I developed this recipe for Olive Branch a few weeks ago when Britain was basking in a summer heatwave. Baking a chocolate cake in 30ºC heat was a questionable life decision but the lavender plants were spilling out of their pots heavy with flowers and I couldn’t resist! One of my all time favourites for afternoon tea is my recipe for lavender shortbread; I love how the surprisingly savoury notes of the lavender balance the sweetness of the shortbread and I wanted to capture the essence of this in a chocolate cake.
The peppery notes of the aromatic cold pressed olive oil perfectly complement the lavender and both work beautifully with the chocolate. This is one of those recipes which has the power to whisk you away; one mouthful and my thoughts turn to Provence where the heady scent of lavender fills the sun-baked air and to dinner beneath plane trees, where soft linens meet with breezy candle. A table laden with Charentais melon, artichokes and Pineau.
10 heads flowering lavender
6 free-range large eggs
240g caster sugar
200g dark chocolate (70%)
150ml olive oil
50g ground almonds
pinch sea salt
Pre-heat the oven to 170 and grease a 23cm springform tin with butter (or oil if you would prefer to keep the recipe vegan but note this might result in a cake with slightly crunchier edges)
Place a bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring the base doesn’t touch the water. Add the chocolate to the bowl and allow to melt before adding the olive oil and lavender heads (its important that the lavender is flowering or freshly picked otherwise you will end up with bits in the cake). Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites on a high speed and after 1 minute add 150g of the sugar. Continue whisking until you have a thick and glossy mixture.
In a separate bowl add the egg yolks to the remaining 50g of sugar and whisk until pale and doubled in volume.
Remove the lavender from the cooled chocolate mixture (if necessary, stand the bowl containing the chocolate in a basin of cold water; it should be no more than hand hot) and add to the egg yolks, along with the almonds and salt, folding to mix.
Take a spoonful of the egg white mixture and add it to the chocolate to loosen. Carefully fold in the remaining egg white using a metal spoon and turn the mixture into the springform tin.
Bake for 35 minutes until springy to touch or an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with lavender flowers before serving with crème fraiche.