I can still vividly smell the sweet lavender of this exquisite cake (helps that I just had a smidgen of a leftover piece for breakfast...). And although I do not recommend turning on your oven on a hot 90+ degree summer day, if you're going to do it, this is the cake to make it worth your while. I've been plotting to bake a cake using some of the vibrant summer herbs we've been getting in at Saltie. It seems like I'm always plotting some type of cake.... but that's besides the point. This cake needed to be made. So when my uber eager friend, Lauren, messaged me about a little one-on-one baking session for her blog, chasing chi, I was all in. I love a good excuse to bake a cake.
A bright summery cake incorporating seasonal aromatic herbs would be the perfect fit for Lauren's blog post (and for our taste buds). The pieces just fell together from there; I had just made the most amazing lemon balm ice cream at work, which I couldn't get enough of, Lauren confessed her undying love for lavender, and that same day we got some beautiful lemon verbena in at Saltie from Guy Jones. I love a good lemon lavender combo. Really any herb with lemon... So with some herbal advice from my boss (the herb guru), I decided to infuse my favorite chiffon cake recipe with lavender and lemon verbena, make a lemon balm lemon cream, and lavender buttercream. Lemon balm has a beautiful but somewhat subtle lemon scent and since it doesn't tend to hold up to heat very well, folding it in to an already cooled lemon cream seemed like the way to go. Lemon verbena on the other hand has a much more intense smell and tastes more lemony than lemon balm. It's integrity, along with lavender's, would hold up nicely in a 325 oven for 45 minutes, no problem. Lavender buttercream was just a given.
Lavender Lemon Verbena Chiffon Cake (adapted from Tartine's Basic Chiffon Cake)
makes two 9" rounds cakes or two 8" square cakes
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp basking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks, room temp
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
10 large egg whites, room temp
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp lavender, ground (I like to grind mine in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of course sea salt to help break it up)
1/4 cups lemona verbena, minced
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of cake pan with parchment paper cut to fit exactly. No need to grease the pan. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, salt, and the prepared lavender and lemon verbena. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes until very smooth.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium size mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar slowly while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Add a third of the egg whites and fold into the flour/yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the whites until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake an then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment.
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup lemon balm, minced
In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Whisk them together constantly until very thick, or 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and let it cool down until warm to touch or 140°F on a thermometer, stirring occasionally to help release some of the heat. Place the lemon cream in a blender, add the butter in small pieces. Allow to cool completely before folding in minced lemon balm. (You may refrigerate it, but allow to come to cool room temperature before using.)
Lavender Buttercream (adapted from Miri in the Village)
2 cups milk
2 Tbsp lavender
10 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pour the milk into a sauce pan along with culinary lavender. Put the pan over medium heat and stir the lavender thoroughly throughout the milk. Heat until scalding. Turn off heat and let steep for approximately 20 minutes. At this point you can strain the lavender out if you want a more refined buttercream, or leave some of the flower bits in for a more rustic frosting. Turn heat on low and gradually whisk in the flour, 2 Tbsp at a time until well blended. Continue stirring until it has reached a consistency of cupcake batter. Immediately remove from heat and sink the entire sauce pan into a bowl of ice water. Let cool for approximately 15 minutes. When the mixture has reached room temperature, stir in the vanilla. Using the stand mixer paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. At the cooled milk and flour mixture and beat for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Now for the best part! To assemble the cake, first make sure all components have cooled completely. Cut each cake in half horizontally into four equal layers. Place the first layer on a serving plate lined with parchment paper around sides. Start by brushing the first layer with lemon syrup. This time I used a preserved lemon syrup by Morris Kitchen because it looked really yummy and I'm a sucker for made-in-Brooklyn specialty food items. It was good but probably not worth the money. Making your own lemon syrup is super easy - 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup lemon juice. Bring water and sugar to a boil over medium heat. Let cool before chilling in refrigerator for about 30 minutes, and then stir in lemon juice. Next time maybe I'll try spicing it up with some cardamom and pink peppercorns like the Morris Kitchen syrup.
Next spread 1/3 of the lemon cream as evenly as possible. Gently place the second cake layer on top and repeat with lemon syrup and lemon cream. Once you have the fourth cake layer stacked, moisten with the remaining syrup, cover the cake with plastic wrap and let cool for two hours (or overnight). Unwrap the cake and using an offset spatula, spread the room temp buttercream all over. Smooth or leave textured. Whatever you prefer. Decorate with whole lavender flowers.