Who does not love the delicate elderflowers that explode in gardens and hedgerows at this time of year. For me, their rich sweet scent is synonymous with early summer. It is said that "summer starts when elder trees burst into flower and ends in late August when the berries are ripe". The elderflowers are the creamy white flowers from the elderberry tree. They can be used to flavor cooked fruits or jams and have a particular affinity with fruits such as strawberries or rhubarb, which are in season at the same time as elderflowers. The flower heads can also be used to make cordial, which in turn makes a useful ingredient for adding to sauces, creamy desserts, ice creams and jellies.
Our ancestors who lived in the country wore a sprig of elder in their hats to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. Branches with the fragrant flowers were hung in stables to discourage flies. Elder was traditionally planted around dairies too, because it was believed to keep the milk from turning. The lacy blossoms have an unmistakable Muscat grape fragrance. They are also delicious dipped into a light batter and fried until crisp – I make elderflower fritters every year (here). Or stir a few flowers into cake and muffin batters to give them a light, sweet scent.
Around here, early summer would not be the same without making elderflower cordial. It is easy to make with freshly gathered elderflowers, which are infused with nothing but organic lemons, sugar and water. Remember that the best time to pick elderflowers is on a dry, warm day when the blooms are newly open, well away from traffic fumes. If you gathered these lovely flowers, all you need to do before using them is to give them a gentle shake to dislodge any insects and rinse briefly in cold water before using.
Some things are made for one another. The joyful relationship between elderflowers and the equally festive strawberries is perhaps a less well known one than rhubarb and strawberries. Once you know to add elderflowers to your stawberry recipes there will be no going back. I make strawberry and elderflower crumbles, sorbets and jams or add elderflowers to my strawberry-rhubarb pies, while the short season lasts. To scent your jams with elderflower, you either add some elderflower cordial to it OR add some flowers that you can strain out of the jam before canning it.
This cake is just a basic génoise sponge. The cake is light and delicate. It is not difficult to make, providing you follow the instructions carefully. For best results, use an electric whisk, which will add the air and volume the cake needs to help it rise without the aid of baking powder. You can also use the sponge mixture to make a fabulous and equally wonderful Swiss roll with strawberry-elderflower filling.
Elderflower Cake with Strawberry-Elderflower Filling & Elderflower Icing
Ingredients for the Cake
- 115 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, slightly cooled, plus more for the cake pan
- 200 grams (1 cup) super fine (baking) sugar, plus more for the pan
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla sugar (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extarct)
- 190 grams (1 1/2 cups) wheat flour, sifted
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 6 eggs (L), organic or free range
Ingredients for the Strawberry-Elderflower Filling
- 450 grams (1 pound) local strawberries, washed, hulled, quartered NOTE: you could also add some late season rhubarb to the jam filling and you can strain some or all the seeds out of the jam filling or leave them in. This time I strained out most of the seeds.
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
- 2 tbsps elderflower cordial (preferably homemade, recipe below) OR add a couple of elderflower sprigs when cooking the fruits for the filling, removing them at the end
Ingredients for the Elderflower Icing
- 200 grams (2 cups) icing sugar
- 2 tbsps cream (or more)
- 1 tbsp elderflower cordial (preferably homemade, recipe below)
- a few large heads of fresh elderflower and a few more elderflowers , to decorate
Preparation of the Cake
- Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Butter a 26-28 cm (10-11") - diameter springform cake pan. Line the any excess.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Set aside.
- Break the eggs into a large heatproof mixing bowl and add the sugar and vanilla sugar. Place over a saucepan of simmering water (take care as the bowl should not touch the hot water).
- Heat, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch, about 4 minutes. NOTE: to test whether the sugar has dissolved enough, you can dip two fingers in the warm egg-sugar mixture and rubbing it, it should feel smooth, not grainy, indicated that the sugar is dissolved properly
- Remove bowl from heat and wipe the condensation off the bowl with a tea towel.
- Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg mixture until it is pale and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. NOTE: the mixture should be pale and mousse-like, meaning that it should be thick enough to leave a ribbon trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted.
- Gently fold reserved dry ingredients into egg mixture in 3 additions, then fold in melted butter. It is important to do all this as quickly and lightly as possible, so you do not want to lose too much air.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth top.
- Bake the cake until golden brown and and beginning to shrink from the sides of the pan, about 30 to 40 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan before turning out. Then turn the cake and continue with the recipe.
Preparation of the Strawberry-Elderflower Filling
- Bring strawberries, sugar, and the elderflower cordial to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
- Crush berries with a fork to release more juices and simmer until berries are completely soft and mixture resembles a coarse jam, about 5 to 8 minutes. NOTE: if you want, you can strain the seeds out now.
- Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool completely.
- Using a long serrated knife, slice the cooled cake in half horizontally.
- Spread the cooled strawberry-elderflower mixture over bottom layer of cake and place top layer over strawberry mixture. NOTE: if you have any leftover filling, you could spoon the jam carefully into hot, properly sterilized jars and either process the jars or seal and keep refrigerated. If refrigerating, use the jam within a week or two.
Preparation of the Icing
- To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and stir in the elderflower cordial and enough cream to make a fairly thick but spreadable icing.
- With an offset spatula, spread it over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides a little.
- Let stand at room temperature until set, at least 30 minutes.
- Decorate with a few elderflower petals, if using, just before serving. NOTE: this cake can be made one day ahead. It should be stored covered at room temperature - but then leave the elderflowers off just until serving. NOTE: please do keep in mind that while elderflower petals can be consumed raw and uncooked, elderberries should not.
(makes about two liters)
Ingredients for the Cordial
- elderflower heads about 50, freshly picked
- 4 organic lemons, washed
- 2 liters boiling water
- 1 kg (5 cups) granulated sugar
Preparation of the Cordial
- Pick the flowers first thing in the morning before they are fully open, on a dry day. Choose a tree that is full of flowers, as this will mean the majority of flower heads are in their prime and the distinct Muscat scent should be quite noticeable.
- Choose the whitest heads and snip them at the base of the flowers, keeping the heads whole.
- Shake them gently to remove any insects.
- Wash the elderflowers thoroughly by leaving them to soak in a sink of cold water. This will not affect their flavor and they are easy to shake dry. When you are certain that they are clean, continue with the recipe.
- Place the elderflower heads in a large bowl. Slice 2 of the lemons, add them to the bowl and pour over the boiling water.
- Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave overnight to infuse.
- The next day, strain the infusion through a muslin cloth into a saucepan.
- Juice the 2 remaining lemons, then strain the juice into the saucepan.
- Add the sugar and heat gently, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Simmer for a few minutes, until the mixture reaches 90 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit) on a sugar thermometer.
- Pour the hot syrup into sterilized bottles and seal.
- The cordial should keep for a year.
NOTE I.: To dilute the cordial, I suggest four parts sparkling or still water to one part cordial - you could also opt for a bit of ginger ale here.
NOTE II.: If you cannot find any elderflowers for the decoration of my Elderflower Cake or the homemade Elderflower Cordial, chose a really good-quality storebought cordial instead and leave the flowers off the cake.
At this time of year, it is certainly worth collecting fresh elderflowers and experimenting with them in your recipes. You will be delighted with the distinct flowery note that they add to your baked goods, drinks and dessert. Trust me.