Lemon Rosemary Cake

A few years back, I acquired an interesting-looking little cookbook called Desserts from an Herb Garden.  It tempted me with a wide range of really unusual-sounding combinations and categories (it covers cookies and candies, cakes, pies, crisps, custards, puddings, frozen desserts, and plated desserts).

The librarian in me loves that it has two indexes – your usual index at the back that lists everything by name and ingredients, and a “Recipes Listed by Herb” index up front – fantastic when I’ve got an abundance of one particular herb and want to find something to use it up.

I hadn’t actually baked anything from it until this year – chalk it up to substandard herb gardens since we’ve moved to the new house (3 years ago, sigh), or just forgetfulness… but I’ve gotten it out twice in the last week, and the results have been fantastic!

The first thing I tried was the Lemon-Rosemary Cream Cake, which came out like a dream.  The cake uses cream for the fat and no butter at all, which gives it a really light airy texture – almost like an angel-food cake, but without the stickiness.

(One taster commented that it was the first homemade cake he’d ever had that reminded him of the texture of store-bought cakes (rather than being dense and very moist).  He loved it, so I can forgive him the comment and take it in the spirit it was intended.  🙂

Next week, the Apple-Basil Cake.  Mmmm.

Lemon-Rosemary Cream Cake
from Desserts from an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett.

Cake Ingredients:
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (I used Lily’s White)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt (I used Trader Joe’s sea salt)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
1 Tablespoon minced lemon verbena or lemon zest (I used lemon balm, because I have lots of it and no verbena – next year!)
1/2 cup nonfat or low-fat buttermilk (I used Maple View Dairy’s buttermilk, they’re a local dairy that makes exceptional products)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream (Maple View, again)

Glaze Ingredients:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon half-and half or milk
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour (or pancoat) a 10-cup Bundt pan.

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary and lemon verbena leaves; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.  In a large bowl, beat eggs on medium speed with sugar until thick; batter should fall in a ribbon when beaters are lifted.  With mixer on low speed or by hand, alternately mix in flour nad buttermilk mixtures, beginning and ending with flour.  Mix just until combined.

In another bowl with clean beaters, beat cream until stiff peaks form; gently but thoroughly fold into batter.  Pour batter into prepared bundt pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the top just springs back when pressed.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan on a rack, then turn cake out onto rack to cool completely.

Transfer cake to a serving platter and glaze: Whisk together confectioners’ sugar, half and half, and lemon juice and drizzle over cake.

Note: I totally skipped glazing, and while the cake would have been stupendous with the glaze, it was just fine without – lightly sweet and delicately perfumed with the taste of the herbs inside.  Yummy!

One small corner of the herb garden on the deck this year

What, you say? No pumpkiny goodness? What about the pumpkins?

Later, later. All in good time. For now, we move on to that great southern delicacy, sweet potato pie.

Buttermilk Sweet Potato Pie with fall colour

Buttermilk Sweet Potato Pie with fall colour

So, I grew up in the Midwest, and although my mom’s side are from Kentucky and I grew up eating plenty of southern-derived dishes, when it came time for Thanksgiving, it was pumpkin pie all the way.

Now that I live in the South, I figured I should give sweet potato pie a try – I mean, how different could it be? Nicole at Baking Bites had posted a recipe recently for Buttermilk Sweet Potato Pie that looked terrific, so I gave it a whirl! Notes on what I thought about it after the recipe…

Buttermilk Sweet Potato Pie

1 cup cooked, pureed sweet potato
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 9 or 10-inch graham cracker pie crust [I replaced with a regular pie crust, partially pre-baked, using my favorite pie crust recipe. Some day, I’ll post that, but not today 🙂 ]

Preheat oven to 350F.
Press sweet potato puree through a wire strainer to make it as smooth as possible, adding a tablespoon or two of water if you are working with leftover potatoes to make them a bit more pliable.

[note: Nicole had mentioned that it was difficult to get homemade puree as smooth as store-bought, but I cooked it down and then pureed the heck out of it with the immersion blender, my favorite whirly blades of death tool I own, and it was totally smooth, so YMMV]

In the bowl of a mixer, combine all ingredients except the flour and mix until smooth. Add in flour and mix until incorporated.

Place the pie crust on a baking sheet and place baking sheet on the middle rack of a preheated oven. Pour filling into pie crust (it is thin enough that it will slosh if you put it in the pie crust and attempt to carry it over to the oven).

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until pie is set and jiggles only very slightly when the pan is bumped.
Cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight, before serving.

Serves 10

So, I tried a tiny little slice before sending it off to work with Jeff. “Is this how it’s supposed to taste?”, I asked him. He tried a little bit and allowed that, given that he didn’t like sweet potato pie and so hadn’t eaten any in decades, it tasted just like he remembered although the buttermilk gave it a nice tanginess.

The comments from his coworkers seemed to indicate that this was, indeed, a perfectly acceptable representative of the species (in fact, they loved it).

My verdict? Sure isn’t replacing pumpkin pie in this house. It had this weird sort of gummy starchy mouth-feel to it – like you’d made a pie with potatoes. Which we had, really. It made these weird little bubbles on the surface, as well, although they didn’t seem to be related to texture at all. Not sure what was up with that.

The flavor was really nice – the sweet potato and buttermilk played together very nicely, and the crust, as usual, was perfect. But really, not my thing.

Weird little bubbles. Pretty leaves.

Weird little bubbles. Pretty leaves.