Most of us are fortunate to be able to enjoy all types of citrus all year long. You may not know this, but citrus season is actually during winter. Citrus is the perfect little pick me up to get you through those winter doldrums! Navel oranges are most delicious from December until March, blood orange varieties are juiciest from December until April, and clementine/tangerines are the most flavorful between late October and January. Ruby red grapefruits are best enjoyed between October and April, and a white grapefruit is at its peak between April and June.
Citrus may still be available when not in season, but it can be lacking in the flavor department. Sometimes your fruits may not be as sweet, juicy or acidic as you may like, but they are still one of my go-to pantry staples. That's because no matter the season, I can always utilize this magical ingredient.
Besides just eating citrus fruit right out of its skin as a snack or drink its glorious juice, there are many uses and benefits for adding citrus in your cooking and lifestyle in general:
- Health Benefits - Citrus is a great source of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. It is said to reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and citrus is also great for your skin care routine. I know when my throat is sore after a long day of teaching, I make myself a lovely lemon honey tea and instantly feel soothed! It makes sense because citrus is also a natural stress reliever.
- Cleaning & Sanitizing - Citrus has natural disinfecting properties so it makes for excellent homemade cleaning products to use around your home. I use baking soda and orange or lemon juice to clean hard water stains in my shower or even clean and sanitize the washing machine. The lovely scent is a wonderful bonus compared to other household cleaners.
- Preserving – The natural acidity in citrus fruits make it a great ingredient for preservation of food because it inhibits the growth of bacteria. You can use the juice to make sure other fruits, like apples, do not start oxidizing when preparing them. One of the greatest most obvious citrus preservation techniques to utilize a lot of fruit would be to make and can marmalade, preserves, or curd.
- Cooking – I love utilizing citrus fruits in a multitude of different ways in cooking applications. Citrus is such a versatile ingredient, and lemons are my secret ingredient in just about anything I make. Acid in general is a great way to liven up any dish and enhance other flavors. Whether you are finishing a gumbo, making a vinaigrette, or baking, they are a must in any kitchen.
Types of Citrus
Did you know that there are only five core (non-hybrid) citrus fruits: Citron, Mandarin, Pomelo, Papeda and Kumquat? The rest of the citrus fruits we are most familiar with are all hybrid combinations of three of those original five: Citron, Mandarin and Pomelo. That is so interesting to me!
You wouldn’t believe how many citrus fruits stem from these three fruit plants. Most citrus fruits originally came from Southeast Asia and now you can find them growing in all sub-tropic areas of the world including Australia, the Mediterranean, South America and the United States.
Citrus Family Tree
I can go on and on about how to use citrus in just about any cooking application, but I want give you a recipe that can utilize any kind of citrus you may have on hand. This magic cake recipe is one simple batter that turns into 3 different layers of texture as it bakes. The top layer is light and fluffy, the middle is soft and velvety, and the bottom layer is dense and rich, similar to a curd. It is a very interesting recipe that comes together fairly quickly and only gets better as it cools. It can be made and stored for up to a week in the refrigerator or even frozen. So have fun experimenting with all the different citrus fruits when you try out this recipe.
Lemon Magic Cake
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 1 8x8 pan, 9 squares
Prep: 15 minutes
Bake time: 1 hour
4 eggs at room temperature, separate yolks from whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter unsalted, melted
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup milk, lukewarm
1/2 cup citrus juice of choice, freshly squeezed (I used Key Lime)
2 Tablespoons zest of citrus of choice
Powdered sugar for dusting cake
1. Preheat oven to 325 F degrees.
2. Grease an 8 inch x 8 inch baking dish with butter or line it with parchment paper.
3. Separate the eggs into two different bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites with a mixer until they are stiff and glossy.
5. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light in color. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract and continue beating for another minute or two.
6. Then add the flour and mix it in until fully incorporated on low speed.
7. Add citrus juice and zest then slowly start adding the milk and beat until everything is well mixed together.
8. Gently fold in the egg whites, a third at a time, until they are almost all mixed in. There should still be white bits of egg whites floating in the batter.
9. Pour batter into baking dish and bake for 40 to 70 minutes or until the top is lightly golden and the cake is firm to the touch. The baking time could vary greatly depending on the oven, so take a peek at around 40 minutes and see how it looks.
10. Sprinkle some powdered sugar after cake has cooled completely.
Notes: Take care to not overmix the egg whites into the batter, this is what gives the top third layer its fluffy, crumbly texture!
One of the best classes to take virtually here at The Chopping Block is our virtual Flavor Dynamics interactive demonstration. This class will teach you how to use citrus and acid along with the other basic taste profiles to enhance and adjust your recipes to suit your palate.
You can also take our virtual Lemon Lovers class and learn how to use lemons in unique recipes, or if you are interested in baking take our virtual Easter treats class where you will learn how to make lemon bars.
Citrus is the challenge this week for our private Facebook group members. Each week, our group is challenged to make a type of dish utilizing an ingredient or technique. I can't wait to see what you all come up with for this week's citrus challenge!