You know that Elderflower Cordial I made the other week? It needed cake. Or maybe I needed cake. Anyhow, I made a batch of completely simple Elderflower Syrup--no lemon juice, no zest, no extras. Just sugar, water, and flowers. I licked the bowl. Then I made a certain cake I've been thinking about for years, stirred some sliced strawberries and loquats together with the syrup, and voila! Mother's Day Cake.
I knew I had to revisit the topic of the ederberry bush, not because there are so many of you beating down my door for recipes, but because the last time I wasn't quite thorough enough--so says Mara.
She was mildly horrified that I only kind of mentioned the potential issue of mistaking poisonous hemlock for elderberry in the cordial post. She thought it was funny, yet, not so funny. She thought I needed to add more pictures of the plant or link to pictures of elderberry or hemlock to help us all positively identify the right foraging host. So here you go. The following are pictures of the elderberry bush. Take note. (If you don't care, scroll down to where the cake picture is. Because that's why we got up this morning, right? Cake?)
Hemlock looks similar to elderberry, but there are easy differences. Stick to recognizing the elderberry bush. There are distinct leaves (ie: not lacy) with obviously serrated edges. See the pattern of how the leaves grow? I would liken the leaf clusters to those of a pecan tree. I nearly mistook a pecan sapling growing alongside the elderberry for the elderberry itself. But that isn't quite so harmful. Pecans are edible, obviously. And they don't have these kind of flowers.
Elderflower heads are flat-topped and umbrella shaped, a little like Queen Anne's lace, only usually less symmetrical. The flowers are creamy, buttery white and very small.
This is the second batch of elderflowers I have picked this year. I knew I wanted to try out a liqueur recipe, where you steep flowers in clear alcohol for a while and then add sugar, and I also knew I wanted to try a more neutral syrup along with the cordial. The cordial has perk to it already from the lemons, and my recipe isn't quite as sweet as some. I guess I just wanted sugar. Flavored sugar. In liquid form.
I don't know what it is about simple syrup infusions, but they are my current heartthrob. Brush it on a cake. Use it to sweeten whipped cream. Or fruit. Or soda water. The cordial is actually just a longer-processed, more shelf-stable version of the simple syrup, and I have already used it on cake (great!), but I wanted a pure and simple syrup with just the basics.
So I made some again. A few days later it was Mother's Day and we needed dessert. And then there was this cake.
Meet Gelber Kuchen. I don't know what else to call it. I met the cake in Germany, and I got the recipe from the lovely lady who ran the hostel I worked at while I was there. She made it a couple times and this is what she named it. Translated, it means "yellow cake." Exciting stuff, huh? The first time she made the cake it was for an evening meeting. That was when I got my first glimpse into catering. The other time she made it to bring to a birthday party--because the man giving the party "didn't understand that you must feed people." She didn't want to suffer through his embarrassment.
This cake is unassuming. I think you can tell. It feels a little light on the fork. But there is something delightful about it. The crust is crustier than any of the other cakes I've met, and it almost tastes like that bronzed exterior is sweeter than the rest. My mother-in-law, who is not a cake or crust person, loved this cake. The inner crumb is tight but not at all heavy, light but not unsubstantial. And something about its toothsome texture reminds me of marzipan.
There are four different flavor additions to the cake, but none are immediately recognizable upon eating. There is rum, almond extract, lemon extract, and vanilla bean. I am not sure why, but I love that everything about this cake remains quiet. You can't quite pin down the flavor, except maybe vanilla. And even though it has nothing else extraordinary in it, it manages some kind of wow-factor.
It is a drier kind of cake. And I wouldn't usually advocate for such things, but this cake carries its tendencies very well. When fresh it will feel and look drier than it really is. In the mouth, it melts. As it ages, it does dry out, but it is an endearing dryness, like a Madeleine. It is almost supposed to be that way. I secretly think the cake is better after a couple days, with coffee or tea.
I served it to my family as if it were short or poundcake--with loquat-strawberry salad sweetened with the elderflower syrup and a little ice cream. I rarely appreciate cake and ice cream together, especially when I actually like the cake. But this cake carried it. It was everything it should be: a cacophony of flavors so mellow nothing upstaged anything else. I suppose it helped that the cake was soaking up all the loquat-strawberry salad and the melted ice cream.
The thing that is not so quiet or unassuming about this cake is the size of the recipe. It's huge. I mean, it makes a lot of cake. That picture up there is just one-third of it, maybe one-fourth. I baked one traditional bundt and one in a large, ceramic, fluted tart pan. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. Once, instead of the tart pan, I baked the remaining batter in a dozen mini bundt molds. Darling. Even more perfect a few days old. Think dipping.
I tried a few times to calculate a smaller recipe, but my brain frizzled after five minutes every time. If anyone is a little smarter in this arena, send me an email when you have the math worked out. I have a hard enough time counting the cups that already exist, let alone taking some away. Then again, I don't really mind having a extra cake maturing on my counter top. It takes the edge off.
Gelber Kuchen, or, German Yellow Cake
1 pound butter (as in 4 sticks; 2 cups)
3 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons rum
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour one bundt pan and your choice of secondary cake pan: loaf pan, standard round, small bundt, a dozen mini bundts, cupcakes, Madeleine molds (I think this would work well), etc.
Melt the butter and cool. Stir together dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and set aside as well.
Beat together the sugar and the eggs until expanded and creamy (but not terribly frothy), a few minutes. Mix in vanilla, lemon, almond, and rum. Add and incorporate melted butter. Add dry ingredients slowly while mixing.
Fill cake pans two-thirds full and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sides start to shrink from the pan and the center springs back when pressed lightly. It will get quite dark.
Cool in pans for five minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack and cool completely. Serve plain or with a dusting of powdered sugar, ice cream or whipped cream, and/or perhaps a conglomeration of the three and the loquat-strawberry salad below. Enjoy!
Elderflower Simple Syrup1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 cups elderflowers
Stir together the water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a few moments until the sugar is completely dissolved. Take the pan off the heat off heat and stir in 3 cups loose, stemmed elderflowers. Cover and let steep until cool. Strain off the flowers and discard. Will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, if not a month.
Brush over still-hot cakes, stir into soda water or champagne, add to cocktails, or mix into fruit salads like the one below. Enjoy!
Loquat-Strawberry Salad with ElderflowerThis salad is all about freshness and color. Don't slack off on the lemon juice. And make sure that whatever true quantity of fruit you have that there is a balance of the orangy loquats and the red strawberries.
1 pound strawberries, wedges or sliced
1 pound loquats, once peeled, seeded, and wedged
juice of 2 lemons, ~ 1/2 cup
2-4 tablespoons elderflower simple syrup*
Prepare the strawberries and set aside.
Add the lemon juice to a large bowl and prepare the loquats, dropping the peeled, seeded fruit into the juice to prevent them from browning. Stir them about after each addition so none of the fruit is left out in the non-juiced cold. They brown easily.
When ready to serve, combine the loquats and strawberries and add the smallest amount of the elderflower syrup. Stir and taste. I like the elderflower to whisper its sweet self, not shout it, but if you prefer audible, sweet things, then add more syrup by the tablespoon, stirring and tasting after each addition until it reaches the decibel you like.
Serve in heaps over the cake, by itself, or in whole plain yogurt (with a little extra syrup). Enjoy!