It’s always a joy when one of Henry’s books hits my desk. She tends to write single-subject books, based on an idea or a general subset of flavors, not a fixed dish such as soups or desserts.
Each is more interesting than the last — her most recent book was called “A Bird in the Hand” and made chicken the most intriguing protein in the world — and it all started with “Crazy Water Pickled Lemons,” which focused on the lush, rich tastes and aromas of the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa.
The book, originally published in the UK in 2001 and out of print for a few years, has been re-released in paperback, and Henry continues to write a food column for the newspaper.
Of this lavender, orange and almond cake, she wrote back in that debut book: “I love the very idea of this cake, never mind its taste. The mixture of lavender flowers with oranges and almonds just reeks of picnics, hot sun and fields of blossom. Making it really lifts your spirits.”
Use fresh lavender if you can, and yes, you should use a different coffee grinder from the one you use to grind your coffee.
Lavender, Orange and Almond Cake
4 tsp. dried lavender buds, or flowers (or about 8 sprigs fresh)
1 1/8 cups (9 oz.) superfine sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (9 oz.) unsalted butter
Juice and finely grated rind of 2 oranges
4 eggs, beaten
1 2/3 cup (7 oz.) self-rising flour, sifted
2/3 cup (2 oz.) blanched almonds, freshly ground
For the icing:
1 1/4 cup (10 1/2 oz.) cream or ricotta cheese
2/3 cup (2 1/2 oz.) powdered sugar
Finely grated rind of 1 orange, for garnish
Sifted superfine sugar, for garnish
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line and grease a springform cake pan.
Put the lavender and sugar in a coffee grinder (or a food processor if you don’t have a coffee grinder, though you won’t get such a fine powder) and process to a powder. Cream the butter and lavender sugar together until light and fluffy and then add the orange rind and juice and the eggs. Beat until well-combined, adding a spoonful or two of the flour if the mixture begins to look curdled. Fold in flour and ground almonds.
Pour batter into springform cake pan and bake for 40 minutes. Test if the cake is cooked by piercing it with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean it is ready. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack.
To make the icing, mix cream or ricotta cheese with powdered sugar and orange rind. Set aside. Use a zester to remove the rind from the oranges and mix together in a small bowl with a little superfine sugar.
Top the cake with the cream cheese or ricotta icing and garnish with a sprinkle of the orange rind and sugar mixture. Serves 8 to 10.
— Adapted from “Crazy Water Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99)