Lemon and rosemary are a Mediterranean match made in heaven and more commonly found in my kitchen alongside garlic and a shoulder of lamb. Recently I’ve been experimenting with using more herbs in desserts and cakes, I think they add a freshness and a surprising twist to classic pudding combinations, as well as helping to cut through the sugar. When I was working at the Skip Garden Kitchen at King’s Cross some of our customer’s favourites were a gluten free Lemon Thyme & Polenta Cake and an Apple & Rosemary Cake (made to a Lily Vanilli recipe).
I developed this recipe for a fabulous celebration for my friend Rachel’s family – a retirement, reunion and several significant birthdays all rolled into one. Rachel’s Mum is a keen and knowledgeable gardener and I wanted the cake to reflect that, decorated with violas, sprigs of rosemary and blackberries (if you can get them) the purple and yellow and green echo an Irish spring garden.
The recipe below makes 2 x 18cm (7 inch) cake tins. I’ve included a photos of the large cake I made for Rachel’s party, this celebration cake was five times the recipe below. If you want to save some time and effort you can buy some good quality lemon curd.
For the Cake:
175g butter (at room temperature)
175g caster sugar
grated zest of one lemon
2 tsps of finely chopped rosemary
3 free range (large) eggs
1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice
175g self-raising flour
For the Lemon Curd:
25g unsalted butter
50g castor sugar
grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 free range (large) egg plus 1 egg yolk, whisked together
For the Rosemary Cream:
300ml double cream
3 large rosemary twigs
First make the rosemary cream. Combine the double cream and rosemary twigs in a small saucepan over a low heat and bring to a simmer, allow to simmer for one minute. Swirl the cream occasionally to ensure the bottom doesn’t catch. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cool put in the fridge and leave to infuse for at least two hours but preferably overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/350 degrees Fahrenheit/ Gas Mark 4.
Prepare the 2 x 18cm cake tins, grease the tins with butter and line the bottoms with baking parchment.
To make the cake beat the butter until soft (with a wooden spoon or use a food processor if you prefer). I use salted butter but if you use unsalted add a pinch of salt. Once the butter is soft add the sugar, lemon zest and finely chopped rosemary and cream together. It is important to add the lemon zest and rosemary at this stage as the essential oils will be released as you cream the sugar and butter.
Once the mixture is smooth, creamy and pale in colour add the eggs one by one. Beat the mixture until it comes together between adding each egg. Finally gently fold in the flour and the lemon juice.
Divide the batter evenly between the two tins and bake for about 25 minutes. You will know the cakes are ready when they are golden brown on top, the cakes are coming away from the edge of the tin and a skewer comes out clean. Pop the cakes out of their tins and allow to cool on a wire rack.
While the cakes are baking make the lemon curd. In a small saucepan over a very low heat melt the butter. Once melted add the sugar, lemon zest and juice and stir to dissolve. Add the whisked egg and egg yolk and stir constantly over a very low heat (perhaps use a diffuser) with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring the curd until it thickens, the mixture should coat the back of a spoon. Pour the mixture into a cold bowl, it will thicken as it cools, ready for decorating the cake. If the mixture gets too hot and the eggs scramble slightly don’t worry, just keep stirring and once the mixture is thick enough sieve it into the cold bowl to remove any ‘scrambled egg’ bits.
Get the rosemary cream out of the fridge. Strain the pieces of rosemary out of the cream using a sieve. Taste the cream, if you think the rosemary flavour is too strong just add a little more double cream to dilute the flavour. Whip the strained cream to soft peaks.
Once the sponge cakes are cool you can assemble the cake. Sandwich the layers of cake together with the lemon curd (on the bottom) and the rosemary cream (on top). Be generous, I like it when the lemon curd drips over the edge. Dust with icing sugar. Either enjoy simply with an afternoon cup of tea or decorate with edible flowers, rosemary sprigs, mini meringues and fruit for a more celebratory occasion.