Basic Little Potato & Five Onion Soup (with 4 Variations)

Potato and Five Onion SoupDid you know that the homely little potato, supreme staple among staples, the vegetable that we are most apt to both love and take for granted, was lauded in 2008 by the United Nations with the International Year of the Potato?

As the website says, the purpose of this focus is to raise global awareness of the potato’s key role in agriculture, the economy, and world food security. All worthy goals. Potatoes are a food crop that is widely grown and not subject to global trade issues. Women all over the world grow potatoes to sustain and nourish their families.

Potato and Five Onion Soup with Herb ButterIt is widely claimed that a diet of only potatoes and milk can sustain human life indefinitely. That’s good to know, especially as Northwest regional fresh vegetables become scarce during late winter and early spring months. And every good cook should have several great potato dishes with which she can extend the grocery budget.

So to extend the spirit of the International Year of the Potato and to bring to mind and heart the plight of so many undernourished people around the world, I offer this simple and truly delicious soup, which I have been perfecting for years.
Basic Little Potato & Five Onion Soup

Potato soup, next to a baked or mashed potato, is probably the most basic way a potato can be prepared. Cook a peeled potato in water until tender, puree the lot, and you have potato soup. Not a very tasty soup, to be sure, but palatable enough with a little salt and pepper. You could live on it. But if you add just a few more ingredients, none of them very expensive, you can not only live, but live quite happily, on this humble soup.

There are hundreds of recipes on the web for potato soup. If you do a search on Epicurious for instance, you’lll find 289 versions. This number includes many soups that are really more about some other ingredient. But there are some wonderful ideas nonetheless, and after you master this basic, simple, creamy, smooth, and absolutely delicious Cream of Potato & Five Onion Soup, you’ll be prepared to use it like a “little black dress,” changing it this way and that way with seasonal “accessories.” We’ll explore a few variations here to get you started.
Basic Little Potato & Five Onion Soup

I have tested and retested this soup many times over the years, adjusting the key elements to create a soup with good body and memorable flavor. The onion element, for instance, began as a mere hint of flavor and then expanded, test after test, to a rich depth that fully complements the potato without overwhelming it completely.

I have tested with both water and a variety of homemade stocks, and my vote goes to chicken stock. Homemade is best, but canned will also work. There are many brands of chicken broth available today and most of them have barely more taste than water. Some even have an objectionable taste. Do sample several over time and select your favorite to stock the pantry. Of course, if you prefer a vegetarian rendition, use your favorite vegetable stock.

Potato & 5 Onion Soup | LunaCafePotato & Five Onion Soup + 4 Variations

I have never eaten a potato soup that was not comforting and satisfying, even if occasionally bland or uninspired. Five members of the onion family make the difference here. Together, they heighten and add dimension to the flavor of the potatoes. If you are serving this as a first course for a special dinner, I suggest using the optional butter and herb enrichment for the added visual appeal, but otherwise this soup is excellent even without a garnish. Crumbled, cooked bacon is great as a topping too, if you happen to have some on hand.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 cups peeled, chopped yellow onions (about 2 large onions)
1 cup peeled, chopped shallots (about 6 medium shallots)
1 cup chopped leeks, white portion only (about 1 large leek)
6 large cloves peeled garlic, pressed or minced
8 cups peeled, chopped Russet Burbank baking potatoes (about 6 large Russet Burbank (baking) potatoes or 2½ pounds)
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups cream
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground white pepper, to taste

½ cup minced parsley
½ cup minced green onion, green portion only, or chives
optional: 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
optional: crumbled cooked bacon

  1. Melt the oil and butter in a soup pot and add the onions, shallots and leeks. Cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes or so, until the onions are well softened, but not browned Add the garlic, stir to combine, and cook for 2 more minutes without browning.
  2. Add the potatoes and stock, cover partially, bring to a boil, and simmer slowly until the potatoes are very tender, about 20-30 minutes. (Add a little more stock if too much liquid evaporates.)
  3. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the soup pot. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, lift the solids from the stock with a mesh skimmer or put through a strainer to separate the solids from the liquid, and then puree in a processor. Add potatoes and stock back to the pot.)
  4. Add the cream. Stir to combine and bring to just below a simmer.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Potatoes require quite a lot of salt, so don’t be dismayed by how much you will have to add.
  6. Although not necessary for most dining occasions, if you want the soup to be silky smooth, put it through a triple mesh chinoise, pressing hard on any bits of onion and potato that are reluctant to go through.
  7. If desired, just before serving, stir in the parsley and green onion, or for a more dramatic presentation, process the butter with the parsley and green onion, and then swirl dollops of the flavored butter through each portion.
  8. If desired, top with crumbled cooked bacon.

