Sunday 3 July 2011

CC Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake

The past week has been full of catching up with old friends, eating out, visiting the cinema, a birthday and lots of good food.  I have much to share but today I will start with the best orange cake I have ever made, and possible ever eaten.  I've never been a huge fan of orange cake but this one was just amazing.

This was no ordinary orange cake.  It was an Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake from The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia.  The author is a chef and many of the recipes are too fussy for everyday cooking but they are full of innovative and inspirational ideas, as well as beautiful photos.

This cake is not the sort I usually make.  I tend to avoid syrup cakes because they seem full of citrus juice which is often too sour for my liking.  Yet I loved the picture of the cake in the cookbook with the glazed lavender scattered over the top.  (I have been asked where I got my lavender - I bought it at a food fair but it came from Warratina Lavender Farm.)

I also was intrigued by the addition of lavender.  I have had a packet of dried lavender in my pantry for about a year but just not got around to using it.  I was a little wary after I tried the lavender honey that I bought at the same time.  It tasted like I had smeared medicine on toast.  Far too herbal.  Possibly it was not meant to be eaten on toast.

Fortunately I made the syrup cake with my friend Yaz who was visiting from Hong Kong.  I was worried that we had a cake that had so much syrup it would just be a soggy mess.  Yaz had more experience, or at least faith in the theory of syrup cakes.  See the photo above of the syrup.  I thought it would never soak through but it did and then we ladled more over the cake.  How bizarre!

The lavender tended to go to the outside of the cake where most of the syrup was soaking in but it was as pretty as the photo in the book promised.  The cake tasted amazing.  It was full of sweet orange flavour with a dense moist crumb.  My concerns about the lavender overwhelming the taste were unfounded.  It merely added a subtle floral flavour.

We had our cake with the reserved syrup and honeyed yoghurt.  It seemed appropriate given that we were serving it for dessert.  We ate it accompanied by mugs of mulled wine, sitting on the rug in front of Bagpuss.  Sylvia refused to have a piece of cake but stood by my plate and scooped out chunks with her little chubby fingers.  I sent Yaz off with cake.  I had cake for morning tea at work.  I took it down to my parents' place on the weekend. However, I preferred it without the syrup and yoghurt. After the first piece, I ate it plain.

I highly recommend this cake and am happy to share it further because this is my contribution to this fortnight's Cookbook Challenge.  The theme is dessert.  To see what else my colleagues have made go here.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Lemon Slice and some Nostalgia
This time two years ago: A Tale of Carrot and Feta Dip
This time three years ago: Sparkles the Rabbit Cake
This time four years ago: The Worcestershire Sauce Puzzle

Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake
From Maria Elia's Modern Vegetarian

250g butter
200g (little less than a cup) of sugar
4 eggs
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
juice and zest of 2 oranges
250g semolina
200g (2 cups) ground almonds
120g Greek yoghurt

zest and juice of 4 orange
8 tsp dried lavender
750ml water
2 cinnamon sticks
560g sugar

Preheat the oven to 170 C (325 F) and grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs (we did this by hand and it curdled). Add flour, baking powder, semolina, ground almonds, and orange zest. Add the orange juice and almonds to make a stiff batter. Spoon into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup by placing all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until syrupy. (NB I am not that familiar with syrups and after 20 minutes it was not that syrupy but the cake had already been out of the oven for 20 minutes so we just used it.)

Remove cake from the oven and pierce all over with a skewer - this is great for getting out any frustrations you might have! Pour half the hot syrup over the warm cake. Cool cake to room temperature.

We then simmer the syrup while the cake cooked so the syrup was quite thick. We served the cake with the syrup and a honeyed yoghurt but I preferred the cake without the syrup and the yoghurt. Our cake lasted 4 days.

On the stereo:
Elton John's Greatest Hits


  1. Oh this does indeed sound good, it looks lovely too. I've not come across the use of lavender with orange before and will now, of course, have to try it. When I've used lavender in baking, less is definitely more. Sounds as if you've had a fun week.

  2. AMAZING!! This is such a dramatically beautiful cake! I've wanted to start cooking with lavender because I love the plant so much, but haven't been sure where to start... Thank you for this great tutorial!

  3. oh my - I think this cake looks DIVINE!

  4. Sounds very good, especially at this time of year! I have a similar recipe for orange and lavender cake, which is also as fiddly as all get-out. I don't know what it is about that flavour combination that brings out the worst in cookbook writers!

  5. Johanna,
    So my sweet tooth is sweeter than yours - I suppose we always knew that. I took some cake away, but pined for the syrup and yoghurt to go with it. Still, those I shared it with gave it the thumbs up, and it certainly hit the benchmarks from my perspective.
    In future, I might make it orange and cardamon, though, and sneak in my favourite spice instead. After all, I live closer to India than to France!

