lemons -- to feature my precious Meyers.

This recipe is a bit fussy, so you can skip the whole lemon-slice part if you want and just make the muffin batter. (I'd sprinkle some zest on top, in that case.) But if you love Meyers and want to show them off at brunch,  do try the muffins with the (lightly) sugared whole lemon slices baked on the bottom. Flipped over, they are like little spots of sunshine on a foggy day.

3 Meyer lemons
Meyer lemons are more golden than tart lemons
and have thinner skin.

Meyer lemon slice muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

3 Meyer lemons, washed and dried

Butter or cooking spray for pan

1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for pan (alternatively, 2-3 teaspoons coarse sugar just for the pan)

1/2 tablespoon water

6 tablespoons butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1 cup milk, room temperature

Instructions:

Lemon slices on a green board
Cut thin slices of lemon and be sure
to pop out any seeds.

Saving out the largest of the 3 lemons, grate the zest from the other 2. Squeeze half of one of the zested lemons to measure 1/2 tablespoon juice.

Combine the zest, the 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 tablespoon water and the 1/2 tablespoon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the 6 tablespoons butter and stir another minute so the butter melts. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter or grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan. Sprinkle about 1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar or coarse sugar in the bottom of each cup.

Cut the stem end from the remaining lemon, then slice the rest of it very thin into 12 slices. Place one slice in each muffin cup, removing any seeds you come across. (I cut the large slices in half and overlapped them, but those didn't stick to the muffins as well, so I recommend just stuffing the larger slices whole into the bottom of the cups.)

Make the batter: Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a larger bowl, whisk together the reserved zest-butter mixture, the eggs and the milk until well-combined. Stir in the dry ingredients just until blended; small lumps are OK.

2 muffins on a blue plate
Meyer lemon slice muffins make a delicious brunch
bread or afternoon snack.

Divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in one comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let cool for a minute or two, then flip the muffins over with a knife or thin spatula. (Alternatively, put the cooling rack on top and flip the whole pan over at the same time.) You might have to retrieve a lemon slice or two, but they'll stick right back on.

Serve muffins warm.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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