My family once vacationed in Nice, my parents taking us kids along when they had a conference in the large convention center. We had fun, but I pretty much treated Nice as any other place to hang out. My sister and I actually went bowling. Bowling!
And we complained about the pebbly beach.
I don’t think I fully appreciated the beauty and calm of this city until I spent several weeks there on my own. That’s when I met Gianin (“non pensare, fare“) and had an opportunity to really explore Nice, renting a flat in the Musicians’ Quarter, riding the bus every day like a local, and taking dance classes in Vieux Ville (Old Town).
One of my favorite parts of the day, dance classes notwithstanding, was relaxing after class. Sometimes I went out with fellow students and teachers (most notably the inseparable Dutch ladies whom I soon visited in den Haag) or took a quick dip in the Mediterranean. But usually I meandered back to my flat either along the waterfront or through the market.
Some days, this would take me hours — I was a true flâneur that summer in the best spirit of that word — one who experiences a city by strolling through its winding streets and alleyways, noticing the little nuances and habits and daily rituals and rhythms of life.
When I walked through the market, there was lavender everywhere. Soap. Perfume. Herbes de Provence in cute little ceramic pots. I had been cooking with lavender for a while, infusing it into a liquid – honey, milk, melted butter/margarine – to incorporate its essence into something I’m baking without making the end product taste like perfume. But now when I cook with lavender, and the sweet scent fills the air, I am reminded of my summer walks home through the market and other flânerie in Nice.
When I came home from New York this past weekend, I found almost a foot of snow outside.
Inside though, on my small windowsill herb garden, my lavender plant has started to bloom. It began shooting buds about 2 weeks ago, towering high above the fuzzy leaves below. And just this week, a few tiny delicate purple flowers have started to barely show their faces, peeking shyly out from their green sheaths.
You almost need to squint to see them. But they’re there.
So it was time to bake another lavender cake.
Adapted from The Kosher Palate‘s Yellow Cake recipe. While some recipes call for grinding up dried lavender buds into a fine powder to give flavor to cakes, ice creams, etc., I find this gives a too heady a fragrance and taste. I prefer the infusion method that I have described below. This methodology can be incorporated into other recipes – just infuse the lavender into warming honey, milk, or shortening. I may try this with rosebuds as well.
I typically make this as 2 loaf cakes (like tea cakes) or 4 dozen small or 2 dozen large cupcakes; can also be made as a bundt cake; makes approximately 15 servings. I use a silicone loaf pan, and the cake develops a really nice, caramelized crust.
3 C all-purpose flour
2 C sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 kosher salt
1/2 C vegetable oil
1/2 C margarine
1 C soy milk
4 large eggs
2 T dried lavender
zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease pan(s).
Prepare lavender infusion: melt margarine in bowl over low heat and add lavender. Heat until fragrant, approximately 7-10 minutes. Drain margarine through fine sieve, pressing lavender on mesh. Discard lavender. Allow margarine to cool (but should still be liquid).
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of mixer using paddle on low speed.
Add oil, cooled margarine, soy milk, eggs, and lemon zest. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Scape down sides of bowl occasionally to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on size of pan. Cake is done when toothpick inserted into center comes out clean (no crumbs). I typically bake on the longer side because I like a crunchy crust.
Cool and serve.