Makes about 14 cups.

Basic Little Potato & Five Onion Soup

And now for four wonderfully tasty variations:

Potato, Five Onion, & Parmesan Soup

  • At Step 4, add 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Potato, Onion, & Sour Cream Soup

It doesn’t sound like a major change, but adding a sour note to a dish can have dramatic results. I often swirl sour cream or crème fraîche into soups as a garnish, but here they become an integral part of a complex flavor matrix.

  • At Step 4, replace 1 cup of cream with sour cream or crème fraîche. To garnish, add a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche to each serving.

Potato, Five Onion, Cheddar & Bacon Soup

This is a baked potato in a bowl. The additional crunchy, savory elements are a perfect foil for this creamy soup.

  • Skip Step 7 and 8. Instead, top each serving with grated cheddar cheese, crumbled cooked bacon, chopped green onions, and a dollop of sour cream.

Cold Potato & Five Onion Soup

This chilled variation will take you right into summer. It’s a riff on the French classic soup, Vichyssoise, which I begin to crave when Northwest temperatures move into the 70’s, usually between May and October.

  • After Step 6, let the soup cool somewhat, and then cover and refrigerate for several hours. Adjust seasoning before serving.

More LunaCafe Soups | Bisques | Chowders

Copyright 2009 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.

Fresh Primer: Strawberries

Everything you need to know about fresh strawberries, including season, selection, storage, preparation, cooking, great partners, and recipes.

Fresh Primer: Strawberries | LunaCafe

Honeoye Early Season Oregon Strawberries

If you ask ten people at random to name their favorite berry, eight of them will say, “strawberries of course.” And who’s to argue?

Fresh Primer: Strawberries | LunaCafe

Seascape Early Season Oregon Strawberries

In the height of Northwest strawberry season, it’s hard to imagine anything tasting better than these juicy, incredibly sweet, powerfully flavorful berries. They are simply perfection.

Strawberries seem to benefit most from the climate of the Northwest. Our local varieties are chosen not so much for their ability to ship well but for their flavor. They are usually not as large or as glamorous looking as California strawberries, but their intense red color is a near guarantee that they were picked fully ripe and will taste as nature intended.

Fresh Primer: Strawberries | LunaCafeSeason

Commercial strawberry growers have timed their field selections to ripen at about the same time that kids are released from school, thus insuring themselves an adequate supply of pickers. So the commercial season begins around June 1st, depending on the weather, and ends around July 15th. However, the season for independent growers (available at local farmers markets) extends from April for cold-frame strawberries though September for late-bearing field strawberries.


Northwest strawberry varieties are more perishable that those shipped in from out of state. They are fully juicy and will turn to mush if handled roughly. Look for bright red berries with no signs of oozing. Conversely, avoid shriveled berries or any with dry, browning stems. The fragrance of ripe berries should be discernible. Pick them yourself if at all possible or buy from a local grower. Above all, make sure that you are purchasing Northwest berries. Grocery stores sometimes carry non-local berries even after local berries are available.

Varieties regularly encountered at Portland Farmers Market in early June are Hood (sweetest, highly perishable, very short season), Seascape, and Honeoye. Additional varieties arrive as the season progresses.


Refrigerate strawberries, covered with plastic wrap, as soon as you get them home. Do not wash or hull them until shortly before you intend to eat them. If they are very fresh, they will keep for two to five days.


Rinse strawberries under cold running water, and then remove the stem and hull in one operation. The easiest way I know to do this is to use a curved grapefruit knife; insert the knife along the edge of the stem, then change the angle somewhat and lift it out along with the stem and hull.


There’s strawberry jam and strawberry sauce, and even strawberry soup, but if you really want to eat strawberries at their best, eat them raw.

Hood Early Season Oregon Strawberries

Great Partners

Almonds, anise, apricots, balsamic vinegar, bananas, basil, Beaujolais, black currant, black pepper, Brie, brown sugar, caramel, celery, Champagne, cinnamon, Cointreau, cream, coconut, cognac, cream cheese, crème fraîche, Curacao, Camembert, cherry, chocolate (dark and white), coffee, cranberry, egg, fig, Grand Marnier, grapefruit, guava, Kirsch, honey, kiwi, lemon, lettuce, licorice, lime, mango, maple syrup, mascarpone, mint, orange, parmesan, passion fruit, peach, pineapple, port, raspberry, rhubarb, sambuca, sherry, sour cream, star fruit, tequila, toast, vanilla, and yogurt.

