Preserved Lemon & Cranberry Loaf Cake

Before making this Preserved Lemon & Cranberry Loaf Cake, I'd only ever used preserved lemons in savory recipes. Also known as lemon pickles, preserved lemons are made by quartering lemons and packing them tightly in jars with salt, water, and lemon juice. After a few weeks, the salty brine cures and softens the thick lemon rinds,  infusing them with a bright and salty bitterness that's right at home alongside the grilled meats, tagines, and curries common to the North African and South Asian countries where the pickles were developed.

I appreciate the bitter salty tang of the little pickled lemon slivers in lamb stews, mixed into pasta sauces, or as part of a coarsely-chopped garnish over seared fish, but it had never occurred to me to try them in something sweet, until I found myself a bit short on the fresh lemons I needed for a cranberry lemon cake I wanted to make.

The idea of adding what is essentially a type of pickle to a cake might sound odd at first, but the concept isn't anything new. Desserts that combine savory and sweet flavors have been standards around the world for ages, and, in this country,  more and more commonplace on restaurant menus, in bakery cases, and even tucked among the old favorites on our grocery store shelves.

The extra salt that seemed so surprising in that Internet-breaking 2008 New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, is now as expected in every baking ingredient list as butter and vanilla extract. There are olive oil ice creams, bacon donuts, chile-spiked brownies, and chocolate-covered absolutely everything. Even the business savvy Girl Scouts have hopped aboard the savory-sweet train; they recently announced salted caramel chocolate chip as their 2019 cookie debut.

All that to say that it didn't feel like much of a risk for me to grab that semi-forgotten jar of preserved lemons from my condiment drawer and scoop out a few spoonfuls to dice and combine with freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest. The result was a revelation. The marriage of the fresh and preserved lemons added an additional level of complexity to the classic lemon loaf cake.

I still have quite a bit of cake left, but I'm already thinking about other possibilities for this. Preserved lemon bars might be next on the list.

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Preserved Lemon & Cranberry Loaf Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake
For the cake
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup preserved lemons, coarsely chopped (use peel and pulp)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup apple cider or orange juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

For the topping
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5” loaf pan and line with parchment paper so that it overhangs on two opposite sides.

Combine the sugar, preserved lemons, lemon zest, kosher salt, vanilla, and melted butter in a large bowl or the base of an electric mixer. Beat rapidly with a wooden spoon or a paddle attachment until ingredients are smooth and evenly combined. Beat in the egg.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir into the wet ingredients along with the apple cider and lemon juice. Mix until completely incorporated.

Stir in the cranberries. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining lemon zest and white sugar. Use your fingers to rub together then sprinkle over the cake batter. Dot with the cubed butter.

Bake 45-55 minutes or until the top is golden and a tester inserted the center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove and let cool completely on a rack before serving.

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