Lavender cake with buttercream icing

January 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

The long-awaited lavender cake recipe is finally here, albeit not in the form you would have expected. I decided to make a loaf cake this time, which was full of its own surprises to say the least. The lavender flowers imparted a lovely spicy-sweet fragrance and taste to the cake, and the lavender buttercream was satisfyingly rich. This is what afternoon tea was made for.

Lavender is part of the mint family of plants, which means its somewhat related to other aromatic herbs and flowers such as basil, rosemary, mint and oregano. Lavender itself cross-pollinates very easily, so there’s a whole range of different variations of the lavender species. In culinary use, lavender flowers have been used for making honey, cake decorations, additions to chocolate and tea. L. Angustifolia, better known as English Lavender, has the sweetest aroma out of all the variations and is most commonly used in culinary applications of lavender.

Lavender should be used sparingly as you can easily overdo it with the flavour, as the essential oil of lavender is contained within the flowers that are used in cooking. I use lavender sugar (with the dried flowers) in my cooking simply because the lavender and sugar complement each other really well, and the lavender scented sugar is useful for flavouring the buttercream icing (and other various ingredients not necessarily related to the cake).

The recipe itself is incredibly straightforward, although I don’t think I’ll be making the loaf again as it took much longer in the oven than previous incarnations of the lavender cake to the point where it began to harden on top and wasn’t as satisfying as, say, a pound cake. But less of the whinging and lets get onto the actual recipe. You will need:

  • 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-2 tbsp whole milk (optional)
  • 1 tsp of lavender flowers

Start by preheating your oven to to 180°C and line the cake tin (either an 8-9 inch loaf tin or more preferably a 20cm springform cake tin) with baking parchment. Then cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until pale.

Crack the eggs into the butter mix one at a time and beat until fully combined, then add the vanilla essence and then sift over the flour and fold in using a large metal spoon. Add the baking powder at this point and combine well. I broke out the good ol’ electric whisk for the first part of the cake-mixing, and it gave me this beautiful pale mixture which I added my lavender flowers (with a bit of lavender sugar for luck) to.

At this point, if the mixture is not of a dropping consistency, add 1 to 2 tbsp of whole milk to loosen it up a little. Put the mixture in the lined cake tin and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes (or if you’re my crazy loaf cake apparently for around 45-50 minutes). Really, I’d suggest to just keep an eye on it from around 25 minutes, using a skewer to check if the middle of the cake is cooked. If the skewer comes out clean, you’re good to go.

Stand the cake for about 5 minutes after removing it from the oven and then cool it on a wire rack while you prepare the buttercream icing filling:

  • 25g unsalted butter, softened
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp whole milk
  • ½ tsp lavender flowers

Beat the butter until its creamy, then sift in the icing sugar (or just bung it in as it is if you’re lazy like me). Beat the icing sugar and butter together, then add the milk a teaspoon at a time and combine well. Sprinkle the lavender flowers on top and mix well.

Slice your cooled cake in half, spread the buttercream icing lavishly in the middle and stick the top back on. This is heavenly with a cup of Chai tea. Actually. So much so, in fact, that when I went downstairs to the kitchen the next morning to have a slice with my morning cuppa, I found that half my cake had gone!

I think that’s a good testament to its deliciousness as any. Bake it, and enjoy.

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Best-ever vegetable lasagne and awards

January 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

2010 is finally here. Albeit, this post is a little late to wish you all a very Happy New Year, but I sincerely hope you brought the new year in with pomp and style. Let’s hope that this shiny new decade does not disappoint, and I mean to ensure satisfaction with this year’s culinary treats and teases that I have lined up for you.

Now, you may be wondering why I’ve included awards in the title (you can’t eat awards.. what’s she going on about?). My wonderful friend Katie has nominated me (amongst some excellent others) for the Kreativ Blogger Award. Perhaps you’ve heard of this delightful award, perhaps not – apparently the award itself was handmade from fabric scraps by a Norwegian lady named Husfraus Memoarer in May 2008 to give to her sister a few friends to denote how much she felt their creativity had inspired her, and others. Another blogger, Simon Leung, has suggested an updated alternative to this award, which as a food blogger myself I think it’s an excellent idea!

