What better way to spend a snowy day than to bake something that reminds one of spring! In this challenge, the brief was to make 36 miniature classic British cakes. I chose what I would call a soon-to-be modern classic — lemon and elderflower cakes à la Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s wedding cake.
I’d never tried elderflower before but found the cordial light, almost citrus-y and not overpoweringly floral, overall a perfect foil for the bright, tart flavor of lemons. Elderflowers, it turns out, are the small white blossoms of the elderberry bush, which flourishes along the hedgerows of England and France. The berries are often used to make jams and jellies, and apparently both flower and berry pair well with gin!
The recipe I adapted for this bake is from a little cookbook put out by Friends of North Lodge Park, a volunteer group that runs a café in a clifftop park in Cromer, Norfolk, U.K. Of course, with the current coronavirus pandemic, the café is closed, but in better times it is stocked with baked goods donated by local home bakers. The cookbook, Will You Marry Me? and Other Recipes, caught my attention because I follow one of those bakers on Instagram. Thida Bevington used to provide not one but two of her coffee and walnut cakes for the café every week, pre-lockdown. While she has posted the recipe to her Instagram stories, I looked and looked for a print version, and this is the only source I could find.
The elderflower and lemon cake recipe in the book, however, is attributed to a baker named Jean (no last name given) who adapted it from one she clipped from a newspaper, the Weekend Eastern Daily Press, also out of Norfolk. It boasts the same flavors used in Meghan’s and Harry’s cake, which was made by Claire Ptak, an expat from California who opened her London bakery Violet in 2010.
While the elderflower cordial used in the royal wedding cake came from flowers grown on Queen Elizabeth’s own Sandringham estate, I was sadly unable to find any elderflowers growing in Wisconsin in the middle of winter. So I had to make do with a store-bought cordial, which I found at World Market. Belvoir (pronounced bee-ver in the U.K.) Fruit Farms (being rebranded as Belvoir Farm) Elderberry Cordial is made in Leicestershire, U.K., where they grow elderflowers organically on a 60-acre farm and call on locals from the surrounding community to help pick the frothy white blossoms by hand.
While lemon zest and elderflower cordial are baked into the batter of these petite cakes, the flavor is enhanced by drizzling more cordial over the warm cakes and sandwiching the layers with homemade lemon curd (for which I used this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction). Rather than frost the cakes with buttercream, I chose to top them with a light mascarpone cream scented with even more elderflower cordial.
To make sure the cakes were “identical in size and shape,” as the brief stipulates, I used muffin tins, lining each with parchment paper on the bottom to ensure they all came out without sticking. To assemble the cakes, I turned them upside down and split them horizontally, then brushed each layer with additional cordial to be certain the flavor came through. I lined the edge of the bottom layer with a circle of mascarpone cream, then filled in the middle with the rich, yellow curd. After placing the second layer on top, I piped on more cream and topped each one with a fresh raspberry.
I was pleased with the results. The elderberry came through nicely without overwhelming. The lemon curd was a lovely complement, and overall, the flavors balanced nicely. Moist without being heavy, these cakes taste like spring and are definitely moreish! Despite the Wisconsin January blizzard, I was able to deliver cakes to surrounding friends and neighbors to positive reviews. I would recommend these cakes for any time of the year!
Lemon & Elderflower Cake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone Cream
- Credit for lemon curd: SallysBakingAddiction.com
- Cake recipe adapted from “Will You Marry Me? and Other Recipes” © 2019 Friends of North Lodge Park
For the lemon curd:
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2/3 c. sugar
- 1 T. lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
- 1/3 c. fresh lemon juice (1½-3 lemons)
- 1/8 t. salt
- 6 T. unsalted butter, softened
For the cake:
- 1 1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/3 c. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- 1 T. lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
- 6 large eggs
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 5 t. baking powder
- 3 T. elderflower cordial, plus more for drizzling
For the mascarpone cream:
- 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
- ¼ c. powdered sugar
- 1 c. whipping cream
- 1-2 T. elderflower cordial, to taste
- 36 fresh raspberries
- To make the lemon curd, create a bain-marie by filling a saucepan with 1-2 inches of water and bringing it to a boil over high heat; then place a nonmetal, heat-proof bowl over the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the boiling water. Reduce heat to low to keep the water simmering. Place the 4 egg yolks, 2/3 c. sugar, 1 T. zest, juice and salt into the bowl and whisk until completely blended. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens to the consistency of hollandaise sauce — about 10 minutes. (If it’s not thickening, turn up the heat a little at a time and continue whisking.)
- Remove bowl from the bain-marie and whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until melted. For a smoother texture, pour curd through a sieve into a bowl (or, if you want to keep the zest in the curd, blend with an immersion blender), and place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface so it won’t form a skin. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools.
- While the curd is cooling, make the cake. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 36 muffin tins and line with parchment paper rounds cut to fit the bottom of each compartment.
- To make it easier to divide your cake batter evenly, weigh your empty bowl and write it down. (This will come in handy when weighing your batter later.) Cream together 1 1/3 c. butter and 1 1/3 c. superfine sugar, and add 1 T. lemon zest. Add eggs one at a time, whisking and adding a large spoonful of the flour in between each egg to prevent the mix from curdling. Then add the remaining flour, baking powder and 3 T. cordial, and beat until mixture is creamy.
- Weigh the bowl with the batter in it and subtract the weight of the empty bowl; then divide by 36. (Mine came to about 35 grams.) Place one of the prepared muffin tins on a food scale and, using an ice cream/cookie dough scoop or two tablespoons, transfer that amount of batter into each compartment. (It helps to tare the scale after filling each compartment.)
- Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Leave cakes in the tins for a few minutes and then carefully remove them, leaving them upside down on racks to cool. Peel parchment paper away from cakes and, while they’re still warm, spoon a little cordial over the top (which is actually the bottom!) of each one, leaving it to soak in.
- While cakes cool, make the mascarpone cream. With an electric mixer, whisk mascarpone till light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour in cream and whisk on low speed. Add cordial, a little at a time, tasting to determine when it’s enough. Gradually increase mixer speed until stiff peaks form. Transfer to pastry bag fitted with small plain tip.
- For assembly, wash raspberries and leave to dry on paper towels. If necessary, cut the domes off of the cakes so they will sit flat on a serving platter. Slice each cake in half horizontally. Brush a little cordial on the cut side of each half.
- Place the larger half (originally the top) of each cake on a serving platter, and pipe a small circle of cream around the top edge. Fill the center of the circle with about a teaspoon of lemon curd. Place the smaller half of the cake on top of the curd and pipe a few dollops of cream on top. Top with a raspberry in the center. Refrigerate until ready to serve.