Additional Pairings

LunaCafe Strawberry Recipes

NOTE   PNP = Pacific Northwest Palate: Four Seasons of Great Cooking

Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal

Is it happenstance that rhubarb and roses come into play simultaneously in the Northwest? You know that old adage, “What grows together goes together,” right?

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafeOne of the things I enjoy most about cooking is discovering new-to-me ways to use a familiar ingredient. And new-to-me flavor pairings.

Take rose petals for instance. Even though Grandma Mary’s garden was overflowing with roses, it never occurred to her–or me–to eat them. She didn’t use chemicals on her plants, so it would have been safe to take a bite of one of those lovely, velvety petals. The fragrance alone should have given us the thought. 

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

The Edible Flower Garden & Your Delicious Life | The Tao of Dana

But no one in our corner of the world ate flowers in those days. As it turns out, early American bakers used rose water in their baking, but only until the 19th century. Then vanilla extract (undoubtedly more versatile) stole the limelight and became the mainstay flavoring.

That wasn’t the case in much of Europe, however. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians valued roses for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Rose petals were distilled into rose water and used extensively.

Today, rose water is still used heavily in Middle Eastern cuisines—especially in sweets, such as nougat, marzipan, and baklava. It’s also added judiciously to tea, ice cream, cookies, milk, yogurt, and other diary-based dishes, such as rice pudding.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafeIf I could go back in time with my current knowledge, I would suggest that we add a handful of rose petals to Grandma’s rhubarb jam. And to her rhubarb compotes and rhubarb pies as well. I’d love to see the sparkle in her eye as the idea took shape in her imagination. She would want to taste all the rose varieties in her humongous rose garden.

My love affair with rhubarb is nearly as old as I am, but rose petal came much later via this remarkable tea. I bought it for Valentine’s Day one year because it sounded so romantic. But it was the flavor that kept me going back for tin after tin. Because it’s difficult to find in Portland markets, I now buy several tins at a time from the online source.

Rhubarb Roundup | LunaCafe

Fresh Rhubarb Roundup | LunaCafe

Once I grasped rose petal as a flavor, I began trying it with everything. First I created Rhubarb Rose Petal Caramel Syrup + 4 Variations, which has become my cornerstone spring dessert sauce. Then Rose Petal and Honey Yogurt Panna Cotta, Blueberry, Lime & Rose Petal Cheesecake, Luscious White Chocolate & Raspberry Rose Petal Cheesecake, and Green Tea & Rose Spritz.

But I’ve only just begun. Come back often to see the growing LunaCafe Rose Petal Recipe Collection.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafeUsing Rose Petals in Cooking

The key thing to remember when adding the flavor of rose petals in your dishes is that a little goes a long way. The flavor is distinctive and can be strong, depending on the form.

Dried petals can be purchased in spice shops and many tea shops as well. Look for vibrantly colored petals with a strong, clean scent. Avoid petals that are dull in color and musty smelling. If you plan to dry or otherwise preserve your own rose petals, harvest or buy roses that have not be subjected to chemical fertilizers or sprays. Organic roses in other words. (Whole Foods is purported to carry organic roses.) And always use food grade rose water, rose extract, and rose essential oil, not products intended for aroma therapy or skin care.

12 Inspired Rhubarb + Rose Petal Recipes

Now every spring I indulge in a whirlwind tour of the web, looking for adventurous cooks who are as fascinated as I am by by the rhubarb and rose petal flavor pairing. Oh the inspiration!

Here are the most enticing rhubarb and rose petal recipes I’ve found so far. (The photos are titled and linked. Just click to go to the original post and recipe.)

Rhubarb and Rose Upside Down Cake| LunaCafe

Rhubarb and Rose Upside Down Cake | Garum Factory

You’ll want to read about the trials and tribulations that went into perfecting this gooey, caramelized rhubarb, rose water and cornmeal-enhanced upside-down cake. Perfection takes determination and sometimes a little help from a few friends. I think they got it just right.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal

Deconstructed Rhubarb Tart With Rose And Vanilla | Chocolate Chilli Mango

I love deconstructed, make ahead desserts like this. All of the elements go together at the last minute, ensuring the whipped cream stays whipped and the pastry crumbles stay crunchy. And seriously, how can you go wrong with a fruit compote of baby rhubarb, raspberries, rose-water, and vanilla?

