With all the spring lilacs, the city becomes quite nice. They line the boulevards and arch over the sidewalks, bushy-tailed with flowers. You see them a lot in the “older” neighbourhoods (well, for where I live anyways), where the houses look like they’ve been constructed in the 50s and 60s (i.e. mostly charming but inelegant bungalows).I grew up with a lilac bush in the front yard. Nothing really grew there, apart from some overenthusiastic bushes (the lilac was not one of them), grass and snarky dandelions, because I swear, the soil was not soil, but was some kind of dusty concrete in disguise. Are yards always that terrible?
The fact that the lilac bush could grow (and even flowered! …once every few years if we were lucky) is a testament to how lilacs are quite easy to care for and rewarding with bushels of small fragrant purple flowers. It’s probably why all the old lilacs in the inner city neighbourhoods have survived until now.
The cake itself (because why are we really here? Not horticulture, but cake, that is why) is bright and patchwork with rhubarb. Rhubarb was another thing we used to try to grow in the yard, a plant that remained stubbornly small but had the sweetest reddest stalks. I became a bit enamoured with the patchiness and dripping lilac glaze. It resulted in numerous shots of different slices at different angles. Because, as you know, you have to cover all the permutations.
The cake came out very moist. With too much rhubarb, I think the cake could veer into the too moist range, but this amount was alright. Mixing in pieces of rhubarb is much better than using compote (which I did in a cake just prior to this, though being posted out of chronology) as the rhubarb has enough time to cook just fine, and remains in small tender pieces. It makes the inside of the cake so colourful and didn’t all sink to the bottom either!
Not much lilac flavour came out in the icing. The steeped lilac tea is very fragrant and potent, but it was tempered by the fairly strong starchy taste of the powdered sugar. I think it would have also helped to steep the lilac for longer–say 15 to 20 minutes instead of 5 or 10 or so that I steeped for.
It does help having the lilac flowers on top though–they provide the fragrance!
The tarragon flavour came out very well–herby and liquorice, which seemed to work quite well with the rhubarb and floral notes of the lilac.
lilac-iced tarragon and rhubarb cake
Adapted from the tosca cake in Beatrice Ojakangas’s Great Scandinavian Baking Book...sort of an odd choice for a cake base, but I’ve made the Tosca cake before and was looking for the butter enriched sponge type…and the baking powder ensures the cake rises even when I fold out all the air.
65 g granulated sugar
2 large sprigs of tarragon (a good tbsp of leaves)
2 large eggs
50 g spelt flour
60 g all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
60 g butter, melted and cooled
2 tbsp milk
3 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 7″/18-cm springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Chop the tarragon leaves finely and rub into the sugar. Whisk the eggs and the sugar until the eggs have become voluminous, very fluffy and white, and hold their shape. It took a little while longer than usual–perhaps excess liquid from the tarragon, so be sure to dry the herbs thoroughly.
Whisk together the dry ingredients and fold into the eggs. Mix together the milk and melted butter and fold in. Lastly, fold in the chopped rhubarb. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until an inserted skewer is removed clean, around 30-35 minutes.
1/4 c lilac flowers, plus additional to garnish the cake
1/4 c water
110 g icing sugar
Boil the water and pour over the lilac flowers. Allow to steep around 15 minutes.
Add the lilac water as needed to the icing sugar to produce a pourable but thick glaze.
Pour over the cooled cake, spreading a bit if needed to cover the top surface. Sprinkle with lilac flowers and allow the glaze to set.