Lemon & Lilac Cake

I was standing in my friend’s garden one day, appreciatively inhaling the scent of her fully-in bloom lilac blush, when another friend mentioned that as a kid, she used to eat lilacs.
“Really?” I asked. “Lilacs are edible?”
“Yes!” she said. “There’s a drop of honey at the stem of each flower, and as kids, we used to suck out that nectar.”
I was intrigued; lavender immediately sprung to mind as a similar edible flower, but lilacs, with their softer, cleaner scent, seemed like they would lend a more subtle flavor to desserts. Right then, I knew I wanted to bake with them. My friend graciously gave me a large bunch of her blossoms and I set right to work, incorporating them into the first dessert I could think of: a lemon bundt cake.
Lilacs have a very delicate flavor, so initially, I thought about infusing them in a simple panna cotta, or even just making some simple syrup to top other desserts with. But with their slight, citrusy undertones, I knew they’d work well with lemon, and this bright, punchy cake proved to be a perfect match for the florals.
This cake is rich and full of flavor, very reminiscent of a classic pound cake. But unlike most pound cake recipes which call for upwards of half a pound of butter, this one gets its richness from light olive oil and yogurt, a combination which results in a slightly tangy flavor and a moist crumb. The lemon is incorporated in 3 different ways- zest, a syrup and a glaze- because we like our lemon detectable and the lilacs add the slightest scent of honey and spring; just enough to perfume without being cloying.
It’s simple to make, but this cake presents beautifully and looks like you invested a lot more effort in it than you did. I’m serving it on Shavuos (the candied lilacs fit in perfectly with the flower theme!) but you could serve this for brunch, bring thick slices to a picnic, or set this cake out at tea-time- any way you do, it will be highly appreciated!

Lemon & Lilac Cake

Yield: 1 bundt cake

Adapted from this post 

Why I love this recipe: the sweet scent of the lilacs perfumes the whole cake with a light, floral touch, and the natural, honeyed sweetness of the flowers highlights the bright lemon flavor. The lemon is incorporated in 3 ways: in the cake, in a syrup drizzled onto the cake, and in a glaze. Adding candied lilacs to the cake for decoration isn’t completely necessary but adds a beautiful touch- one that’s perfect for a spring brunch, tea-time, or Shavuos dessert. 

Notes: make sure your lilacs are fresh and washed- I used about one bunch and removed the flowers, cleaned them and then chopped them. You can also substitute vegetable oil for the light olive oil and thick buttermilk for the yogurt. If you don’t have a small bundt pan, you can bake this in a medium loaf pan. If you’re serving the cake with the candied lilacs, do so immediately after decorating, as the lilacs won’t hold up well for more than a day on the counter and will turn brown in the freezer. The glazed cake, however, freezes and defrosts beautifully.

For the cake:

  • Butter for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/2 cup light olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup plain or Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons washed, dried and chopped lilac blossoms (no stems, flowers only!)

For the syrup + glaze

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon
  • Pinch of salt

For the candied lilacs: 

  • 1 egg white
  • lilacs, for decorating
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  1. Make the cake. Heat the over to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a small bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, rub the lemon zest and lilac blossoms into the sugars with your fingertips. Whisk in the oil until smooth.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a second bowl. In a liquid measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and yogurt.
  5. Add the flour and yogurt mixtures, alternating between them, to the oil-and-sugar mixture.
  6. Spread the batter in the pan, smooth the top, and rap the pan on the counter to ensure there are no air bubbles trapped. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Make the lemon syrup. Combine 2 tablespoons of sugar with the juice of one fresh lemon in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
  8. When the cake is finished, let it cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then invert it onto a rack.
  9. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick, then spoon the lemon syrup over the cake. Let the cake cool completely while it absorbs the syrup.
  10. Make the glaze. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, fresh juice of one lemon juice, and salt in a bowl, whisking until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the top of cooled cake, and allow glaze to drip down the sides.
  11. Brush the lilac blossoms with the egg white and sprinkle heavily with sugar. Let them dry out for half an hour, then top the cake with the lilacs.

Lemon & Lilac Cake

Lemon & Lilac Cake

Lemon & Lilac Cake

Lemon & Lilac Cake

Lemon & Lilac Cake

14 responses to “Lemon & Lilac Cake”

  1. Wow cool! My hubby and I are buying a new home and just ok’ed for them to add white lilacs last week! Does that mean I can make this cake with them!!? How cool that would be!?

    • You’re buying a new home?! That’s amazing! Congratulations and best of luck with it- it should all go smoothly! Yes, you can and should definitely bake this cake as a celebration as soon as you move in- it’ll fill your new home with the most heavenly scent!

  2. OMG this cake. I had no idea lilacs were edible too, but theyre one of my favorite flowers. Their scent reminds me of all good things. This cake is gorgeous! I also love lavender in cooking, but lilacs..wow. I also just made a similar cake, but I truly prefer it with the olive oil. I’m a sucker for olive oil cakes. I”m so making this. Like over and over again.

    • We just devoured it this weekend! The lilacs are such a great touch- not too flowery so that they’re cloying, but they add a special something. If you can get your hands on some lilacs, I recommend trying this!

  3. this looks lovely, very spring-like! it looks so light and airy.
    i have a love-hate relationship with edible flowers. i think they smell luscious and make for such pretty presentation. but in tasting them in food, i feel like i’m consuming soap or perfume.

    • Thanks, Lan! I agree about the flowers- I’ve definitely used too much lavender in cakes before. But lilacs are different. Much subtler and almost honey-like. Worth a try!

    • Thank you so much! I’m so envious of your lilac bush- wish I had one! Make the most of it and make this cake- I promise you won’t regret it!

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