We have a simple cake today with subtle and soothing flavors of lemon balm: the kind of cake one would love to have on a pleasant summer day. A good cup of tea and company is what I envision with the cake, sitting outside as the breeze makes the patches of sunlight dance in delight. A mockingbird always sings here.
This spring had been different. We have had so much rain. The creeks swelled and spread beyond their boundaries, covering the roads, fields and golf courses, whatever else came in its way. The water roared and swirled around the trunks of the tall trees immersed and helpless in the swift currents. There were constant warnings of flash flood which threatened and consumed a lot in many parts of the state. Every time I planted seedlings and left them out, they died, being swamped with water. It was a wonderful feeling though, to see the lush green of the overgrown grass, the trees washed clean of every speck of dust, swaying and swishing in madness as the enormous drops incessantly poured down in a sheet for hours.
The dark of the nights held more drama as we stayed awake hugging one another and watched the theatre of lightning and thunder splitting the sky like a thin canvas. T huddled close to us, as we got her down to our room for these nights. She jumped in her sleep as the thunder rolled and screamed. I said prayers thanking God after each of those passed us. We have not had this kind of rain for the past few years. Drought had wiped every rain cloud away. The fields were brown, the water cloudy and pale as the cities installed “restricted water use” signs at every corner. The water level of the lakes and rivers kept going down, until this year. The rain Gods have opened their hearts out and filled out every bend and curve and more.
We live in a quiet, less happening town. So when there is the slightest change, there is a wave of stirring curiosity. About a month back, I was on my way to the grocery store. It was the first day we saw blue clear skies after days of raining. As I drove past a golf course I noticed lines of cars parked on the sides of the road as well as the median, as one would expect in a fair or fest. But I could hear more… the howl of the water raging over the golf course which had no existence at that moment. There were many leaning over the bridge watching this spectacle in amazing wonder. So did I while coming back. I parked my car and walked to the rails. “I have never seen anything like this”, I heard someone say, “… and I have been living here for more than thirty years”. It was indeed a sight! The sound of murmurs was smothered by the rush of water, the currents lapping and colliding in anger. It felt like the urgent rush when a dam was opened. We the bystanders were in awe of Mother Nature. We being only so little and powerless.
I have planted nothing this year in my yard. The grass and the weeds grew too quickly for me to clean out. I thought I will give it a break, a slight guilt lurking in my heart. For the vegetables would have flourished and drank in the rain. I simply did not get there in time, having pulled down by a million things happening at this end. However the herb patch that I had started raised their shoots on their own and have grown so big. The tiny six inch of the lemon balm is a huge two feet bush now. This is one beautiful herb and perfect to flavor a summer salad or teas and drinks.
As I stood out with the moist air soothingly wiping my face, T on my side, we could smell the invigorating mix of rosemary, lemon balm, thyme and basil… T picked up a leaf of lemon balm and rubbed it between her fingers. She sniffed and declared, “mama, we should bake a cake with this”. And we did. The very next week.
She was my little sous chef, pounding away the fragrant lemon balm with the sugar in the large granite mortar and pestle, her little apron hanging on her neck, her eyes fixed into the green mush with all concentration she could gather. She measured, mixed and poured. And we had a cake to share!
This is a very basic cake. Any plain cake recipe will work with it. Just incorporate the lemon balm for flavor, which here was done by making lemon balm sugar.
Lemon Balm Cake
Ingredients: (makes one 9 inch cake)
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/3 cup yogurt + 1/2 cup water, whisked/blended together
- 3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
- 1 cup packed fresh lemon balm leaves (or to taste: the more the stronger the flavor)
- 1/2 cup slivers of almond (optional)
- confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)
Whisk or blend yogurt and water. Set aside. Heat oven to 375F Grease a cake/bundt and dust it lightly with flour..
Pound or use a blender to mix the lemon balm leaves and the sugar. It is better that the leaves are crushed completely and blends in well. Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Cream together lemon balm sugar and oil. Add one egg at a time and whisk with the creamed sugar and oil.
Add the dry ingredients in parts and whisk them in with the wet mix. Add lemon juice and mix it in. Add the blended yogurt and water to the batter and just mix everything in. It is not going to be very runny batter. Lightly fold in the almonds if you are using them.
Transfer batter to the cake tin and bake for 25 minutes (baking time will vary by over. The top should be light golden brown and the inserted skewer in the cake should come out clear. Allow the cake to cool on a cooling rack before slicing. The flavors infuse best the next day. Dust with confectioners sugar once cooled.
You are free to ice or top it your way. We just had it like a light and simple tea or snack cake.
Note that any basic cake recipe can be used for this cake. The key is to get hold of fresh lemon balm.
Preparating Time: 15 minutes
Cooking/Baking Time: 30 minutes
Serves/Makes: One 9 inch cake
Difficulty level: Very Easy
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