A few years ago, I planted a lavender seedling in a backyard pot.
That seedling is now a bush:
It perfumes the air around our back porch. It lures honeybees with its fragrant, purple flowers. I prune it, water it …
And wish I could cook with it.
But I don’t love lavender. No matter how I use it — to infuse custards for a sweet take or to spice carrots for a savory one — its rosemary-like leaves overpower my dish. I end up feeling like I’ve cooked with essence of incense or the organic oil my yoga teacher uses to clean her mats.
Enter this cake:
An over-the-top confection of fresh apricots, ground almonds and walnuts, lemon zest and … yes … lavender.
I found this cake while thumbing through Plenty More, Yotam Ottolenghi’s continued musing on vegetarian cooking. Heavy on nuts and summer fruit, it seemed like the perfect cake for a casual dinner party (or a late morning breakfast). I was intrigued by the recipe’s use of fresh lavender flowers, but I have to confess: I almost didn’t use them. Why ruin a perfectly good (and somewhat expensive) cake with a cloying herb?
Thankfully, I ignored my herb-averse instinct. Lavender blossoms lack the leaves’ assertiveness. They create a subtle back story to the cake’s jammy apricots and toasty walnuts; a much needed counterpoint to its sugary, tart glaze. In this dish, lavender is unusual and unexpected. It makes the cake memorable.
No doubt, my lavender bush will continue to be more ornamental than utilitarian. But once its flowers bloom, I’ll be eating them, too.
Apricot, Walnut & Lavendar Cake (Plenty More)
This cake has a narrow shelf life. Cut it before it has cooled, and it’s almost wet inside. Leave it out overnight, and it gets a little dry. But if you make it four or five hours before you want to serve it, it’s absolutely perfect.
- 13 tablespoons unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature and cut into dice
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil
- 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/4 cups ground almonds
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lavender flower buds, divided
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh apricots, pitted and cut into fourths
- 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a 9-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease it again.
Place the butter, walnut oil, sugar and ground almonds in a heavy-duty stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
Slowly add the eggs and beat until incorporated.
In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they become a coarse powder. Gently fold them into the cake batter along with the flour, vanilla, salt, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon of lavender flowers.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Smooth the top, then place the apricots — skin-side down — onto the batter:
Bake the cake for 70-80 minutes, checking for doneness after an hour. If the cake starts to brown too quickly, loosely cover your pan with foil.
While the cake bakes, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice into a glaze.
When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and immediately spoon the glaze on top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of lavender flowers. Cool completely before serving.