My garden is crowded with herbs and in early summer, when they are abundant and most fragrant, I instil their uplifting essence into my baking whenever I can. Often these self-effacing plants shy away from attention by producing insignificant flowers. But crush their shapely leaves and they release the most exquisite of perfumes. A few sprigs of an intensely aromatic herb can absolutely transform an otherwise simple cake. Lightly infuse the herb in water and the resulting liquor can be added to drizzles, icings and – in the case of this recipe – the cake itself.
- Yield: 10 Servings
- 6 lemon verbena sprigs
- 100 g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 200 g ground rice
- 200 g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
- 150 g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 100 g icing sugar, sifted
- 5 lemon verbena leaves
- 2 litre loaf tin, about 25 x 13 cm, or an 18 cm square tin, sides lightly greased and base-lined with baking parchment
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Strip the lemon verbena leaves off the stalks. Place 5 or 6 leaves on the lined base of the tin. Put the rest into a measuring jug and cover with 200 ml freshly boiled water, making sure all the leaves are completely immersed to prevent them oxidising and discolouring. Set aside to cool.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the ground rice and mix well to combine; set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, using either a wooden spoon or a hand-held electric whisk, beat the butter to a cream. Add the sugar and beat until light and creamy. Incorporate the eggs one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour mix with each one, and beating thoroughly before adding the next. Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold in the remaining flour mix.
- Strain the verbena-infused water. Add 100 ml to the cake mixture, reserving the rest, and gently fold it in, to give a very soft dropping consistency. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing it evenly and lightly with the back of the spoon.
- Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes until the cake is lightly golden and springs back into shape when gently pressed. Just before it is done, prepare the drizzle by mixing the remaining 100ml verbena-infused water with the icing sugar and stirring until dissolved.
- As the cake comes out of the oven, prick it all over deeply (but not to the bottom) with a skewer and spoon half the drizzle over the surface. Leave for 10 minutes, then spoon over the remainder, making sure you pour plenty down the sides of the tin.
- Leave the cake in the tin until cool before turning out. Arrange the lemon verbena leaves on top to decorate. The cake will keep for 5 days in an airtight tin.