I am the world’s largest consumer of lemons—at least, that’s what Dan used to tell me when we first started dating. I love the sour, acidic, punchy notes of lemon peel and lemon juice, and a lot of the things I make rely on citrus, and of all the citrus fruits, lemon is definitely my favorite. I easily go through a bag of lemons per week. I use them in cooking, in baking, and many of them go into making tea with lemon and honey, or in the summertime, lemonade. Of course the phrase “the world’s largest consumer of lemons” was Dan’s friendly teasing of me, and he soon started keeping several lemons in the fridge, ready for the many cups of tea I would consume, especially when we watched movies in the wintertime. Perhaps my great affinity for lemons is not just the Spanish heritage, but goes back to having a bountiful lemon tree in the center of my old backyard, like many Spanish and Argentine households did. The tree was the centerpiece of the garden and produced fruit year-round thanks to the mild climate of Buenos Aires, and it was a miracle to behold how the ivory and lilac blooms turned into fruit that resembled small yellow suns framed by green, glossy leaves. There were always enough lemons that we never had to buy them. To this day, I remember the heavenly smell of the lemon blossoms.
Incidentally, along with this great love of lemons goes my great love of tea. Invariably, the tea varieties I like area solid black tea like Assam, or tea blends based on black tea with floral or fruity notes. One of my favorites is Lady Grey, exclusive to Twinings, which is a very mild Earl Grey tea flavored with lemon peel and orange peel. I drank it throughout my college years, when I was studying in my dorm, and in particular in the cold month of January. When I had to cross the campus on foot in below-zero temperatures, I needed to warm up quickly and cozy up with a good read. During my early dating with Dan he shared some new varieties of tea that I had not tried before, and that’s how I found my all-time favorite blend, a fruity black tea flavored with Bergamot oil very similar to Earl Grey, but with blackcurrant, vanilla, caramel, and lemon notes. This blend by Harney & Sons is evocative of some popular Parisian tea blends, and so Mike Harney named it Paris in honor of these tea blends as a gift to his wife, who is from France. It has an incredible aroma that is sweet and vanilla-y and boldly fruity.
We are most definitely heading into cold weather season here in Minnesota this week. After the beautifully sunny first half of October, the temperatures have now dropped into the low 40s, and frost finally got to the ground yesterday night. All my potted herbs, including lavender, got brought inside into the sunroom, where they will happily survive indoors throughout the winter. I brought my potted lemon tree indoors too! He is currently maturing one lemon. So inspired by the many occasions of teatime that will invariably come up during the cold season, I made this lemon lavender tea loaf cake, that brings together some of my most favorite flavors of spring and summer, but can be made year-round. It’s truly a beautiful loaf to behold, with its purple lavender glaze and sunny crumb bursting with sweet lemon flavor. If you love lemon desserts, you will definitely like this loaf. When I first put the batter together, I was afraid I had added too much lemon, because it uses both a high proportion of lemon zest and freshly-squeezed lemon juice, but after it was baked, I find that it has the nice citrusy punch that makes it distinct, and that pairs nicely with the buttery, dense crumb, with its notes of vanilla, lavender, and Paris tea. The glaze has a secret ingredient to carry over the lavender notes: it has lavender syrup, and I was very pleased to find that you don’t have to put a lot in order to have the flavor come through. It’s a tender cake packed with a nice balance of flavors in every bite, and the cake is not heavy. Now, if you’re not as fond of lemons as I am, you can always reduce the amount of zest. Sometimes the tricky thing is that not all lemons are created equal, so if you want a milter flavor, I would most definitely go with a Meyer lemon. Some lemons yield a lot of lemon zest, and some can have a drier rind and might not be as flavorful. I also used Icelandic yogurt, known as skyr, to keep it moist and give the cake body. I would definitely not use lemon concentrate or lemon extract for a recipe like this one. That would give it an artificial and harsh taste that will not be appealing. Besides, since you need to have two lemons on hand for the zest, you can use them for the juice too. The glaze allows the cake to remain moist, even if you don’t store it in an airtight container. Of course, it will last longer if you do, but never refrigerate it or it will dry out.
