If you hadn’t realised already, I’m pretty much in love with flowers. I’m the kind of person who goes out of their way to find out a plant’s latin name and what its medicinal/culinary uses are before the plant I’ve only just purchased has had the time to say ‘manure’. I see plants (and most things for that matter) as individuals, with personalities all of their own. Nourish them, and they will provide you with hours of visual and scented pleasure. Neglect them, and they will whither. Rather melancholic in its own way, but nevertheless, a lesson I can fully appreciate.
Saying that, however, I am not a fully qualified green thumb. Basil plants still allude me to no end: being delightfully content sitting on the window sill, strutting their stuff in full sunshine one minute, only to find that once you turn your back for one second (literally), they transform into inconsolable teenager heaps of green mess that have just been dumped by their boyfriends of 24 hours and are now begging you for some much needed TLC. That, or Joey, my budgie, has (1) decided to lay on them and therefore squash the living daylights out of ’em, or (2) has happily (and with much enthusiasm) ripped the plants to shreds as a demonstration of unconditional love for me. Hey, it was a gift. SMH 😐
Saying all this, I am still eager to learn how to care for them properly (that goes without saying for the rest of plant-kind) so that one day I can officially call myself a fully fledged horticulturalist, with a ‘bring plants back to life’ skill card and a power level of over 9000. Maybe one day. 🙂
But: this cake. Lilac flowers are one of those beautiful and intoxicatingly scented flowers that we find ourselves enjoying during the spring to summer transition. If its scent cannot convince you of its identity, its heart-shaped leaves and cone-shaped bushels of white or purple flowers will. The flavour itself will only always be very slight and subtle. Never truly strong, but simply delicate, slightly bitter and with notes of citrus. When I made my first batch of lilac crème pâtissèrie last year, I knew I wanted to make a cake with these beautiful flowers. So I patiently waited a full year, eagerly anticipating their arrival before, finally, this cake was born. It uses lilac honey and lilac sugar in the recipe so that the sponge is lilac scented as is the filling and the buttercream. You just cannot hide away from how lovely those subtle hints of flavour are. Hence, the name: Lilac Lovers Cake. Bold? Yes. But truly fitting.
My advice for the best lilac flavoured cake ever? Use the most heavily scented flowers you can find.
Lilac Lovers Cake
Cooking time: 1 hour, plus cooling
Makes: 1 x 8 inch cake cut into 2 layers
This cake comes out perfectly light in colour, almost like a white cake, which really compliments the colour of the crème and the Italian buttercream. You will need to make this recipe twice if you wish to make a four layer cake as I have.
300g plain flour, minus 4 1/2tbsp
300g lilac sugar
2-3tbsp lilac honey (recipe to follow)
4 1/2tbsp cornstarch
6 large egg whites (room temperature)
180ml whole milk
50ml heavy cream
1/4tsp vanilla bean extract
4tsp baking powder
180g butter, softened
pinch of salt
2 quantities of lilac crème pâtissèrie (recipe here)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan-assisted) 350ºF. Place a sheet of baking parchment at the bottom of the cake tin and set aside until needed. Sieve the flour, cornstarch and baking powder together and set aside. Place the milk and the cream into a saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally until the milk mixture comes to room temperature. Take off the heat and set aside.
Now, whisk the sugar and the butter together in a bowl until pale in colour and smooth. Add the lilac honey and continue to whisk, before adding the egg whites one by one into the batter. Next, add the milk mixture to the bowl along with the vanilla, salt and cardamom. Continue to whisk and then slowly add the dry mixture until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the cake tin, cover with aluminium foil and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean (Note: do check the cake at about the 30 minute mark, and adjust if necessary). When ready, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before removing from the tin and cutting in half and allowing to cool completely on a cooling rack.
If not making a cake immediately, wrap the cake in cling film when cool and then in a layer of aluminium foil. Can be frozen for 1 month or kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Make the lilac crème pâtissèrie and the Italian buttercream (see recipe below).
When ready to assemble, place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Pipe a ring of buttercream around the edge of the cake layer. Spread 1/3 of the crème into the centre area before placing another layer on top. Repeat this process until the last layer has been placed on top. Spread the rest of the buttercream over the sides and top layer of the cake evenly.
Serve immediately or refrigerate till needed.
Cooking time: 5 minutes , plus 2-3 weeks or more infusion time
I possess a rather small jar that I sometimes use to store small amounts of syrups that I have made and have not used up. It can hold around 150ml liquid. If you want to make a larger portion, simply use the 1:2 rule, so if you make 200ml, you will need to use 8-10 lilac stems, or just enough to stuff into the jar without the honey overflowing. It tastes wonderful on toast and in other baked goods, too.
100ml acacia honey (or any light coloured honey with a delicate taste)
4-5 stems of lilacs, flowers only
Gently remove the flowers from the stem (you can keep the little green parts on the end of the flower as you don’t want to lose or damage the nectar at the bottom of the flower). Place the honey and flowers together in a small jar. Seal with a lid and set aside for a couple of weeks or until the desired flavour is reached before discarding the flowers (The longer, the better).
Lemon Lilac Italian Buttercream
Cooking time: 25 minutes
For this recipe, you will definitely be needing a candy thermometer as it will otherwise be very difficult to determine what the exact temperature the sugar is at. Also, at one point, it will look like the buttercream just isn’t coming together and is splitting, but then *poof* it will suddenly come together. Don’t panic, just keep whisking!
You could easily go further with this recipe and make a lilac infused syrup with fresh fragrant blossoms instead of making the sugar syrup with scented lilac sugar (then you’ll have a pretty serious triple whammy of lilac deliciousness on your hands- lilac sugar, lilac honey and lilac syrup). Simply add 4-5 stems of blossoms (the darker and more fragrant, the better) to a pot along with regular sugar and water and allow to come to a boil. Strain out the blossoms and continue as outlined in the recipe below.
250g lilac sugar
4 egg whites
2tbsp lemon juice
450g butter, softened
Place the lilac sugar, lemon and water in a saucepan and over a medium heat, without stirring and using a thermometer, allow the syrup to reach 118ºC/235ºF. Meanwhile, using an electric whisk, whisk the egg whites until they begin to form soft peaks. When the sugar syrup reaches the desired temperature, immediately remove from the heat and slowly pour into the egg white mixture whilst whisking on a high setting. Continue to whisk until the bowl comes back to room temperature and the mixture feels cool to the touch. Add the butter, one cube at a time into the meringue and whisk until a buttercream forms. Spoon into a piping bag to use immediately, or place in a refrigerator for up to 3 days.
(Note: if the buttercream feels like it has slightly separated in the refrigerator, simply place in a bowl and whisk until the buttercream comes back together again.)
Thank you for reading.