In Israel, Tu Bishvat is at the end of winter, when the country is beginning to bloom, and the rainy season is in full force. It makes sense that rabbis living in the Middle East would have chosen to mark the birthday of the trees when nature begins to recover from the cold, and lots of fruits are newly available.
But for those of us living in North America, Tu Bishvat often comes at a time of snow, sleet, and freezing rain, when the fruit in the grocery store is mealy and a little gross.
So how do you celebrate a holiday of trees and fruits when not much is in season, and you don't want to eat fruit that tastes like a factory? This recipe calls for lemons, which are easy to get in the winter, and make for a strong and fruity cake. The lavender adds an unexpectedly gentle and soothing aroma. A perfect dessert for the end of your Tu Bishvat seder.
2/3 cup hot water
2 tablespoons dried lavender (available at specialty spice and Asian grocery stores)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup yogurt (I used vanilla flavored, but plain or lemon would be fine, as would sour cream)
For the glaze:
1 cup prepared icing
2 tablespoons dried lavender
1/3 cup hot water
1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Oil a 12-cup bundt pan.
2. Boil water. Add lavender to hot water and allow to steep.
3. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Toss with your hands and set aside.
4. Combine butter, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl using electric beaters. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is fully mixed into the batter before adding another. After the last egg is incorporated, slowly add the lemon juice and mix for one more minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 30 seconds to make sure all of the ingredients are fully incorporated.
6. Strain the lavender from the hot water, and add the water (which should be--surprise!--lavender colored) to the yogurt stirring slightly. It won't totally incorporate, but don't worry about it.
7. Alternate adding small amounts of the flour mixture and the yogurt mixture to the batter, mixing with a wooden spoon just until all dry ingredients are incorporated into the batter. Pour batter into prepared bundt pan, filling two thirds of the pan.
8. Bake on center rack of oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Check the center of the cake with a skewer. It will come out clean when the cake is finished. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes.
9. Loosen the sides of the cake with a sharp knife. Place serving plate, upside down, on the top of the cooled bundt pan and invert the pan to remove the cake. Let cake cool completely.
Glazing the cake:
1. Boil the water and add the lavender. Allow to steep for about twenty minutes (this can be done while the cake is baking).
2. Strain the lavender, reserving the water.
3. Using plain vanilla or butter cream icing (you can buy it prepared or make it yourself if you're feeling ambitious), measure a cup of icing into a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 20-25 seconds until icing is much thinner. Stirring constantly, pour the water into the icing in a thin stream. Continue stirring until the consistency is thin and even.
4. Carefully spoon the glaze over the top of the bundt cake, allowing it to drip into the center and on the outside.
Makes about 10 servings.