little lemon and rosemary syrup cakes

I‘ve made lots of little syrup cakes over the years, with (you guessed it) citrus. Top favourites include; gluten free lemon polenta cakes, a luscious lemon ricotta square and many 100’s of light lemon syrup friands.  Each recipe is moist and more-ish, thanks to an even and generous soaking of sweet syrup.  Do you have a favourite? 

In case you haven’t tried infusing your lemon syrup with herbs, especially freshly picked rosemary, thought I’d best share this subtle little secret with you. 

Ingredients 225 grams (8oz) unsalted butter, softened ❤ 230 grams (8 ¼oz /1 cup) caster sugar ❤ 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest ❤ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract ❤ 3 free range eggs ❤ 150 grams (5 ½ oz/1¼ cups) self raising flour, sifted ❤ 250 grams (9 oz/1 cup) sour cream

The syrup - ❤ 3 large rosemary sprigs + extra for decorating plate ❤ finely grated zest of 2 lemons ❤ 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) lemon juice ❤ 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water ❤ 230 grams (8 oz/1 cup) caster sugar  Makes 12 to 15 mini cakes or slices.

Method - Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F). Lightly grease 24 cm square tin or 16 x 26cm rectangular tin or individual mini tins, lining base and sides so cake/s can easily be removed. 

Beat butter, lemon zest, vanilla extract and sugar with a pinch of salt in a medium sized bowl until light, creamy and pale.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in sifted flour and sour cream in two batches, mixing until just combined. Fill tin/s with mix, smooth over and bake for 25-35 minutes depending on cake size or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Best to make the syrup while the cakes are cooking. Combine lemon juice, sugar, rosemary, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Stir mixture until sugar dissolves and comes to the boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Once slightly thickened, take off the heat.  You could use mint (if you prefer to rosemary) in the same way to infuse flavour into syrup.

Poke small holes into the slice top using a fine skewer.  Pour over the hot syrup in small amounts, allowing syrup to be absorbed fully before adding more.  Stand cakes for 15 minutes in the tin, allowing all the syrup to seep through. Cut into pieces and top with double cream if desired.

Travel Tale

I can’t pour syrup over a warm cake without thinking of one hilarious Sunday spent with my Mum in the crazy corrupt capitol of Naples, Italy. 

Sprawling Naples, with its formidable reputation and 4 million residents can’t help but shock and delight you all at once. The city is a conundrum of life’s best and worst. The full comprehension of which rests firmly with its residents.

For those of us just passing through, the “real” Naples is allusive and jumbled. Perhaps found somewhere between Mt Vesuvius and ancient palazzi, in extraordinary traffic jams, amongst treasure filled museums or under great piles of uncollected rubbish.  We are left to eat the world’s very best pizza and ponder...

The Bay of Naples!  That would be my answer. The bay is where Naples really shows off all her beauties.

Before racing to Sunday lunch with our surrogate Napolitano family, Mum & I just HAD to make a quick stop at one of the cities famous open air flea markets. To satisfy our appetite for fashion, electronics and...anything really, legal or otherwise. We had our sights set on the dealers of contraband designer labels; Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Louis V and more.

The scene unfolded (or perhaps unravelled is a better word) after we picked up ‘a great bargain’. A new mobile phone and video recorder for an unheard of price back home. But very soon and for quite some time we were being followed by a stranger through the tale end of the market. Once out in the street and with pure terror in our faces, the stranger approached.  He asked us to open our bags and boxes to check. And said he had only hoped to warn us of the great Napoli ‘switcheroo’ taking place as our money changed hands. Our boxes were filled with water bottles.

The comfort and relative ‘safety’ of Sunday lunch overlooking an active volcano became an urgent need. And so we were happy to sit down and begin what became one of the best, longest and largest meals of our lives. I always kept a diary during my years in Italy but looking back I haven’t recalled this meal in detail. It was superb and included all the Italian staples; green salad, risotto and lots of local seafood. Veal, chicken, baked vegetables and plenty of freshly made pasta and homemade sugo.

It is the dessert course (surprise, surprise) that I remember well. The moment when tall glasses of limoncello liquer were poured and the cake was presented. It was nearly 4pm!  Mum and I couldn’t move. We had seriously over eaten. And our zealous hosts still wouldn’t take ‘no grazie’ for an answer.  They soaked an enormous Baba Cake with almost an entire bottle of Rum and cut two giant slices.  A potent finale to a remarkable day in Naples. And the reason why I still prefer citrus to alcohol in most desserts.