I read somewhere that scent is the strongest trigger for memory recollection. And somehow I think this is true. A childhood playmate of mine that I no longer have any contact with; I have no idea where she lives, what she is doing, or even what her surname was. Although my strongest memory of my time with her consists of her grandmother. Her grandmother smelt of lavender, and everytime I get a whiff of lavender, it takes me back to the days when I would play in her backyard and her grandmother would lovingly watch on through her bedroom window.
She never said much and if it weren’t for that distict fragrance of lavender, those memories never would have stuck. Along with potpourri and rose scented powder, everytime I smell lavender I always think of grandmothers.
Not only does lavender conjure up recollections of grannies, but there is something romantically provincial yet wildly exotic about it. It invokes imaginings of open meadows lined with rows and rows of purple flowers growing wild and unfettered, and also of merchant ships bound for open sea bringing cargoes of colourful blooms to other lands. It's that duality between its rustic charm and sense of adventure that just makes me love lavender.
Edible flowers always fascinate me, rose petals, saffron, orange blossoms and lavender all have that delicate ethereal quality that renders food all the more tantalising. A cake is merely a cake, but when topped with handfuls of rose petals, somewhat idealises it and makes it even more swoon-worthy. So when the opportunity came to make something out of edible blooms, I jumped at the chance without hesitation.
I love individual cakes, if you haven't already caught on. These days, rarely do I ever make a full-sized cake as that I find they disappear a lot quicker when they are individually packaged. When presented with the choice to make one big cake, or butter and line 12 individual moulds, I will always choose the latter. Even though it's a lot more time consuming and takes an extra effort, for me, small and individual always takes the cake. (Excuse the pun, but I couldn't resist.)
Small cakes are definitely they way to go, and all the more when they are topped with dried lavender buds and a dusting of icing sugar. The cake's batter is also mixed with the dried lavender buds which lends a slighty floral scent to cakes. A proper balance of aromatic sweetness is achieved and with lavender, and it is always a good rule of thumb that a little is always better than too much. Lavender buds can become quite bitter and overpowering all too easily, so having less than you think is always enough.
The cakes have a beautifully light and moist crumb. It doesn’t fall apart on your fork but it’s soft enough to melt easily in your mouth. The cakes are not overly sweet, and it’s best to keep it that way so as not to lose all the lovely lavender flavours you laboured to bring out.
FIVE quick facts about lavender:
The smell of lavender can help with insomnia and sleep disorders.
Whiffing lavender oil during your next dental visit may blur the memory of your pain.
According to folklore, spouses who place lavender flowers between their bed sheets will never quarrel.
During Ancient Roman times, lavender flowers were sold by the pound for 100 denari. This was equivalent to a a month’s wages for a farm labourer or 50 haircuts from the local barber.
During the height of the Plague, glove makes at Grasse would scent their leather with lavender oil as it was belived to ward off fleas, known carriers of the plague.
Lavender, Orange and Almond Cakes
from this blog
makes 12 little cakes
4 tsp dried lavender
250g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
juice from 2 large oranges
finely-grated zest from 2 oranges
¼ tsp almond extract/oil
¾ tsp salt
200g plain all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
FOR THE TOPPING
50g flaked almonds
icing (confectioner’s) sugar for dusting
1 tsp dried lavender, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 180˚C and grease 12 individual cake moulds and lie with parchment paper.
Put the lavender and some of the sugar in a clean coffee grinder or food processor and grind to a powder. Alternatively, if you do not have either one, you can just do this in a mortar and pestle. It will just take a little bit more elbow grease.
Combine this with the rest of the sugar.
Cream the lavender sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.
Add the orange juice, zest, almond extract and eggs.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and beat into the wet mixture, along with the ground almonds.
Pour the batter into prepared individual moulds, leaving 1 cm from the top.
Sprinkle the flaked almonds evenly over the top and dust with icing sugar.
Place the moulds on a baking tray and bake in oven for 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Cool the cakes for 10 minutes and unmold carefully.
Sprinkle with the dried lavender and serve.