For this family recipe I had to travel a long way to get it. One of those dishes that is one person’s trademark and she makes it without a written recipe. When you ask for the recipe he/she lists the ingredients but cannot tell you the exact amounts… what a nightmare! Ja, ja!
It is a simple lemon bread that reminds me of frequent trips to Spain during my childhood. In the summer of 1997 my younger brothers, in their teens at the time, spent about 3 weeks visiting relatives in Spain in which they asked Nieves (my great-grandmother’s housekeeper, family-nanny, cook and companion for over 60 years and whom we consider to be part of our family) everyday to make the lemon bread for them . I only had the chance to join them for about 1 week and a half because of work, but it a was a summer I will never forget. We got a chance to spend time with our Spanish cousins, listen to family stories and get to know the Spanish countryside. In addition, our group of about 15 family members travelled throughout the region in a bus and stayed in “turismo rural” or country homes from former well to do families that had been renovated with government money and turned into bed and breakfasts. It was a well planned family trip full of history and natural beauty.
When I got back to Puerto Rico, I met my husband Emilio and by next summer we were already married. So, for part of our honeymoon, we decided to go to Spain since my husband had not visited the country. One afternoon, upon arrival to our beautiful historic hotel, Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela, Nieves called and invited us for a late lunch. I said I would go but with the condition that she taught me how to make her world famous lemon bread (I could not return to America without the recipe because my brother Joaco would kill me!). She accepted and in June 1998 she showed me (Emilio recorded the event) how to make it. It was in a tiny kitchen in the third floor of my great-grandmother’s house on Marina Street in Villagarcia with a small gas oven and in a beaten cake pan with a hole in the middle that wobbled. She took the sugar, flour, salt, vegetable oil and baking powder from her pantry and eggs, lemon and yogurt (her secret ingredient) from the small fridge. She did not use measuring cups or spoons. Instead, she used the same cup in which the yogurt came in to measure all ingredients and a soup spoon to measure the baking powder. She used a lot of baking powder in relation to the amount of flour used which for some reason (I will be researching that soon!) makes it more rustic and crumbly, like the texture of corn bread but moist at the same time I guess because of the oil and yogurt (which is why I call it lemon bread instead of cake). I have tried using a lot less baking powder and the result is a delicious smooth fluffy lemon cake, but that’s another recipe. Anyway, she mixed all ingredients with a hand mixer and was very specific about not over mixing and first cooking the cake at approximately 400º f for the first 15 minutes and 350ºf for the remaining 30 minutes to get that golden brown finish. Once I got back home, I converted the measurements and created a recipe that could be measured in cups and teaspoons and the results were very similar to the original according to my “tasters”. Great for breakfast on a weekend morning (my kids love it!) or as a snack with coffee or tea. Also, good with a glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for desert…yummy!
Here is my version of Nieves’ Lemon Bread.
PS: As many of you know, I was in the hospital last week for 4 days, I have no words to thank my family and friends for their company, support and words of encouragement during tough times. However, I can show them by making this lemon bread for some of them to tell them how grateful I am that they are in my life.
Nieves’ Lemon Bread
250 g of lemon or vanilla yogurt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
zest of one yellow lemon
1 tbsp butter for greasing pan (approximately)
1. Turn oven on 400ºf. Butter standard loaf pan (approx. 10 x5)
2 In a bowl put flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.
3. In another bowl, beat eggs. Then add sugar, vegetable oil and yogurt and continue to mix with a whisk or mixer until all ingredients are incorporated for about 2 minutes.
4. Add flour, salt and baking powder mixture in batches of three. Do not over mix.
5. Add lemon zest and mix by hand with a spatula or whisk.
6. Bake at 400º f for 15 minutes and lower to 350ºf for the remaining 30 minutes in middle rack. Do not open oven at any time until finished baking. Ovens vary so pay attention the first time you make it to make any adjustments.