The making of this cake was prompted by some dear dear friends — sisters, practically — who gave me Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook Plenty More for my birthday.
In its intended glory this cake is meant to be an apricot, walnut, and lavender cake. However, this being the Middle East, at the time of its baking we were just hitting strawberry season, and in all the land there was not a single apricot to be found.
And so, in my borderline desperation to make this cake, my brother kindly bought a kilo of strawberries to substitute until apricot season arrives, and after an unexpectedly late night out on the town — oh, youth! — I woke up after four hours of sleep to bake this cake at 7 am. Why? So that I would have enough time to eat transcendent hummus in the Old City of Jerusalem, of course.
I can attest that it was a labor of love. There are few things that will wake me up so early after so little sleep. Baking a cake with lavender and fresh fruit is on the short list. So is eating hummus in the Old City.
This cake is every sort of awesome. I replaced the walnut oil with olive oil because, y’know, a stipend only goes so far. The cake was still glorious in every way.
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp / 185 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, diced
2 tbsp walnut oil or olive oil
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp / 220 g superfine sugar (granulated is fine)
1 1/4 cups / 120 g ground almonds
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup / 120 g walnuts, blitzed to a coarse powder
scant 3/4 cup / 90 g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used vanilla sugar)
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoon picked lavender flowers, fresh or dry
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 kilo strawberries, sliced lengthwise
~ 6 tablespoons / 50 g confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375˚F / 190˚C.
Place butter, walnut oil if you’re using, sugar, and almonds in a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Or, if you are stand mixer-less like me, beat by hand until combined and semi-fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated. Fold in walnuts, flour, vanilla, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon lavender and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Pour in cake batter and level the top. Arrange strawberry slices attractively, cut side up, in concentric circles, right to the edge, or if you’re like me, begin at the edge and work inwards. Bake in the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, covering with aluminum foil if the top begins to brown too much.
When the cake is baking, make the icing. Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and lemon until you have a light, pourable icing, adjusting sugar or lemon juice as necessary. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush or pour the icing over the cake. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 lavender buds over the top and leave the cake to cool before serving.