When Life Gives You Lemon Balm…
RECIPE AND PHOTO BY PAOLA THOMAS
Don’t despair if your yard is overrun with lemon balm at this time of year. Instead, grab big handfuls and make a delicious lemon balm simple syrup, which you can then use to enliven summer cocktails and lemonades — and also to make this simple but mouth-watering cake, which owes its sunset colors to fresh fruit, not chemicals. Lemon balm has long been used for medicinal purposes — hence the name — so this cake is practically health food. That’s my story anyway.
This cake is an ode to my European roots. A drizzle cake is a very British affair and simply means a sponge cake drizzled with a syrup or glaze. Lemon is the traditional flavor, so it made sense to try it with lemon balm. I thought the tang of yogurt would be a welcome complement to lemon balm and strawberries, so in this version, the tender base cake is a traditional French gâteau au yaourt to which I’ve added a strawberry purée. It turns out that the fragrant sweetness of strawberries and the citrussy oral notes of lemon balm are a match made in heaven, bound together in this cake, which is as summery as a chilled glass of rosé on a warm July night.
Serves: 10–12 | Active time: 30 minutes + 2 hours baking and cooling time
For the lemon balm syrup (makes approximately 1 cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup loosely packed lemon balm leaves
Combine the ingredients in a pan and gently bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat when the syrup starts bubbling around the edges, and set the pan aside for 30 minutes so that the lemon balm can infuse. Strain the golden brown syrup into a glass jar and set aside. (If you want to make an extra cup of syrup for cocktails, don’t let me stop you.)
For the strawberry purée
12 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled, halved, and rinsed
Using a food processor or blender, whizz the strawberries into a puree. Place the puréed strawberries into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until syrupy and reduced by about a third. Set aside to cool while you make the cake, placing the pan in a bowl of cold water to speed up the process if necessary.
For the yogurt cake
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almond flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt
1 cup strawberry purée, cooled
2 sticks (1 cup) butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated or baker’s sugar
4 large eggs
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup lemon balm syrup to finish
Brush a thin layer of melted butter into every nook and cranny of a 10–12 cup Bundt pan and flour the pan to within an inch of its life, shaking out the excess. Don’t forget to flour the center funnel.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place the flour, almond flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl, whisk together until fully combined, and set aside. In another bowl, stir together the yogurt and strawberry purée.
Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and cream together on a medium speed for 3–4 minutes until pale and fluffy.
Beat in 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of the flour mix at a time, for a total of 4 eggs and 4 tablespoons of flour mix, scraping the bowl down after each addition. Stir a third of the remaining flour mixture into the batter and then stir in a third of the yogurt mixture. Alternate stirring in the flour and yogurt mixtures in thirds until everything is incorporated. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. You should have a slack, mousse-like batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared Bundt pan, and then tap the pan a few times on the kitchen counter to level off the top.
Bake for 60–70 minutes until the cake is a deep golden brown, set firm, and a skewer pushed into the deepest part of your cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave the cake in the pan for around 20 minutes — set a timer, as the cake will stick in the pan if it stays too long. While it is cooling in the pan, use a skewer to poke holes into the cake and pour on 1/2 cup of the lemon balm syrup until fully absorbed into the warm cake. Then invert the pan onto a wire rack, pray that the cake slides out intact, and leave it to cool fully, brushing the remaining syrup into the top and sides of the cake.
For the strawberry glaze
2 tablespoons strawberry purée, pushed through a sieve to remove the seeds
2 tablespoons lemon balm syrup
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2–3 teaspoons lemon juice
Place the strawberry purée and lemon balm syrup into a large bowl and whisk in the sugar. Stir in the lemon juice a teaspoon at a time until you have a thick but pourable glaze.
Spoon the glaze over the completely cooled cake.
Leave to harden and then decorate with lemon balm leaves or fresh strawberries.
Paola is a keen home cook and baker. She loves playing with flavors in everything from cocktails to salads, but her family is most thrilled when they get to taste the fruits of her experiments with cake. Check out Paola’s food photography and other writing on paolathomas.com