If you’re already finding that you’re missing summer and that you will need to stay warm and cozy and create your own sunshine at home, this buttery, dense loaf cake bursting with lemon flavor and carrying over the notes of lavender, vanilla, and Paris tea is the perfect way to have a bite of sunshine. Bonus points if you watch a British detective story while eating this cake. Ok, that just did it! Right now, I gotta go and have a slice of this Lemon Lavender Tea Loaf cake, make a fragrant cup of Paris tea, and curl up on the sofa to watch Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express!
Lemon Lavender Tea Loaf
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 65 minutes
For the cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 bag Paris tea
- 3 sprigs dried lavender
- 6 tbsp butter, softened
- 1 ¼ cups cane sugar
- 2 ½ to 3 tsp lemon zest, freshly grated (you can reduce to 2 if you don’t like it as punchy)
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp vanilla powder
- ½ cup vanilla skyr or Icelandic yogurt* (see Notes below instructions)
For the lavender-vanilla glaze:
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp lavender syrup** (see Notes below instructions)
- 4-6 tbsp hot water
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- ½ tsp vanilla powder
- Purple food coloring (optional)
- 3 additional sprigs of lavender for garnish (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. While the oven preheats, grease and flour a loaf pan. My loaf pan was 10” x 5 ¾” x 3 ¼” high.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Set aside.
- Place the milk in a small saucepan and add the contents of 1 Paris tea bag to it.
- Pluck the dried lavender blooms from the three sprigs and, using a mortar and pestle, pound the dried lavender flowers to a paste. Add them to the milk.
- Simmer the lavender-tea milk mixture over low heat until a ring of condensation clings to the sides of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
- In a large bowl, grate fresh lemon zest into the sugar. Use your hands to rub the sugar and lemon zest together, as this will be essential to the flavor of the cake.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the softened butter until creamy and it adopts a lighter color, about 1 or 2 minutes.
- Add the lemon sugar and beat for 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla powder, making sure they are all well incorporated
- Add 1/3 of the milk mixture without straining out the lavender pieces or tea flecks. Then add 1/3 of the flour mixture and follow with half of the skyr.
- Add the rest of the milk, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, and the remaining yogurt mixture, beating on low until combined.
- Add the lemon juice 1 tbsp at a time, and finish with all the remaining flour. The batter will be very thick.
- Pour into the prepared pan and bake at 325°F for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before unmolding.
- For the glaze, in a bowl, place the powdered sugar, the vanilla powder, and the lavender syrup.
- Add the sunflower oil and the hot water 1 tbsp at a time. I used about 5 tbsp of hot water, but choose how much to use based on the thickness of the glaze you want to achieve.
- Add the food coloring to achieve the desired shade, beating well to remove any food coloring streaks.
- Pour the glaze over the top of your loaf cake and decorate with three sprigs of dried lavender if desired. Let the glaze set before cutting the cake.
- The cake can be served on the same day, and it can be stored in an airtight container or tin or covered with a glass dome for about 4 days. Do not refrigerate.
*If you don’t have access to skyr or Icelandic yogurt, use Greek yogurt instead. You need about 15 g protein for every 150 g yogurt, whether it’s Icelandic, Greek, or any other kind. Use whole milk of 2% milk yogurt, and avoid nonfat.
**Lavender syrup is not typically sold in grocery stores. It can be found from floral stores online, but it’s easier and cheaper to make it yourself, and it only takes dried lavender, water, and sugar.
To make the lavender syrup: bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat from medium to low, simmering the mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved. This step takes about 2-4 minutes. Turn heat down to very low and add 2 tsp of dried culinary-grade dried lavender and let it rest in the syrup for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a glass jar. Let the syrup cool fully before using it in the recipe, and store in the refrigerator.
© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures