There is nothing like cake to celebrate a special occasion and Imbolc (on February 1st) is no exception. And I think this “naked” sponge cake would be a wonderful addition to any Imbolc Feast! It’s kept gorgeously moist with brushings of lavender and rosemary syrup (between cake layers) but the slight tang of the Mascarpone icing keeps it from being overly sweet. But best of all, it’s filled with all kinds of food magic!
Imbolc is an ancient Celtic/ Gaelic holiday marking the turn of the wheel of the year into spring and it celebrated the day the sun and fire goddess Brigid (Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridgit, Brídey) returned to earth bringing green to the land. I’m not going to delve into Imbolc and Brigid here, you’ll find plenty of articles on the website here. What’s most important to the topic at hand is that Imbolc was the occasion of a great feast, “Brigid’s Feast” Feast of Light” “Feast of Fire” and all kinds of magical cakes were made in her honour.
Feasting at Imbolc was all about offering thanks for a fertile crop to come. Foods symbolizing the power of the sun like milk, cream, butter, eggs and honey were used in custard tarts and cream cakes. There were often pancakes (round and golden like the sun) or the Bonnach Bride or Bannock of Bride (an oatcake made with fruits and nuts) which attracted health and prosperity for the coming year. The Bonnach Bride was also eaten in the fields so that a piece could be thrown over the shoulder to honour Brigid and nourish the land. Symbolizing the growth of new life, seeds are also traditionally on the menu, as are all types of seeded bread and buns.
Brigid was believed to be a teacher of ‘herbcraft” and so many plants and flowers sacred to her, such as sage, heather, violets, rosemary, angelica and blackberry were often featured in Imbolc foods. Each came with their own magical purpose. Sun herbs for example brought their powers of purification, protection and prosperity, which were ritual themes throughout all Imbolc celebrations. As the new sun goddess, all forms of light, heat and illumination were sacred to her so Imbolc was marked with bonfires in the fields and blazing hearths, torches and candles at home. These fires strengthened Brigid’s powers and were purification rites burning off the old to make way for the new growth to come.
I’m continually inspired by Imbolc lore, and this year to celebrate I’ve come up with this Lavender & Rosemary Seed Cake. Lavender and rosemary are herbs of the sun and magically associated with purification, cleansing, protection and prosperity, and the nettle and poppy seeds symbolize new growth, all of which are so ritually important at this time of new beginnings.
This is the time the earth stirs, preparing to give new life, and it offers us an opportunity to awaken from the quiet of winter and start making plans for the future. Making this cake can be a quiet ritual time, so when you’re creaming, beating and stirring, contemplate the seeds you wish to plant in the coming year. What will you nurture and bring into the world? Bake your intentions into this cake – and then ceremonially eat with friends – or alone! (Magical Baking Tip: stir batter clockwise for good luck and good health and counter-clockwise for banishing bad ju-ju.)
In our modern calendar, Imbolc falls at the halfway point between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, which means even if you’re still buried in snow – spring is officially on its way. So consider celebrating the coming of spring with a magical cake fit for a goddess! May Brigid’s blessings be with you!
Lavender & Rosemary Seed Cake
(Makes two 9-inch cake rounds)
- 4 ounces butter, melted and cooled, plus more for pans
- 1 ½ cups of flour (cake flour ideally), plus more for pans
- 9 largish eggs, room temperature, separated
- 1 ½ cups sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
Pinch of salt
Lavender & Rosemary Syrup
- 1 tablespoon lavender buds ( this is a subtle amount, you can use more if you really like lavender!)
- 3 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 ½ cup of sugar
- 1 cup of water
- 1 ½ cup mascarpone chilled
- ½ cup icing sugar
- 1 cup double cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ tablespoon nettle seeds (just use additional poppy seeds if you don’t have any)
- ½ tablespoon poppy seeds
- (and a few extra seeds for sprinkling over finished cake)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper.
- Whisk together egg yolks and one cup of the sugar in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Next beat this egg mixture with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and thick, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla, orange zest and salt.
- In a new bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff, about 2 minutes. Fold one-third of egg whites into yolks, then gently fold in remaining whites. Sift flour over top and gently start to fold in. When all is folded in, slowly pour in melted butter and fold just enough so that is blended and smooth. Don’t overwork or you’ll let out all your air from egg whites!
- Divide batter among pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in centres comes out clean, about 25 minutes After baking immediately invert cake and remove parchment, then cool right side up.
- Cut in each cake in half through the centre so that you end up having 4 layers of cake. You can measure from the bottom of the cake half way up and slice in with knife at several points around the cake, this should keep you straight. You may have to take off the cake tops if they are too high, but it can get tricky, so try just to shave off any obvious bumps.
Lavender & Rosemary Syrup
- Place all your ingredients in a pot. Bring the mixture to a soft boil (not rolling) for 5 minutes. Then turn down to simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for at least 10 minutes before straining plant material out.
- Whip chilled mascarpone with icing sugar and vanilla extract for 1-2 minutes until well combined. Then add your seeds, double/whipping cream and whip for 2 more minutes until stiff.
- To assemble the cake brush each layer generously with a coating of syrup and then just enough mascarpone cream to cover the cake layer. Don’t go crazy – you’ll need enough to ice the top and sides as well!
- Once the cake is assembled, spread icing over the top of the cake. Cover the sides, with the remaining mascarpone cream, then using the edge of a spatula scrape the mascarpone cream off the sides off the cake to reveal the sponge, thus creating the “naked cake” effect.
- Decorate the top with rosemary & lavender sprigs, sprinkle a few additional seeds and a few lavender buds.