Happy Birthday Cakes: Lemon Verbena Angel Food Cake

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Serves 10 to 12

This light yet toothsome cake derives its subtle lemon flavor from lemon verbena or lemon balm along with lemon juice and zest. The lemon glaze provides a rousing burst of tart-sweet taste.

• 1 1/4 cups cake flour
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 cups (12 to 14 extra-large) egg whites
• 1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• Zest of 1 lemon, grated
• 1/3 cup packed lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves, finely minced

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sift the flour with 3/4 cup of the sugar twice and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Sprinkle the cream of tartar and salt over the whites and beat until soft peaks form. Add the remaining sugar to the egg whites 2 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition just enough to blend. Fold in the vanilla, lemon juice, and zest.

3. Fold the flour-sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites 1/4 cup at a time. Fold in the lemon verbena or lemon balm just to blend. Turn the batter gent­ly into a 10-inch ungreased tube pan with a removable bottom. Bake in the lower third of the oven 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until the cake is very high and golden brown on top. If the top of the cake browns too fast ­toward the end of baking, cover it loosely with foil.

4. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan over a bottle or funnel to cool completely. (If the upper edge of the pan has supports fastened to it, a funnel or bottle is not needed. Just invert it on a countertop.) Remove the cake from the pan.

Lemon Syrup

• 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• Zest of 1 lemon, grated
• 4 tablespoons sugar
• 2 tablespoons water
• 12 to 15 lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves plus more for garnish

1. In a small nonreactive saucepan, heat all the ingredients over medium heat, stirring occasionally and bruising the herb leaves against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon. Simmer for 3 minutes. Off heat, let the syrup cool to room temperature.

2. Place the cake on a serving plate. ­Remove the herbs from the syrup, squeezing out the excess liquid. Drizzle the syrup over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves.


Susan Belsinger, who lives with her family in Brookeville, Maryland, has been a frequent contributor to The Herb Companion for many years. She is the author, with Thomas DeBaggio, of Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide (1996) and several other books from Interweave Press.

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