Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rosemary Lemon Cake with Sea Salt

Salt isn't an ingredient that is usually associated with desserts. Sure, practically every cake and pastry recipe includes the customary pinch of salt which is supposed to enhance and awaken inherent flavours. Try making a chocolate cake WITHOUT salt: it really does taste quite flat. Add a pinch or two of salt, about a teaspoon, and the chocolate comes alive.

Salt is essential in desserts but with a pinch, we don't actually taste the salt.

What if we add more than a pinch? What if we want to taste the salt to contrast against the sweet? Salty desserts are nothing new: salted caramel desserts have become the rage over the last couple of years, but Asian desserts have long played up the salty/sweet contrast: one of my favourites is Tau Sar Piah, a deliciously flaky pastry stuffed with a sweet/savoury mung bean paste. Another is the Thai sticky rice and mango pudding: the sweet and salty sticky rice that's drenched in coconut milk and eaten with sweet mango? Oh ... so delicious. 

A while ago at a food fair I participated in with Jane of The Wayward Oven and Sree, another friend (we sold sliders - nothing sweet about them!), I had the chance of sampling a Rosemary and Maldon Sea Salt yellow cake baked expertly by the fabulous baker boys of Just Heavenly. The cake literally blew me away. I didn't ask for the recipe, of course, but I've been thinking about it ever since that fateful day last September. Yeah, that's a long time to be thinking about one cake!

Last week, I decided to try adding the same flavours in a lemon butter cake. 

The cake turned out super! 

I had to make it twice to get the right amount of rosemary and salt to balance the sweetness of the lemon and the richness of the butter. The first time around, I didn't quite use enough rosemary: I stinged as I was afraid the strong taste of the herb might overpower the cake. It didn't. It was barely discernable and so I doubled the amount, using two sprigs instead of just one. 

The flavour of the rosemary is subtle, giving the cake just a little kick with its of fresh, piney taste while the salt not only gives you an unexpected hit but also cuts through the richness of the butter in the cake. 

Texturally, sprinkling the sea salt on the cake adds not just flavour but texture to the crust... and who doesn't love a delicious crust on a butter cake? I used the Fleur de Sel de Camargue which Ivy (The Hungry Caterpillar) bought for me from Europe some time back. I've been using it sparingly but this recipe called for the best. But, Maldon sea salt flakes (readily available at most big grocers here) works as well. Sea salt works better than table salt as it has a softer flavour that is more brine-y, less salty.

Rosemary Lemon Cake with Sea Salt

250g butter, softened
250g Castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
310g self raising flour
2/3 cup milk
zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs rosemary
sea salt to sprinkle

For the glaze
1 lemon
1/2 cup icing sugar, sieved

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Line a loaf pan with grease proof paper and lightly rub the paper with butter.

Heat the milk, lemon zest and rosemary until the mixture begins to simmer. Take it off the heat and leave to cool, allowing the rosemary and zest to infuse into the milk (for at least 15 mins). When cool, strain the mixture and keep only the milk.

Cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the extract and the eggs, one at a time and beat (on a lower speed) till incorporated. 

Add the flour and the milk, alternating between the two in three installments.

Pour the batter into the lined pan, smoothing the top and dropping the pan on the counter a couple of times to remove any air bubbles.

Sprinkle the top with sea salt.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Once the cake is out, prepare the glaze by just mixing the sugar in the lemon juice till smooth. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake while it is warm.

Sprinkle a wee bit more sea salt on the glaze and leave to cool before removing from the pan.


  1. First of all, perhaps I'm allergic following recipes to the T. Thought 200g butter would be more than enough and 180g sugar too. Then when I plonking in the flour (mixing bowl on scales) though 300g flour would be too much, so I reduced it by about 70g (used kitchen flour plus 2 tsp baking powder). Still kept the three eggs, at least. But that meant my proportions were all wrong. My milk-rosemary infusion was kind of weak - when I tasted the batter I could hardly detect any rosemary. So while the cake was baking, I simmered the lemon juice a few minutes with the 2 sprigs of rosemary, then sieved it into (less) powdered sugar as I thought the batter was sweet already. Oh, did I mention I forgot to sprinkle with sea salt before popping the cake into the oven? :D So I had to do the first sprinkling at 35 minutes. What a klutzy student you have!
    Verdict: Lovely crumb, tender, and great flavour but a tad too buttery. Will want to make it more lemony tangy next time, and will perhaps infuse 3 sprigs into the milk? :)

    1. What an experimenter you are. Yes, I actually reduce the sugar myself more often than not but never the butter as I love a buttery cake :) And I do admit that sometimes I add a sprig or two extra rosemary :) I too hardly follow the recipe, even my own, to a T :) Must be something you passed on to me ... tsk tsk

    2. P.S. Dogpa was happily pouring (not sprinkling) the rosemary lemon juice syrup over his giant slice!


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