Flavor Pairings: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Fluffy Rose & Rhubarb Honey-Sweetened Marshmallows | Nourishing Joy

Marshmallows look exotic, but they’re actually a breeze to make. The deep fruity-vegetal flavor of poached rhubarb is augmented perfectly here with wildflower honey and rose petal. Does it get more romantic than this?

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Rhubarb and Rose Shortbread | Daily Mail

I’m serving these stunning rhubarb and rosewater jam-filled shortbread cookies at my next tea party. With maybe a few rose petals strewn on the table. They’ll be gone in two minutes flat.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Rhubarb And Rosewater Crumble | Cook Republic

What I love about this crumble, besides the rhubarb-almond-rose water-vanilla flavor profile, is that the crumble looks super crunchy, not sodden. The juxtaposition of meltingly tender rose- and vanilla-enhanced fresh rhubarb with almond meal crumble in a winning combination.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Hand Pies with Rose, Vanilla and Creme de Cassis | LunaCafe

Rhubarb and Strawberry Hand Pies with Rose, Vanilla and Crème De Cassis | Gourmantine

Rhubarb and strawberries, macerated until juicy in crème de cassis, vanilla, and rose water, encased in a tender pastry crust fragrant with orange peel. Simply gorgeous.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Rhubarb Fool with Cardamom Cream | The Wall Street Journal

Only a fool would resist these pretty layers of pink and white, spiked here and there with pale green. Especially when the pink layer is rhubarb poached in Sauvignon Blanc and rose water, the white layer is whipped crème fraîche laced with cardamom, and the pale green spikes of color are roasted pistachios.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Rhubarb, Rose And Cardamom Jam | Diane Henry

Oh the British and their romantic jams. This one is a softly set melange (more a compote than a true jam) of rhubarb, cardamom, rose petal, and lemon. Lovely over Greek yogurt. rice pudding, or cheese blintz.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose | LunaCafe

Rhubarb n Rose Coconut Frosted Bundts | Baking in Pyjamas

For these beautiful bundts, brown butter, rose water, and almond flour combine to make an ultra light cake, which is then studded with vibrant bursts of rhubarb. Whipped coconut milk creates a most unusual topping, giving the dessert a tropical bent.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Rhubarb-Rose Ice Cream | Three Clever Sisters

If you’ve been meaning to try the rather surprising ice cream technique espoused in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which I rave about here, now’s your chance. Rhubarb, strawberries, and rosewater meld in a delicious compote and then twirl through the creamiest ice cream you’ve ever eaten.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose | LunaCafe

Rhubarb, Rose Geranium & Vanilla Tarts | This is Glamorous

We talked about several ways to infuse the flavor of roses into a dessert–dried rose petals, rose water, rose extract, rose oil–but almost failed to mention one of the most charming ways ever, namely the leaves of rose-scented geraniums, which although they’re in the botanical family Geraniaceae, are actually a Pelargonium species. Be sure to tuck a few plants into your garden this year, as they’re nearly impossible to find outside of a nursery. In this straight-forward tart, rhubarb is macerated with brown sugar, vanilla, and a few rose geranium leaves before being arranged on pastry and baked. Rustic and elegant at the same time.

Flavor Pairing: Rhubarb + Rose Petal | LunaCafe

Rose Poached Rhubarb with Honeycomb Yogurt | Butter and Brioche

Can this dish possibly be any prettier? And so simple to prepare. The rhubarb is poached very briefly in rose water and vanilla syrup, so it’s cooked but retains its shape. What a lovely topping for Greek yogurt (breakfast) or custard flan (dessert). Look for honeycomb at your local farmers market.

