The Scent of Spring: Sweet Violet Ombre Cake

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Mark Twain

In mythology Zeus had a lover named Ione, from which the word viola is derived. His wife, Hera was jealous and turned her into a white heifer. Zeus created violets to give her something lovely to graze upon. Wherever Venus and Adonis lay together a bed of violets was said to have sprung. Persephone, the daughter of the Earth Mother Demeter, was picking violets when Pluto kidnapped her to live with him in the underworld. Athens was once known as “the city of violets.” The leaf and flower have been used for thousands of years by millions of people as an antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic agent. Violets have been applied and eaten to improve acne, anger, asthma, bronchitis, colds, eczema, fever, grief, headache, heartbreak, sore throat, ulcers whooping cough and many other problems. The flowers are eaten by some as a breath freshener. Violet flower essence helps those that feel lonely, despite being surrounded by others. It increases openness and helps shy aloof people that want to share but feel overwhelmed. Is there a better reason to make a cake?

Violet syrup
40 to 50 g Sweet violets (about 3 to 4 handfuls)
150ml Boiling water
300g White caster sugar
Directions: Remove all of the stalks, green “peeps” in the middle of the violets and the leaves before putting all of the flowers into a clean bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, then cover with a tea towel and allow the violets to infuse overnight or for 24 hours. Next day, put the violets and water into a suitable sized sauce pan on top of larger pan with water underneath and proceed then add the sugar and stir well. Bring the water in the pan to a rolling boil and keep stirring the violet mixture until the sugar has completely dissolved. Strain the violet mixture through a fine sieve, then bottle it. It keeps for up 12 months.

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.” Tennessee Williams

Crystallised violets
20 violet flowers with about 2-inches of stem attached
1 egg white, beaten until frothy
2 tablespoons powdered or confectioner’s sugar
Directions: Beat the egg white until it is frothy all the way through, but not stiff. Place the sugar in a small bowl. Pick up a violet flower by the stem. Dip the flower into the egg white, twirling it gently to coat the entire flower. Shake off excess egg white then dip the flower into the sugar. Twirl the flower stem between the thumb and forefinger of the hand that is holding it so that the flower gets evenly coated with sugar on all sides. Place the violet on a paper towel. Repeat the egg and sugar steps with the rest of the violet flowers. Transfer the sugared flowers to a shelf in your refrigerator for 24 hours. As the flowers dry most of the sugar will be absorbed by the egg white, creating a glaze on the petals. Snip off the stems and discard them. Transfer the candied violets to an airtight container and store at room temperature.

Cake
360 g butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing
690 g plain flour
430 g golden caster sugar
9 medium egg
50 ml violet syrup
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3 tsp vanilla extract
Edible purple food colouring
Icing
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 x 250g tubs cream cheese or mascarpone
350g icing sugar
50 ml violet syrup to brush

“When you talk to me I smell violets.” L.M. Montgomery

Method
Heat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease 6 x 20cm round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment. Tip all the sponge ingredients, apart from the food colouring, into a mixing bowl, then beat with an electric whisk until smooth. Add a couple of drops of food colouring and fill one tin. Then add a couple more drops, and fill the second sandwich tin smooth as much as possible, then carry on until all six tins are filled and there is no batter remaining. At each addition, keep going until happy with the colour! Bake each cake for 12 minutes or until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Gently turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool. When cooled, brush with violet syrup. To make the icing, very briefly beat the vanilla and cream cheese or mascarpone with an electric whisk until smooth. Sift in the icing sugar and gently fold in with a spatula. Smear a little icing on the cake stand to stick the first sponge. Repeat sandwiching, from the light up to the dark sponges. Spread the remaining icing thickly all over the sides and top of the cake. To make the purple ganache, heat 100 g double cream, the slowly stir in 300 g of white chocolate and a couple of drops purple food colouring. It needs to be layered on the top, so it slowly drips down the sides.

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