When you are spending the day outside, surrounded by amazing smells and beautiful plants, the mind begins to wander. While we drove home from the Heritage Plant and Flower Show that I blogged about yesterday, I noticed a lot of elders, a common roadside tree around here.
Despite the very early appearance of this year's blossoms, there are still some blossoms to be found these days. The blossoms normally continue until the middle of June, gradually becoming harder to find as they transform themselves into that other hedgerow treat – the elderberry. The elder is a very easy plant to identify but there are one or two plants that may be mistaken for elderflowers at a glance. Take a look at the photograph here if you are unsure, but if it smells of elderflowers then that is what it is.
Elderflower has unique aromatics and when I start the very first picking session in our garden, trying to reach as many clusters of flowers as possible (I am by no means what you would call a tall person), the smell reminds me of drinking the elderflower cordial the previous summer.
Elderflowers are for everybody. Yet they still seem to be a seriously under-used resource. Elderflower cordial makes the most wonderful drink when diluted with water or sparkling wine, but it is also a superb cupboard ingredient to add a unique fragrant twist to all sorts of wonderful cakes, tarts and puddings. Apart from making elderflower cordial, wine, champagne, and vinegar, elderflowers have a great many other uses. Like one of my all time favorites and a rather unique treat that my grand-mother always made, namely those unique elderflower fritters. My favorite recipe for those lovely elderflower fritters, can be found here.
If you plan on using elderflowers for your baking, cooking, jam or juice making, make sure to choose elderflowers that have fully opened and still have cream colored florets. If possible, you should pick them on a sunny morning. They break away easily from the fork between two leaves and you can collect a huge number in just a few minutes. Elderflowers do not thrive in captivity so get to work as soon as you arrive home.
This elderflower cake is a delightful and delicate teatime treat. It is airy, light, and sweet, but this cake is also armatic from the homemade elderflower cordial in both the icing and the strawberry filling. You can also vary the filling and add some tart rhubarb to the sweet strawberry mix, rhubarb is wonderful in combination with the aromatic flavors of the elderflower, and there is still some late season rhubarb to be found at the green grocers around here.
Elderflower Cake with Strawberry Filling
(inspired by the Heritage Plant and Garden Show and a recipe from Inaki Aizpitarte)
Ingredients for the Cake
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, slightly cooled, plus more for the cake pan
- 1 cup super fine (baking) sugar, plus more for pan
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla sugar
- 1 1/2 cups AP (plain) flour, sifted
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 6 eggs (L), organic or free range
Ingredients for the Strawberry Filling
- 450 grams (1 pound) local strawberries, washed, hulled, quartered (you could also add some late season rhubarb to the jam filling)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tbsps elderflower cordial (preferably homemade)
Ingredients for the Icing
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tbsps cream (or more)
- 1 tbsp elderflower cordial (preferably homemade)
- freshly picked elderflowers ( for serving), optional
Preparation of the Cake
- Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Butter a 23 cm (9") - diameter springform cake pan and sprinkle generously with sugar, shake off excess.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.
- Whisk eggs, 1 cup sugar and pure vanilla sugar in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water (take care as the bowl should not touch water).
- Heat, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch, about 4 minutes.
- Remove bowl from heat and, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg mixture until it is pale and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.
- Gently fold reserved dry ingredients into egg mixture in 3 additions, then fold in melted butter.
- Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
- Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan before turning out.
Preparation of the Strawberry Filling and Icing
- Bring strawberries, sugar, and 2 tbsps elderflower cordial to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
- Crush berries with a spoon to release more juices and simmer until berries are completely soft and mixture resembles a coarse jam, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool completely.
- Using a long serrated knife, slice cake in half horizontally.
- Spread cooled strawberry mixture over bottom layer of cake and place top layer over strawberry mixture.
- Whisk powdered sugar, remaining 1 tbsp elderflower cordial, and cream in a medium bowl. Thin icing with more cream as needed (it should be pourable).
- Place cake on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet and pour icing over cake.
- Spread with an offset spatula to smooth top and let drip down the sides.
- Let stand at room temperature until set, at least 30 minutes.
- Decorate with elderflowers, if using, just before serving. NOTE: This cake can be made one day ahead. It should be stored covered at room temperature - but then leave the elderflowers off just until serving.
There is a lot of superstition associated with elder trees, which have been thought to have magical qualities. An elderflower tree is also meant to protect the household from evil if planted nearby and is apparently never struck by lightening – good to know, we have an elder tree in our garden.
"Respect your elders..."