I named my first Sabra baby Gefen. Friends here were charmed that we went “Israeli” with her name, while family back in the old country chuckled at the thought that she had been named for a grapevine. Truth be told, her name could have just as easily been Zayit, Eynav, Te’eina, or Hadar, all names from nature. I was, and still am, obsessed with the bounty of the land, and wanted that reflected in my daughter’s name.
Now that she’s been named, however, I express my love for the land in the kitchen in a kind of culinary Zionism, tinkering with the ingredients that grow seasonally, inventing real ways to incorporate them into our everyday diets. The fruits, vegetables and herbs I find at my fingertips are fresh and vibrant, begging for different flavor combinations and settings. I’m giddy at the thought of all the possibilities.
If ever there was a flavor combination that begged to be explored it is that of the fruity lemon and sensuous olive. Or in this case, a gorgeous, green, slightly cloudy and extra virgin olive oil pressed from local olives. It’s the basis of all my salad dressings and is the go-to foundation for most of my better marinades. As a mono-unsaturated fat mixed with fresh lemon juice, the two are a match made in foodie heaven. So why not take this flavor marriage in another direction altogether?
I started thinking about baking with olive oil. Lemons are already a focus in many desserts, squeezed for their juice and grated for zest. But together, lemon and olive oil can form dense, delicious, and distinguished little beauties. Hence, my lemon, lavender and olive oil tea cakes.
*A note on food grade lavender: Lavender grows easily here, and can be used fresh or dried in the recipe, as long as the flowers have never been sprayed with pesticides. If using fresh lavender, just chop it finely and replace the called-for amount with one tablespoon. Dried lavender is available in spice shops.
(Editor’s note: Lavender is easily dried, picked from a backyard bush or from those that grow along the sidewalks and parks in every town and city. Just wash well and then hang stalks of lavender in a sunny spot, gathering the dried flowers off the stalk once the lavender is fully dry.)
Lemon, Lavender and Olive Oil Tea Cakes (makes 12)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp fine grain sea salt (I like using the Melech Haaretz brand)
- 1 ½ tsp dried lavender (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
- 1 ⅓ cups white sugar
- 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (I am partial to Pereg)
- ⅔ cup soy milk
- 1 packet (¾ cup) powdered sugar
- Juice of one large lemon
- Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Grease and flour a 12-cup mini bundt pan, muffin tin, or 8-cup mini-loaf pan.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lavender.
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the sugar and lemon zest. Add in the eggs one at a time. Pour in the soy milk and olive oil, pulsing about 30 seconds. Add in the reserved flour mixture in two batches and pulse until just combined.
- Fill the prepared pan each cup about ¾ full.
- Bake approximately 20 minutes until cake starts pulling from the sides and center springs back when touched.
- Cool 10 minutes then invert onto a rack and cool until slightly warm.
- Make the glaze by mixing together the lemon juice and powdered sugar.
- Pour the glaze over the cakes, allowing the warm cakes to absorb the excess glaze.
Shira Buzelan lives in Maale Adumim, where she loves cooking for her five kids, incorporating local flavors and ingredients to highlight the bounty of the land.