Violet Lemon Poppy Seed Cake - A cake for spring!
Violets bloom for just a few short weeks in early spring. I look forward to them every year and they hold such dear memories for me. A quick search through my recipe archives and you'll find my recipes for Wild Violet Syrup and Wild Violet Sugar. The wild violet plants I transplanted to our garden bloomed this month and to celebrate spring and my and my partner's birthdays last week I made a beautiful spring cake decorated with the violets I picked from the garden and then pressed in cookbooks overnight.
Lemon poppy seed cake is one of our favorites so I used that for the base and used the violet sugar I had made previously in the cake instead of regular sugar. This is completely optional and you can use regular granulated sugar in the cake. The frosting is a Swiss meringue buttercream flavored with lemon and vanilla. Swiss meringue buttercream holds up really well and is less sweet than American buttercream.
Foraging for violets
Whenever you are foraging for wild plants it is always best to use caution and reference multiple guidebooks or resources to confirm the identity of the plant before ingesting it. Common blue violets or Viola sororia as they are scientifically called are easy to recognize from their large dark green heart-shaped leaves and signature 5 petal violet blue-purple colored dainty short stem flowers. They are native to the eastern US and can be found blooming from March to May throughout the region. Violets are self-seeding plants that are commonly found in grassy areas like lawns, open fields, meadows, and at the edges of woodlands.
For this cake, pick both flowers with stems attached and their leaves. Wrap them in a damp paper towel or cloth to keep them fresh and then place them in a sealed bag and refrigerate them until you are ready to either press them or use them as-is so that they stay fresh longer.
Pressing the Violets
You don't need a flower press to press flowers. Simply place the flowers on a piece of cut parchment paper in an open large and heavy book, arranging them so they don't overlap and opening up some of the flower heads so that they will be pressed flat and opened, as shown in the images of the violets on the top of the cake. Then place the second piece of parchment over the flowers and close the book. Larger hardcover cookbooks work well for this. I place a few sheets of flowers in each book and then stack them with more books to help add weight to press the flowers flat.
For the purpose of cake decorating, you don't need to let the flowers dry out completely. Pressing them overnight at room temperature is perfect and they will still retain their vibrant colors.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
The cake base is a classic fluffy and moist yellow lemon cake with lots of lemon zest and extra poppy seeds. I had some violet sugar to use up so I added that to the cake batter as a swap for granulated sugar. The violet sugar has a neutral flavor but has tiny flecks of purple violet throughout. It's totally optional.
This lemon poppy seed cake recipe can be easily made dairy-free by using a plant butter alternative and plant milk such as soy milk or oat milk.
Violet Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
This cake is frosted with lemon and vanilla flavored Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. If you've never tried Swiss meringue buttercream it is really quite straightforward and simple to make. It is made by first making a Swiss meringue, which is made by first heating egg whites and sugar to 160˚F/ 71˚C in a bain-marie. A bain-marie is simply a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water which allows you to heat up or melt ingredients gently over low heat. It is often used as a method for gently melting chocolate. The bowl should not touch the simmering water.
Heating the egg white like this kills off any bacteria and makes them safe to eat without cooking them further. Use an instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer to check the temperature of the mixture. If you don't have a thermometer the mixture should be safe after 5 minutes of heating and stirring until all of the sugar dissolves. Thermometers are readily available now and are a great tool to invest in for your home kitchen.
Once the egg whites are heated to 160˚F and the sugar is completely dissolved, the mixture gets whipped to soft glossy peaks in a stand mixer. This takes about 6-7 minutes of whipping at high speed. A stand mixer is the most convenient way to do this but it can be done with a hand mixer. Your hand might get a bit tired though.
Then room temperature butter is added in chunks one at a time while the mixer continues to run until all of the butter gets incorporated. The frosting might start to look grainy then soupy but once all of the butter is added it will look fluffy and thick like buttercream frosting.
When testing this I found that if you are using plant butter as a dairy-free alternative you will only need half of the amount of butter listed. I'm not sure what the science is behind this but plant butter reacts a bit differently than dairy butter in Swiss meringue buttercream.
After all of the butter is added the flavorings are mixed into the buttercream. At this point replace the whisk attachment with a paddle attachment and run the mixer on medium speed to remove air bubbles. The resulting Swiss meringue buttercream frosting is thick, fluffy, and sturdier than American buttercream. It will hold up better and longer at room temperature and is less sweet than its American counterpart.
Violet Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Questions
What if I can't find or source violets?
No worries! Violets are there for mere decorative purposes. You can use another edible flower to make a similar decoration or leave them off entirely. You could instead decorate the cake with lemon zest curls and poppy seeds or simply leave it plain. It will taste delicious no matter how you decorate it.
Can this cake be made in advance?
Yes! The unfrosted cakes can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving time and kept at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Or they can be frozen after they are wrapped tightly and then stored in freezer-safe bags for up to 6 months. Thaw the frozen cakes to room temperature before frosting them.
Do I have to make this in 6" cake pans?
No, the cake recipe can be made in an 8-inch round pan, a 9-inch round pan, an 8-inch square pan, or a 9-inch square pan. The baking temp and time will be about the same. Just keep checking on it towards the end.