Rhubarb + Rose Petal Recipe Roundup

  1. Coconut Rice Pudding With Rose And Rhubarb Jelly  | Multiculti Kitchen
  2. Deconstructed Rhubarb Tart With Rose And Vanilla  | Chocolate Chilli Mango
  3. Fluffy Rose & Rhubarb Honey-Sweetened Marshmallows  | Nourishing Joy
  4. Rhubarb & Rose Custard Creams With Crystallized Petals  | BBC Good Food
  5. Rhubarb and Rose Compote  | Edible Ireland
  6. Rhubarb and Rose Scones  | Chevrons and Éclairs
  7. Rhubarb and Rose Shortbread  | Daily Mail
  8. Rhubarb And Rose Upside Down Cake  | The Garum Factory
  9. Rhubarb And Rosewater Crumble  | Cook Republic
  10. Rhubarb and Strawberry Hand Pies with Rose, Vanilla and Crème De Cassis  | Gourmantine
  11. Rhubarb Fool with Cardamom Cream | The Wall Street Journal
  12. Rhubarb & Rose Coconut Frosted Bundts  | Baking in Pyjamas
  13. Rhubarb, Rose And Cardamom Jam  | Diane Henry
  14. Rhubarb, Rose Geranium & Vanilla Tarts  | This is Glamorous
  15. Rhubarb, Rose Geranium And Vanilla Tarts  | The Dailys
  16. Rhubarb-Rose Ice Cream  | Three Clever Sisters
  17. Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberries with Rose Geranium and Prosecco  | Good Food
  18. Roasted Rhubarb With Rose Water And Strawberry Sorbet  | Epicurious
  19. Rose Poached Rhubarb with Honeycomb Yogurt  | Butter and Brioche

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafe

Whenever the word “brunch” is mentioned, this coffee cake drifts through the wide open space of my mind.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafe Yeah, right! I WISH my mind was a wide open space. To tell the truth, it’s crowded with ideas on what I’m going to create next in the OtherWorldly Kitchen. Spring is here. Finally! Rhubarb is shoving every other ingredient aside and screaming, “Me, Me.” Sweet Peas are leaping, twirling, and shouting, “But what about that amazing Chilled Sweet Pea Soup you said you would work up as soon as I hit the fresh market? You promised!” (Actually, I did actually complete this one sometime after this post.) You don’t even want to know what nonsense Basil is whispering. Something about ice cream.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafe Nevertheless, as I was saying, this coffeecake drifts through my very crowded mind whenever brunch is mentioned. That’s because it’s so delicious and so easy. It may also have something to do with the fact that people go gaga over it and beg me for the recipe.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafe I give it to them, of course, but always reluctantly, because after they see for themselves how easy it is to make, they may begin to question ALL of my seeming feats of culinary magic.
Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafeAnd they might give the recipe to 50 of their closest friends, which would mean that everyone (maybe even one of my family members) would bring this same coffeecake to the next family brunch. And then where would I be?
Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafe

But I’m sure that YOU will keep this recipe strictly to yourself, right?
Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake | LunaCafe

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup unsalted butter
3 ounces best quality cream cheese
½ cup milk

½ cup artisan raspberry preserves (or your favorite preserves)

½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

  1. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk vigorously to distribute the baking powder and salt.
  2. With a pastry cutter or the tips of your fingers, cut the cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture.
  3. Quickly and gently blend in the milk.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead VERY LIGHTLY for 4-5 strokes.

    NOTE This is the step at which you can ruin the coffeecake. If you overwork the dough, the pastry will be tough. Just gather the dough together and don’t worry about making it smooth. It will still look a little rough. That’s perfect.

  5. On waxed paper, roll the dough to an 8- by 12-inch rectangle.
  6. Turn dough out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and remove the waxed paper.
  7. Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds.
  8. Spread preserves down the middle third of the dough, keeping it about ½ inch from the mark on both sides.
  9. Make 2¾-inch slight diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals on each the long sides. Do not cut into the center jam-filled area.
  10. Fold strips, first one from one side and then one from the other side in a rotating fashion, over the filling. The coffeecake will now resemble a braid.
  11. Bake in a 425° oven for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned.
  12. In a small glass measuring cup with a pouring spout, combine the sugar, milk, and vanilla. Drizzle over the top of the coffeecake.
  13. If desired, sprinkle on the toasted sliced almonds while the icing is still wet.
  14. Serve warm.

Makes one 8- by 12-inch coffee cake.

 Copyright 2008 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.  


Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake

A simple, yet memorable oil-based cake, redolent with candied lemon and the subtle flavor of fresh sage.

Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake | LunaCafe

Sometimes I get lucky. I’ve been working on the quintessential lemon cake for years, and although I encountered a couple of formulas that are quite lovely in their own right, they are not exactly what I have in mind.

Today, after studying for the umpteenth time the lemon cake recipe grid I composed last year, which compares the ingredients, proportions, and mixing methods of a dozen lemon cakes from a dozen respected sources, I quickly threw together a simple cake, proportioned to fit my 7-cup tube pan, and by golly it worked. (To see what is involved in my recipe grid methodology, which I taught to students for years at the Northwest Culinary Academy, check out Recipe Grid: The Ultimate Chocolate Pudding).

