I recently made a day trip to New York City to have lunch with one of my oldest friends. Stefanie M and I have known each other since we started seventh grade at Immaculate Heart School in Hollywood, California, and let’s just say that more than a few decades have passed since then. While we spent six years together in school we haven’t been together much since I went east for college. She stayed in California but made her home in the San Francisco area.

Stefanie and her husband have twin high school boys and that’s what brought her and a college friend, Lora B, to NYC. Stefanie’s boys were singing at Carnegie Hall (how cool is that?).  While I wasn’t able to join them for the concert I did enjoy a leisurely lunch catching up (and picking up right where we left off) with Stefanie and Lora at Stella 34 Trattoria in Macy’s at Herald Square (good food and a fun view). During our conversation I learned that Stefanie had a very fruitful Meyer lemon tree in her backyard at home and she offered to send me some lemons if I promised to write a post about her (that might be a bit of artistic license).

Within a week I received the most amazing gift of 21 individually wrapped Meyer lemons. What a treat for this northeasterner after the winter we’d had. I washed them all immediately and put them in a bowl so I could both look at and smell (my whole kitchen smelled like lemons) them while I figured out what to make.

After looking at many recipes I settled on this cake as I thought it was a great way to showcase both the beauty and the flavor of these exquisite lemons. The tartness of the lemons balances the brown sugar nicely so it’s neither too sweet nor too tart. There’s nothing I’d change except for possibly serving it warm (I served it at room temperature) with some vanilla ice cream on the side. As the baker I was able to enjoy a bit of the warm brown sugar mixture as I was removing the cake from the pan (you need to do this 15 minutes after it comes out of the oven). This is a very forgiving recipe – I promise it will come out looking great.

While I used Meyer lemons (these are a cross between a lemon and an orange – but more “lemon-like”) you can use traditional lemons or many other citrus fruits including blood oranges. Just make sure that the fruit is thin-skinned so the skin can soften while baking. I can’t cut into a Meyer lemon without triggering an instant food memory of eating them fresh off the tree at my friend, Nancy A’s house when we were little.

P.S.  I had enough lemons leftover to make 6 cups of honey lemonade for My Irish Honey Cocktails.

Gluten-Free/Wheat-Free Options: I used Cup4Cup gluten-free flour in place of all-purpose flour and it worked perfectly. There’s no need to even tell your guests that the cake is gluten-free!

Lemon Upside-Down Cake



Lemon Upside-Down Cake
5.0 from 3 reviews
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8
  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), softened (divided)
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 thin-skinned lemons (Meyer or regular), sliced paper-thin crosswise, seeds discarded plus zest from 2 additional lemons (divided)
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour (such as Cup4Cup)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Serving suggestions: freshly whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche mixed with zest from one lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Set a 9-inch nonstick cake pan over moderate heat on top of the stove.
  3. Add 4 tablespoons of butter and when it is melted, stir in the brown sugar until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute (it will be thick). Remove from the heat and using a rubber spatula spread evenly in pan.
  4. Arrange the lemon slices on top of the melted butter-brown sugar mixture.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.
  6. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
  7. Beat in vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time.
  8. Beat in lemon zest.
  9. At low speed, beat in the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the milk.
  10. In a stainless steel bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar at high speed until firm peaks form.
  11. Fold one-third of beaten whites into the batter, then fold in the rest.
  12. Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  13. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes on a cooling rack. Run a thin knife around the edges and invert onto a plate.
  14. Serve warm or at room temperature with freshly whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche mixed with zest from one lemon.
* I used Cup4Cup gluten-free flour.
* You'll need four lemons for the cake plus an additional one (zest) for serving (optional).
* There's no need to butter/flour the pan since you're melting butter in the pan. I would recommend that you swirl it around so it coats the sides.


Variation of a recipe from Food & Wine


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2015-04-21T07:34:15+00:00 April 21st, 2015|Categories: Desserts|Tags: , , , , , , , , |8 Comments


  1. Martine April 21, 2015 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Nicole – you’ve done it again and thank you!! Oh how I wish I’d have had this recipe for Easter. Remember I was going to make your flourless chocolate cake? – well turns out our Host loves lemon desserts so I made a lemon drizzle cake. This would have been much more spectacular! But as luck would have it, I bought a bag of Meyer lemons at the grocery store last weekend, so you just know it …. I’m making this cake tomorrow.

    • Nicole April 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Martine – A lemon drizzle cake sounds great, too! I made this cake for Easter dinner with my family so it wasn’t quite ready for posting at that point. Love that you have some Meyer Lemons hanging around. What kind of gluten-free flour do you use? I stumbled upon Cup4Cup as soon as I gave up wheat and it worked so well I haven’t been tempted to use anything else.

      • Martine April 23, 2015 at 10:23 pm - Reply

        Nicole – I’m a big cup4cup fan too! I worked for Williams-Sonoma just as they launched it and I love it. I’ve had some great triumphs using this as a straight substitution for regular AP flour. c4c featured my fruit tea loaf on their Facebook page last Sunday as I used their flour in this recipe – I also see that they’ve featured one of your amazing recipes too! I’m now The Blushing Beet – you’ll see a note on that site regarding my old site “A Brit Peckish”. I love the recipes you share – keep them going please.

        • Nicole April 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm - Reply

          Martine – Congratulations! It is exiting when you get a social share from a place like Cup4Cup. I have been so impressed with the results I’ve gotten using their flour. Your tea cake looks yummy!

  2. Stefanie Manalo-LeClair April 21, 2015 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    Glad to share the bounty! Thanks for coming into NYC for lunch. It was great catching up. I’m going to try this recipe as I have some gluten free family members. I hope our next visit is sooner than later. Congrats on your blog. I enjoy seeing your creations. ♡Stefanie

    • Nicole April 23, 2015 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      Stefanie – It was such a pleasure to see you even if it was only for a few hours. I hope your family likes this recipe. I’ll be happy to take some more lemons off your hands next season – we can do an annual post on RieglPalate.com! xoxo

  3. David April 25, 2015 at 10:28 am - Reply

    I can’t wait till it is Meyer lemon season again here – our neighbors have so many, and this will be a great way to use them – and share the recipe with them.

    • Nicole April 27, 2015 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      David – These are the times that I miss not living in a warmer climate! But at least I have friends who send me some of their harvest. Enjoy the cake next Meyer Lemon season!

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