Can this cake be made into cupcakes?
Yes! The cake recipe will make 12 standard-sized cupcakes filled about ¾ of the way with batter in a cupcake pan. Bake cupcakes at 400˚F/205˚C for about 20-25 minutes.
Do I have to use violet sugar?
No, I used violet sugar I had already made previously and wanted to use up so this seemed like the perfect recipe for that. You do not need violet sugar. Use regular granulated sugar and you'll be fine!
Can I add fewer or more poppy seeds to the cake?
Yes! I love poppy seeds so I added a good amount to this cake, but you can leave them out entirely, or add less or even add more if you fancy. The number of poppy seeds shouldn't affect the outcome unless you add an extreme amount.
For more edible flower desserts check out these recipes:
- Lemon Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Olive Oil Honey Cake with Figs
- Semolina Lilac Strawberry Shortcake – Vegan
- Wild Elderflower Honey Lemon Drizzle Cake – Vegan Friendly
For more recipes using wild violets check out:
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Violet Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
- 113 g softened unsalted butter ½ cup or 1 stick, *see notes for dairy-free alternatives
- 198 g granulated sugar 1 cup, or wild violet sugar
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 118 ml milk ½ cup
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 6 g
- 9 g lemon zest from 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 g
- 210 g all-purpose flour 1 ½ cups
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt 2 g
- 1 teaspoon baking powder 4 g
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda 1 g
- 37 g poppy seeds ¼ cup
- 60 g egg whites from 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 100 g granulated sugar ½ cup
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt 1 g
- 226 g softened unsalted butter 1 cup or 2 sticks, *see notes for dairy-free alternatives
- 4 g lemon zest from 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice 4 g
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 g
- ½ cup violet flowers loosely packed, with stems and leaves
- 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
- Pick wild violet flowers with stems and leaves the day before and press them between 2 pieces of parchment paper in a flower press or in books.
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C. Grease two 6-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper circle.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl or measuring cup first before adding them to the butter-sugar mixture to avoid adding any eggshell fragments. Add the cracked eggs and beat them into the mixture for about 3-4 minutes.
- Mix in the milk, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla for about 1 minute. The mixture will look curdled at this point.
- Add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and poppy seeds and mix until just combined for about 30 seconds.
- Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and smooth it out with an offset spatula.
- Bake the cakes at 350˚F/175˚C for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes come out clean.
- Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack and cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then run a butter knife around the edges of the cakes and invert the pans onto the cooling rack and lift off the pans then peel away the parchment paper. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting them. Let them stay upside down on the cooling rack to help flatten out the tops if they are domed.
- To make the Swiss Buttercream frosting add the egg whites and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk them together for a few seconds just to get them combined.
- Heat the mixture in a bain-marie (place the bowl over a pot of simmering water making sure that the bowl does not touch the water) whisking constantly until it reaches 160˚F.
- Remove the bowl from the bain-marie and whip the mixture on high speed in a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk until the mixture reaches glossy soft peaks, about 6-7 minutes.
- Add the salt and the softened butter in tablespoon-sized pieces one at a time while the mixer continues to run. The frosting may look runny but just keep adding all of the butter and it will become thick and fluffy.
- Once all of the butter has been added mix in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract until incorporated.
- Switch to a paddle attachment and mix at medium-low speed to remove air bubbles. The frosting should be thick and fluffy. Cover and refrigerate the frosting until the cake has cooled.
- If the cakes are domed trim the tops off with a long serrated knife to make them flat.
- To assemble the cake add a dab of the frosting to the cake plate or serving plate to hold the first layer in place. Spread about 1 cup of frosting onto the first layer.
- Stack the next layer of cake and spread a thin layer of the frosting over the sides and top of the cake for the crumb coat. Then refrigerate the cake and the remaining frosting for 30 minutes.
- Frost the side and top of the cake with the remaining frosting, smoothing it out with an offset spatula.
- Decorate the side of the cake with the pressed violet flowers and leaves by sticking them to the frosting. Use a toothpick to help place them so your fingers don't smudge the frosting.
- Decorate the top of the cake with pressed violet flowers without stems in a pattern or randomly. Then sprinkle poppy seeds over the top of the cake.
- Serve at room temperature or refrigerate the cake to serve later so the flowers and leaves stay vibrant.
- Use a vegan or plant butter alternative in equal amounts to replace the butter in the cake batter for a dairy-free cake.
- To make the Swiss buttercream dairy-free use a vegan or plant butter alternative to replace the butter, but you will only need half the amount of the butter, or 113g or 1 stick. It will make a little bit less frosting but will still be enough to frost the cake. I'm not sure of the science behind it but the frosting was thick after adding just 1 stick of the vegan butter during my recipe testing.
- Violets bloom in the spring and can be found in pastures, meadows, and grassy areas. They are easily recognizable with dark green heart shapes leaves and dainty 5 petaled blue-purple flowers. There are also white violets with blue streaking and even yellow violets. When foraging for edible plants in the wild always consult guidebooks and references to be sure of the plant you are harvesting. Never consume wild plants that you can't identify 100%.
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