Luscious Candied Lemon & Sage Tea Cake Mise-en-Place

The key differences between this new formula and others I tried is that I used oil instead of butter and the muffin mixing method instead of the more typical creaming method. The result is a somewhat dense, moist, tender, almost chewy cake with plenty of luscious lemon flavor.

The moist texture holds for at least 48 hours, plenty of time for a couple of determined adults to eat most of the cake (children may devour it sooner). Of course, you can also freeze a portion of the cake to enjoy later if you like.

Mixing Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake

A couple of caveats though.

I was seduced by a phenomenal picture of a lemon cake topped with candied lemon slices in the June/July 2009 issue of Donna Hay Magazine and spent an afternoon trying to get very thin slices of lemon that did not fall apart (firm lemons and a mandolin required) and then cooking them in sugar syrup for first 15 minutes as prescribed by the magazine (HA!). And then when I realized that only someone with a jaw of steel could chew these babies, for an hour, as prescribed by Martha Stewart.

Be forewarned: An hour of simmering produces barely chewable lemon rinds. You may need to cook them even longer.

Pouring the Batter into the Pan for Luscious Candied Lemon Tea Cake

However, in both of my early tests, the rind was so bitter that most folks would not appreciate it. To get rid of the bitterness in the rind, you must blanch the lemon peels at least three times in fresh batches of simmering water, and THEN simmer in syrup for an hour or longer. You can’t retain the shape of a lemon slice with all that simmering.

Thus, I gave up on the idea of a cake topped with translucent, shimmering candied lemon slices. Beauty is important, but taste is supreme.

This gave me the opportunity to rethink the flavor profile. A quick trip to the garden produced a handful of fragrant, silvery sage leaves that added the visual effect I felt the cake needed and also a subtle perfume of fresh sage. Perfect!

Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake, | LunaCafe

Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake

This is the kind of cake that I treasure in my repertoire. It’s a simple, yet memorable cake, best served unadorned. It’s the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea or coffee.

It’s also easy to make and doesn’t require creaming of butter, sugar, and eggs. If you have the Candied Lemon Peel, you can throw it together in a snap and be eating the most delicious, satisfying cake in less than an hour.

I’m crazy for cornmeal these days and throw it into cakes, muffins, cookies, and pancakes with wild abandon. The small amount added to this cake adds only the most subtle cornmeal flavor, but the additional textural element is most welcome.

baking spray (combination of vegetable oil and flour)

15-18 large fresh sage leaves

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup fine yellow cornmeal
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup sugar

1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup lemon juice
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup vegetable or light olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon oil (or 1½ teaspoons lemon extract)
½ cup chopped Candied Lemon Peel

Lemon Syrup
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice

  1. Coat a 7- to 8-cup capacity metal ring mold with baking spray.
  2. Position a sage leave, top side down, on the bottom of the ring mold so that the tip of the leaf will point downward on the outside of the cake when the finished cake is inverted onto a serving platter (refer to photo above). Continue in the same fashion with the placement of the remaining leaves, leaving about ?-inch free space between each leaf. Reserve.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to thoroughly distribute the dry ingredients. Whisk in the sugar.
  4. In another medium mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, lemon juice, eggs, oil, lemon oil and candied lemon peel until thoroughly combined.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients, and then fold quickly and gently to combine. (Overmixing will produce a tough cake.)
  6. Carefully pour the batter over the sage leaves in the ring mold. Level with a flexible spatula.
  7. Bake immediately at 350° for about 30 minutes. The top of the cake will be lightly browned (perhaps not evenly) and an instant-read thermometer will register 175° if inserted into the center of the cake. Also, a thin skewer inserted in the center of the cake will come out almost clean. (Do not overbake, or the cake will be dry.)
  8. In the meanwhile, to make the Lemon Syrup, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugar. The syrup should go from foggy to clear just before it comes to a simmer. If not, reduce the heat and keep whisking until the syrup clears. Remove from the heat. Reserve
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Run a thin knife around the edge of the cake pan to ensure that the cake is not sticking to the pan anywhere. Then, invert the cake pan over a serving platter and carefully remove from the cake.
  10. Using a pastry brush, gently paint the cake with Lemon Syrup, using most or all of the syrup. The cake will absorb the syrup as you continue to add layers of syrup to it.
  11. With a damp paper towel, remove any syrup that has collected on the serving platter.
  12. Serve plain, dusted with powdered sugar, or with a cloud of whipped cream and a handful of fresh raspberries. May be served warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 medium tea cake; serves 8 or more.

 Copyright 2009 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.