Spiced Lemon Rosemary Cake with Walnuts: Jump straight to the recipe.
I’ve never understood why the phrase is “easy as pie” as opposed to “easy as cake.” Pie, in my mind, equals not so easy. Getting a crust right is a tricky thing, and then you have the filling, involving cutting fruit up—no big deal with bananas, a 2nd circle of hell kinda job with cherries.
Cake, on the other hand, is easy peasy lemon squeezy—in this case, literally, because of, well, the lemon. (A sponge cake can be a little gnarly, given the whole separated egg thing, but we’ll save that for another day.) This Spiced Lemon Rosemary Cake with Walnuts couldn’t be simpler. It’s really lovely for springtime. I split this recent one between two good friends, Steve, and my son, and they all made kind of a big deal about it. The kid had to pick out the walnuts, but liked the rest so much he didn’t mind.
The recipe was inspired by an article many years ago in Bon Appetit on Greek Easter; I have the old hard copy, but it does not appear to be online. Of course, the lemon, rosemary, and walnuts are decidedly evocative of Greek cooking, making this a perfect treat (or breakfast!) for your Virtual Greek Escape. I plan to do the full virtual treatment on Greece. But until I get around to it, check out my guide to creating your own custom virtual getaway. And if you haven’t yet signed up for the newsletter, know that you will get my super groovy print-out, 5 Steps to an Awesome Virtual Getaway, when you do.
Spiced Lemon Rosemary Cake with Walnuts: Baking Tips
Note that exact ingredients are below, as is required for baking. Baking is not an improv thing unless you’re some sort of baking genius. Which I am certainly not.
- You can make this in a Bundt pan, which I like because 1) they’re pretty in a frumpy way, and 2) I also like the way they portion out. But you can also use a flat glass pan, like a casserole dish. Should you use the Bundt pan, you MUST apply first a generous layer of fat—coconut oil, butter, or non-stick spray—followed by a good dusting of flour, which you then tamp out so there’s no excess. I skipped the flour and you can see the result below. The top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. As long as the cake is still hot, this isn’t a complete disaster; you can just scoop it out and press it back in place as I did below. Still, if you’re trying to impress someone, and just to circumvent a case of severe kitchen frustration, do plenty of flour.
- Use a whisk to combine dry ingredients. A great trick I learned during that summer in the pastry shop.
- If you have leftover buttermilk, freeze it in little muffin cups. Since I always have to buy more buttermilk than I can possibly use, I always do this. You can sub buttermilk for regular milk in most baking recipes; it has more body and flavor.
- This is an oil-based cake rather than a buttery one. Use what’s known as “tasteless” oil. This doesn’t mean oil used by fans of Baywatch. Snort! This means oil without a taste, so olive is out. But sunflower, grapeseed, canola, even avocado work fine.
- For this type of cake, add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in layers. Start by putting a third of the dry ingredients into the oil/sugar mix, then add half the buttermilk. Etc, until both are used up. You want to start and end with dry ingredients, so that’s why they’re in thirds and the buttermilk in halves. Why? I don’t know!
- Fold in the walnuts at the very end. If you have a walnut hater, wait til the cake is in the pan. Gently add the walnuts to the pan, leaving them out of however much of it the walnut hater will eat.
- Make the syrup ahead—even a day or three if you’re serving the cake as part of big do and you want to advance prep. You want to pour/brush cold syrup on the hot cake, the better to infuse the cake with the flavor. Do this with the cake on a rack over a plate after you’ve poked a bunch of wholes in the cake with a skewer; I reuse my cake tester to dandy effect. You’ll end up with syrup on the plate, which you then add to the cake, getting as much of the syrup in there as you can.
- Serve with lemon sorbet for a little lemon madness or really good vanilla ice cream to counter the lemon. Or raspberry or strawberry sorbet for crazy color contrasts. And of course, since it’s a coffee cake, coffee.