lilac-iced rhubarb and tarragon cake

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

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

pinch salt

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.

icing

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.

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spiced bran muffins with rum-soaked raisins

Bran muffins are a strange thing to declare your confidence in. Is it because the only confidence one tends to have in bran muffins is their dietary fibre content? So while contributing to one’s regularity is nice, recently I’ve been eating bran muffins because they taste nice.

I have a lot of confidence in these bran muffins. I’m sure they are not the best bran muffins you will ever try in your life (at least not while these are around). However, if you were visiting and demanding bran muffins (gosh how impertinent can you be?) I would happily make you these and hope that you would be just the teeniest-teensiest bit impressed at how they are not quite dull and perhaps not quite what you expected.  Normally when buying muffins, I always tend towards the fruit-laden varieties, crowns coated in a crackled dusting of sugar. The more cakelike, the better. Bran muffins tend to be associated with a dull flavour profile, and more importantly, bran muffins do not seem to be synonymous (in the slightest) with cake. Yet these muffins have a cake-like swag to them. I would blame it on all the spices, especially the cinnamon, which tends to give anyone a bit of an ego.

And this is not to put down the bran. I was using some (gah!) very old bran, but toasting it in the oven (idea courtesy of this previously linked recipe) helps to refresh it. The bran is nutty and very grainy and the spices just help make it something a bit more special. The muffins themselves are barely sweet. Instead, most of the sweetness comes from the (well-plumped) raisins, while the muffin is salted and spiced. The chopped walnuts on top become perfectly toasted during baking.

As is often the case the first time making these muffins was a flop. Thus you’ll see two sets of pictures: the first of a clumpy and dry muffin batch, the second nicely domed, dotted with chopped walnuts and pleasantly moist.

As for the future–I was thinking of taking some inspiration from these muffins by making a bran cake. Rhubarb bran cake perhaps? Already sounds good to me, but then again, it is a cake…

spiced bran muffins with rum-soaked raisins

Adapted from Clueless in the Kitchen by Evelyn Raab, a book my sister (who is far from clueless) backs as a useful resource for one who is indeed clueless. I (the clueless one) find it quite cute as well! Toasting the bran is borrowed from Nancy Silverton via Food52. Makes 10 muffins.

1 c raisins

1/2 c spiced rum

85 g wheat or oat bran (I think this could be increased even more if you so desire!)

110 g neutral oil

60 g brown sugar

1 egg

14 g ginger root

1 tsp vanilla extract

130 g whole wheat flour

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

125 mL milk

125 mL 2.5% m.f. yoghurt

handful walnuts, chopped

Let raisins soak with rum for a couple days. There will not be much liquid left, and if there is, I would just mix it in.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Spread out the bran on a baking pan and let it toast in the oven as it heats up and while you prepare the batter.

Whisk together the oil, egg, vanilla and sugar. Separately, whisk together the dry ingredients (except for the bran). Mix together the milk and yoghurt in another bowl. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk in a few additions. It will be a fairly thin batter, but thicken up with the addition of the bran. Mix in the toasted bran, and lastly the raisins.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners and fill 10 right up to the top with batter. Bake for around 15 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed with crumbs attached (try to catch the muffins while they still have crumbs clinging for moist muffins). Cool on a wire rack, removing from the muffin pan as soon as you can handle them.

 

WAIT…I don’t need a paragraph justifying my use of rum in a muffin, do I?