When you ask people what their favourite herb is, more often than not you will either get a chorus of ‘Basil’ or a random shout of ‘Tarragon!’ ‘Dill!’ ‘Sage!’ ‘What, like the kids TV programme?’ Herbs are an absolute necessity when cooking for me and it brings me out in a cold sweat when a kitchen cupboard doesn’t have dried oregano and basil at the very least. Of course, the fresh stuff is always the best, but it’s so damn expensive that I wish I had a whole allotment to hand so I could fully indulge in attempting any of Jamie Oliver’s recipes. “Just grab some basil guys, just tear it up!” Sorry Jamie, my one attempt at a owning a basil plant failed miserably, despite me regularly topping it up with water from an old Fanta bottle.
But the packaged stuff can be made to last and my favourite herb for its sheer robustness is rosemary. It’s beautifully fragrant, and goes so well with a roast shoulder of lamb, in a zesty herb butter smeared under the skin of a whole chicken and gives a kick ass punch in a slow roasted beef ragu for a lasagne. Yet, when it comes to the world of butter and sugar, can rosemary stand up alongside rosewater, orange blossom and vanilla as a suitable natural flavour?
It turns out this baby can do more than savoury, and can be as sweet as the other potions stored in your cupboard, by turning it into a delicate rosemary syrup. Simply sugar, water and a couple of sprigs stand between you and a great cocktail syrup, or in this case, a gorgeous cake glaze to create a tooth-suckingly sweet addition to the humble Vicky Sponge. Add a lime frosting made lighter with crème fraiche and a delicate wispy decoration of fresh zest and you have the perfect cake for afternoon tea with a difference. Say goodbye to the traditional sponge, there’s a new cake in town.
Rosemary Syrup recipe from Joy the Baker
Basic Sponge recipe from Kitchen Magic by Gizzi Erskine
You Will Need
For the Rosemary Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2-3 sprigs rosemary
For the Sponge
170g caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
170g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 tablespoon milk
For the Frosting
50g icing sugar
150g crème fraiche
1 lime, zested and the juice of ½
To make the syrup, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cover for 30 minutes to infuse. Remove the rosemary sprigs and allow the syrup to cool completely before pouring into a clean jar. This will keep for a week in the fridge and can be made ahead of time.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 170oc/190oc fan/ Gas Mark 4. Grease and line two sandwich tins with baking parchment and set aside. Cream the sugar and the butter together with a hand mixer for 5 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time and mix until fully incorporated. The mixture may split at this point, but will come together again with the dry ingredients.
Sift in the flour and the baking powder, and fold in carefully with a metal spoon. Once incorporated, add the vanilla and milk to create a batter that falls off the spoon easily. Divide between the two sandwich tins and bake for 25 minutes until golden, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Carefully remove the baking parchment. Prick the cakes with a cocktail stick and paint over some of the syrup with a pastry brush. Leave to cool completely.
To make the frosting, mix together the butter and icing sugar with a hand blender until pale and creamy. Add the crème fraiche and the lime juice and whisk until fully incorporated. Taste and add more lime juice if necessary.
Place one cake on a piece of baking parchment on a board and top with 2 spoonfuls of frosting. Using a palate knife, smooth across the cake until evenly distributed. Place the other cake on top and add the remaining frosting, smoothing neatly with the knife. Finish by sprinkling the lime zest around the edges of the cake.