The concept of adding rules and passing it onto others probably wasn’t part of the original plan, but it has acquired this history of being passed on and shared between bloggers to appreciate creativity in the blogging community. I personally think it’s a fantastic concept, but less about my opinions, and more about the rules of the award!

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name seven things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate seven Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

So, thank you my dear Katie for nominating me for this award and for the lovely comments! I’ll be sure to reward you with another batch of lavender cupcakes when I next see you… for those who haven’t visited Katie’s movie blog yet, please do – it’s absolutely fantastic, well-written and an engaging read.

Now onto seven interesting things about myself:

  1. Before I became interested in photography, I was an avid digital artist, having (possibly) kicked off a trend of visual poetry pieces. If you’re interested, you can see my older works here.
  2. I was a radio presenter for a brief two summers following my GCSEs and AS levels, showcasing alternative rock music and emerging talent, and once managed to order pizza via one of my shows. I think that is quite an achievement.
  3. I’m an Indian classical music singer-in-training, having been taught theory all my life (owing to the fact that my mother’s an Indian classical music teacher) on and off, depending on my studies. I also play the harmonium, tambura and sitar, which are truly beautiful instruments.
  4. Although I’m classically trained in Indian music, the only performance I’ve given is in ‘Macbeth’ the opera, which was perhaps the most exciting and exhilirating (not to mention demanding) experience of my entire life. I hope to take part in more operas in the future, but that depends on whether I ever move back into London.
  5. Speaking of London, I’ve moved house approximately seven times (in and out of London), and have lived with my parents, with family friends, with my sister, with friends and by myself. So far, I have found that living by myself is definitely the easiest option!
  6. I used to be the Play Photo Editor of the London Student, where my job description in the first year of my post was basically organising fashion photo-shoots, taking cover photographs and eating cupcakes.
  7. And finally, speaking of cupcakes, I’ve always had an interest in cooking, and my lasagne recipe (which you’ll find below) was my first culinary success, however it wasn’t until I decided to experiment and make the aforementioned lavender cupcakes in June 2009 that I really developed a passion for putting an unusual twist on traditional recipes. Before then my culinary skills were mostly reserved for myself and a very close group of friends.

And now for the nominations!

  1. Of course, Katie tops my list of nominations. Why? Because her blog, The Stories That Really Mattered, makes movies interesting, exciting, but first and foremost, a topic of intellectual discussion. The lucid analysis of the pros and cons of upcoming movies and the clear depiction of trends in movies over time have me fascinated time and time again. I’m not much of a cinema person, and will probably only watch a movie if I’m stirred enough by its trailer/storyline, but Katie makes me want to watch movies I’d barely heard of before reading her posts. A truly remarkable talent.
  2. Mara and Kesha, of Shared Sugar, really have such an imaginative, beautiful cookery blog. It absolutely captivated me when I first came across it, not only because the recipes are delicious but also because their photography has such progression in each post – the images tell a story, which is hard to find in food photography in general. I really congratulate them for their excellent work, because I know it’s definitely inspired me to be a bit more creative in mine.
  3. Sneh’s fantastic cookery blog Gel’s Kitchen is honestly the most imaginatively cross-cultural cookery blog I’ve ever come across. There’s nuances of different countries’ cuisines in several of her beautifully-presented recipes, and each is as mouth-watering as the next. Not only this, her design talents are extraordinary, and if you follow her on twitter you’ll find a wealth of design ideas and web management tips.
  4. Lydia’s Swimsuit Issue is an excellent feminist perspective blog on popular culture and current news. Lydia’s determination and fierce conviction is apparent in each and every one of her posts. What’s more, she inspires women like myself to celebrate their strength and embrace their opinions and views, but also to question how popular culture represents the independent women of this contemporary world. An brilliantly inspiring read, and her activities outside of the blogosphere (co-running a feminist club night ‘Girl Germs’) are commendable.
  5. Karin’s delightful Reading & Reviewing literature blog gets me engrossed everytime. Having worked in a bookshop I especially appreciate the full details included at the top of every post, couple with the incredibly creative summary photographs (featuring the lovely Karin Elizabeth herself).
  6. Ele’s Kitchenist ecotarian cooking blog is so comprehensive and vibrant, that my mouth seems to automatically start drooling whenever I open up her blog on my web browser. I especially like the natural and organic feel to her blog, which makes me invariably guilty when she’s mentioning farmer’s market and I’m figuratively munching down on a stick of butter and a cupful of sugar… all in all, a very fresh, vibrant blog.
  7. Last, but by no means least, Saam’s music and films blog Faded Glamour regularly brings to light new and underrated talent. I’ve found out about new bands that I’d never have heard of before had it not been for his enlightening posts and podcasts, and his film (and TV) reviews are honest, down-to-earth accounts – informative and innovative.

