Michelle Darmody: Baking with zest

Citrus peel is made up of both zest and pith. The peel protects the soft fruit inside and can be used in many ways; crystalised, dried or even pickled. 

It is the outer part of the peel, the zest, that can be used to add citrusy flavour to baking. When you scrape off this outer shiny, colourful layer on a citrus fruit you extract much of the distinctive flavour. You should not press too hard on the grater but gently pull it over and back on the surface of the fruit. You want to remove all of the bright layer without taking any of the white pith below. The pith is the layer nearest to the flesh of the fruit, it is more bitter and astringent than the zest. It is best avoided as it can add a bitterness to your baking.

I use a sharp handheld grater called a microplane to extract the zest. It is a very convenient kitchen implement which is based on the design of a carpenter’s wood plane. It can also be used to grate fresh ginger, whole spices or hard cheeses such as Parmesan.

When thinking of zest, lemons and oranges spring to mind but zest can be extracted from any citrus fruit; limes, grapefruits, mandarins or clementines. Make sure to chose plump fresh fruit and preferably ones that do not have a wax coating. If you think there may be wax on the surface of the fruit pour some boiling water over it before you zest it, then wipe it dry with a clean towel.

Moist lemon and pistachio loaf

140g of plain flour

1 level tsp of baking powder

1 level tsp of bread soda

120g of golden caster sugar

100g of soft butter

70g of shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, very finely chopped

2 eggs

70g of natural yogurt

the zest of 3 lemons and the juice of 1

70g of grated courgette

To decorate

the juice of 1 lemon

80g of caster sugar

a large handful of shelled unsalted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Heat your oven to 180C and line a 2lb loaf tin with parchment.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and bread soda. Add the sugar, butter, eggs, yogurt, zest and juice. Beat until combined then stir in the courgette.

Scoop the mixture into the tin and smooth it out. Bake for 35 minutes until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then set onto a wire rack to cool.

To decorate mix the lemon juice and sugar together to form a drizzle. Spread this over the cooled cake and sprinkle generously with the pistachio nuts.

Coconut bundt cake with lime zest drizzle

310g of caster sugar

350g of soft butter

zest of 6 limes

8 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tsp of baking powder

250g of plain flour

100g of desiccated coconut

For the drizzle

140g of icing sugar

100 mls of fresh lime juice and the zest of 3 limes

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and thoroughly grease and flour a bundt tin, which is approximately 2lb in volume.

Beat the sugar with the butter and the lime zest until pale and creamy.

Sieve together the flour and baking powder.

Add the eggs, approximately one at a time to the butter mixture, adding a half a tablespoon of flour with each egg. Beat thoroughly but gently before adding the next egg.

Fold in the remaining flour, then fold in the desiccated coconut.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared bundt tin, lightly smoothing over the surface with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the oven for an hour or until the surface is nicely golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for fifteen minutes then gently turn out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool.

Prepare the drizzle by dissolving the sugar in the lime juice and added the zest then drizzle it over the top of the cooled cake. Sprinkle some more lime zest to decorate.

Treacle, ginger and orange zest buns

230g of flour

1 tsp of ground ginger

1 tsp of mixed cake spice

the zest of 3 oranges

1 level tsp of bread soda

110g of cold butter, cubed

80g of crystalised ginger, finely chopped

100g of muscovado sugar

110g of treacle

100g of golden syrup

1 egg, lightly beaten

280 mls of milk


75g of soft butter

150g of icing sugar

the zest of 3 oranges

Line a bun tin with twelve paper cases and preheat your oven to 180 degrees.

Put flour, spices, zest, bread soda and butter into a bowl, and mix until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Add the ginger.

In a saucepan gently warm the milk, sugar, treacle and golden syrup together, stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves.

Lightly mix it into the flour mixture, then add the egg. Beat gently on a low speed until it is smooth.

Scoop the mixture into the paper cases and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of a bun.

Place the buns onto a wire rack to cool.

To make the icing whisk the butter, sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy. Pipe a swirl of icing on the top of each cooled bun and decorate with a little more zest.

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