Anything spinach can do, nettles can do better! Truer words were never spake. However, keep in mind that while stinging nettle’s stronger flavour profile matches spinach cup for cup in savoury dishes, it’s a different story when it comes to confections. Trust me. After a batch of disturbingly toady looking, super vegetative tasting nettle cakes, I know whereof I speak. Mind you, they weren’t disgusting, but definitely for the true nettle lovers out there. And yes, spinach is totally used in baking sweets. Just Google the gorgeous Ispanakli Kek and feast your eyes upon thousands of photos of this glorious green Turkish cake.
This recipe is also dead easy to make and the main ingredient is free if you harvest it yourself. Nettles can be found growing in rich soil, disturbed habitats, moist woodlands, thickets, along rivers, and along partially shaded trails. They’re plentiful in the spring, so find yourself a nice clean patch and pinch or snip off the top 4-6 leaves of the plant. Wear gloves if you’re the type opposed to stings and rashes. Me? I actually don’t mind the nettle bite and it’s great for getting the blood flowing.
And although nettles are considered a noxious weed, they still deserve your respect. Be a considerate wild food harvester. Take what you need and leave enough for the next animal and to allow the plant to seed. My rule of thumb is to pluck from every third plant, unless it’s a patch you’re familiar with and you know it can withstand more enthusiastic foraging. Your urban wilds will thank you for it!
These cupcakes are perfect for a springtime potluck, hosting a springtime Urban Wild Foods Walk (as you do) and for taking to City Hall! Yup. We’re bringing a hundred or so wee nettle cakes to Victoria City Hall’s Town Hall meeting to sweeten up some city councillors into helping us promote food security through wild food education. If you’re interested helping, please consider emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to add Gather’s “Eating Wild: A Community Supported Foraging Initiative” to Section 8 of the draft Strategic Plan to “Enhance and Steward Public Spaces, Green Spaces and Food Systems”.
Nettle Lemon Balm Cupcakes
(recipe adapted from MOM! What’s for dinner)
- 3 farm fresh eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups of organic raw cane sugar
- 100 g raw young nettle leaves – It’s best to weigh this amount. But basically you want a 1/2 cup of puree
- handful of lemon balm
- 3/4 cup of olive oil (light or extra light works best)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Zest of 1 lemon (1/2 for cake + 1/2 for frosting)
- 2 cups flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350
Don your gloves and give your nettle leaves a quick wash in cold water and remove the stems. Do the same with your lemon balm, but you don’t have to worry about stems.
Steam the nettles and lemon balm or boil in a wee bit of water for 5 minutes to remove the sting. Drain and puree well—think baby food consistency. *I have skipped the steaming before to limit the amount of processing to the greens. And it tasted lovely—but definitely stronger. You have to add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the leaves to get them to puree properly. However, if you prefer a slightly milder flavour and an easier go of it, give them a quick steam.
Beat eggs and sugar until light and creamy. Add vanilla, oil, lemon juice and nettle lemon balm puree. Mix until just combined.
In a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder and salt. Mix into the nettle lemon balm mixture—again just until combined and smooth. You don’t want to overmix.
Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 22-30 minutes—check with a toothpick for doneness. Makes 48 mini cupcakes.
Lemon Mascarpone Buttercream Frosting
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 lemon – finely zested
Beat butter and cheese until light and creamy.
Add sugar and continue beating. Add lemon juice & zest and continue beating until smooth.
This frosting is a good keeper, so you can make it in advance or keep leftovers in the fridge (tightly covered) for up to a week.
Now you can slather your not-too-sweet frosting onto your spring green cupcakes. I found it easiest to fill a pastry bag with the frosting and pipe it on to the cupcakes. But, really—that’s between you and your deity.
Garnish with a bit of lemon zest or lemon balm leaf, if you’re feeling fancy.