I was asked to give a talk/baking demonstration at the annual Conamara Summer School, which kicks off on the 4th July (next week) on the beautiful island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Galway. The week-long exploration of the island will feature talks by botanists, scientists, poets… a real multidisciplinary crew of boffins, covering all angles of the island’s natural history and culture. The Summer School, organised by the extraordinarily indefatigable Leo Hallissey, has been on the go since 1984, and is the longest running of its kind in Ireland. I’m really happy to be a part of it this year.
The subject of my talk will be Foraged Cakes — baking with flowers. Now, I am by no means a botanist — more of a dabbler, a dilettante hunter-gatherer — but I have cultivated a very enthusiastic interest in baking with flowers. Why do you choose to spend time rummaging around in ditches, you might ask?
Well, for a few reasons:
1. Finding and tasting foraged fare broadens your taste horizons; it allows you to taste flavours you might hitherto have never sampled, or even imagined. This heightens your senses and develops the palate.
2. Foraging is a great way to casually and enjoyably develop a skill. Learning to identify edible plants in a very natural way doesn’t really feel like work. You can learn at your own leisure and pace.
3. Wild plants are far more nutritionally dense than commercially grown, watery plants. They are also pesticide and chemical-free (just don’t go foraging at the side of a busy road!)
4. Being outdoors is therapeutic and peaceful.
5. You can save money by picking edible plants, and you may be more likely to eat your healthy plants if you have gone to the trouble of gathering them yourself.
6. The reward of discovery is very satisfying. Revel in your complacency, dear hobbyists.
Why bake with plants?
Why not. Baking is my thang, and I’m always looking for ways to incorporate new and interesting flavours and textures into my cakes. Most of us have an abundance of flavours waiting for us in the back garden. Every plant has a unique character, and I love finding an interesting flavour that I can coax out and enhance by adding cakey dimensions. Also, flowers can be exceptionally beautiful and can make a cake very eye-catching, colourful, and unique.
Different options when baking with flowers/plants:
1. Using the whole plant or parts of the plant matter — this is arguably the more nutritious method, and the fibre can add good texture/bulk.
2. Steeping and straining the plants to make an infusion — this is the easier, more conventional introduction to baking with plants, and requires no equipment (food processor). It does take a little time, however.
I have many recipes for flower cakes here, so please do have a browse and have a shot at making whatever tickles your fancy. Let me know if you give any of the recipes a go! I would love to know how you got on.
White Clover Cake
Clover flowers are currently flowering (May to September) The little white, pink, red, and even purplish florets have a nectar at the base which gives them a slight sweetness. They are healthy too — containing protein, beta carotene, vitamin C, and many B vitamins. When gathering these flowers, pick young flowers, twisting at the base to release the petals carefully.
This cake is very similar to my Red Clover and Raspberry Cake, with a few minor adjustments. It is similarly moist, light, and slightly perfumed. It is high in protein, grain-free, sugar-free, high-fibre, and low-carb. It is an easy recipe, and comes together in a matter of minutes, but you will need a food processor or blender to break up the petals into the mixture. If you don’t have Vitafiber powder, I suggest you add more sweetener, or perhaps a mixture of extra cottage cheese and sweetener. Play with it! I’m all about experiments.
Makes 1 small cake (6 servings)
● 1 cup white clover flower petals (washed and detached from the stem)
● 200g cottage cheese
● 1 medium egg
● 35g Vitafiber powder
● 35g coconut flour
● 15g vanilla protein powder
● 40g erythritol
● 120mg stevia extract (or more erythritol/ xylitol)
● 25g coconut oil
● 1 tsp baking powder
● ¼ tsp baking soda
● 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar/ lemon juice
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, and line your cake pan of choice with parchment paper.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients.
3. Add your clover petals to your food processor with the cottage cheese, coconut oil, and egg, Blend.
4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the food processor and give the batter a final short mix.
5. Pour into your cake pan, sprinkle with a few more clover blossoms, and bake for around 20 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.