  6. Wow! I've never made a syrup cake, so I had no idea there was that much syrup involved! Phwoar! This post is also stressful to me because it reminds me I'm horrifically behind on the CC (again), and also confused mem because I adore lavender and almond in desserts but, well, orange.... :P

    So glad to hear you've had a wonderful week of socialising!

  7. Wow! This looks and sounds so good! The use of oranges here reminds me of the Citrus theme some time back. I got to try the stir fry sauce that you recommended, and I loved it. I have never made a syrup cake before. I guess I'm just too afraid of making desserts that are too sweet. The addition of lavender must have given it a lovely, and unique scent:)

  8. What a fascinating cake. Sounds almost like baklava the way it's soaked. I think I have to give lavender another try, because I'm seeing it all over food blogs these days, and everyone is raving about it! Thanks for the education on Bagpuss as well--no wonder Sylvia wanted to stay put for it! ;)

  9. ooo...i just found the jar of lavendar i dried in march in the back of the pantry...know what i'll be doing with it, thank you!

  10. a cake with 8 tsp of lavender? Nice one! And I trust your take on cake like this Johanna. :)

  11. Thanks Choclette - an quite keen to try more lavender recipes - have wondered about lavender and orange in scones

    Thanks Astra - I have felt a bit unsure about where to start with lavender - highly recommend this recipe - was glad it wasn't overpowering

    Thanks Lisa - I was impressed at how good it looked

    Thanks Catherine - thought of your orange tree with this recipe - your comment about making lavender scones made me think maybe lavender and orange scones would be a good way to combine the flavours in a less fussy way

    Thanks Yaz - glad the cake was well received - orange and cardamom would be interesting - though I might protest that I have lavender in my garden which makes it seem much more local than exotic cardamom! (Is lavender really french?)

    Thanks Hannah - sorry to mess with your mind - though in the nicest way possible - maybe this might work with lemon or lime but I really liked the sweetness of the orange in the cake despite all the sugar in it. I thought I was behind with the CC and then I realised this cake was dessert and from a cookbook - it was serendipity rather than good planning

    Thanks Kayla - yes this cake uses a scary amount of sugar but it just tasted so good that I thought maybe it was worth all that sugar. Glad you enjoyed the stirfy sauce

    Thanks Ricki - Maria Elia compared it to a middle eastern orange cake so I don't think you are too far off the mark in comparing it with baklava because it is also drenched in a fragrant sweet syrup - hope you find a lavender recipe you can love.

    Thanks Lucy - hope you enjoy it - am sure it will be all the better if you are using home grown lavender

    thanks Amh - at first I was wary and used 6 tsp but when I tasted the syrup it wasn't too lavender so I went the whole hog with the 8 tsp recommended

  12. Wow - that sounds spectacular! Never made a syrup cake before and am now intrigued :)

  13. This was my most flicked book last year. I've been thinking about making the recipe, but need more people around to share.

  14. This sounds fantastic. I'm definitely going to try making it sometime! I love the taste of lavender, as long as it's a subtle taste.

    If you still have the lavender honey, I recommend stirring a little bit into a cup of tea.

  15. This is not the kind of cake I'd usually make either, though I'd love to try a taste. I do like the odd floral flavour but find it difficult to get the balance right between 'I can't taste anything' and 'Ewww, soapy'!

  16. This is my favourite type of cake and the addition of lavendar has caught my attention - I love lavendar so will have to give this a try. Thanks.

  17. Thanks Jeanne - I was worried the syrup cake would be soggy but it was just meltingly moist

    Thanks Shaheen - it is quite a large cake - maybe when you are closer to your family you might indulge as I am sure you would love it - so many good recipes in the cookbook aren't there

    Thanks rachel - I am not really into honey in tea though I had some in the chai tea I made for the cookbook challenge recently - might be a nice addition

    Thanks cindy - I need to experiment more with lavender - this cake is on the subtle end of the scale and would probably work well without lavender but it just make it seem more elegant

    Thanks Leigh - if you love this type of cake then I highly recommend it as it had made me reappraise my feelings towards syrup cakes and even orange cakes - so I am sure you would win a few people over with it

  18. This looks wonderful! I love the addition of lavender, I think it's highly underestimated in cooking and baking!

  19. Wow this sounds amazing. I love these kind of syrup cakes. I bet I could adapt it to be gluten free by using cornmeal instead of semolina and a gf flour. Love the lavender addition. Looks the perfect dessert cake

  20. I've never baked with lavender before, and like you I would've been scared when I saw all the syrup sitting on top of the cake. Good to know that it soaked in nicely. It sounds like a perfect afternoon tea cake.


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