Now, onto today’s tidbit. Having experimented with a range of vegetables, poultry and meat for this dish, I find it to be the most versatile recipe as you can create a wonderfully light lasagne or a comforting, rich dish that really satisfies. Vegetable lasagne is a healthier alternative to the traditional beef lasagne, but the explosion of flavours on your palate that this dish creates will not leave you lamenting the lack of meat.

You can try different combinations of vegetables for this dish, but I find that courgettes and peppers are by far the simplest and most flavoursome pairing. To start off, you’ll need:

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 medium courgette, evenly sliced
  • 1 large red pepper, sliced, or chopped into large pieces
  • 1 large orange pepper, sliced, or chopped into large pieces
  • 300-400g passata
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large lasagna sheets

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Slice up the vegetables and put aside. Heat 3 to 4 tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan over a fairly high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion, stir quickly and let it fry for a minute or so. Then reduce to a medium heat and let the onions begin to caramelise for about 5 minutes. Once the onions have just started to caramelise, add the chopped garlic and let it all fry for another 2-3 minutes.

At this point, when the smells of fried onion and garlic start to become intoxicating, add your sliced courgette and stir gently to thoroughly coat the courgette in the oil and onion. Cover your saucepan and let the vegetables fry for approximately 5 minutes, or until the courgettes start to become softer and slightly translucent.

You can now add the sliced, or chopped, peppers, stirring to combine and coat all the vegetables evenly in the oil. Cover for another 5 minutes, then stirring to loosen any vegetables at the bottom of the pan add your passata to the vegetables and turn the heat down to medium-low. Stir well, cover and leave for about 5-10 minutes.

Uncovering your pan, your sauce should have started to simmer gently. Add your basil, oregano, chilli flakes and pinch of sugar at this point and stir well. Then, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Increase the heat to high and allow the sauce to come to the boil before turning off the heat. Stir once more, then spoon half the quantity into your lasagne dish. Arrange a lasagna sheet over the sauce layer, then spoon the rest of the sauce over the top. Arrange your second lasagna sheet over this sauce layer. Otherwise, you can arrange the sauce between three sheets of lasagne if desired. Set aside.

You will need to make your cheese sauce for the topping now. For this you will need:

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 100ml whole milk
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Salt to taste and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 100g cheddar cheese
  • 1½ tsp thyme

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the flour when just bubbling (be careful not to let the butter brown). Combine to form a paste and stir vigorously for about a minute. Reduce the heat to medium and gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, so that you form a smooth sauce. Add your bay leaf and continue to stir the sauce for about 10 minutes until your sauce begins to thicken.

Once your sauce reaches dropping consistency, add your mustard and nutmeg and stir well. Then gradually sprinkle about 30g of the cheddar cheese into the sauce and stir to melt. Season well with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, discard the bay leaf, and then pour the cheese sauce directly over the lasagne sheets in the dish.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the rest of the dish, ensuring that the cheese sauce is completely covered. Then sprinkle the thyme over the cheese layer, so that the topmost cheese layer crisps up nicely.

Place into your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling on top. Stand for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.

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