Nettle Cake: An Ode To Moss Gazing
Have you ever laid down and really looked at the moss under your feet? The little star-like patterns that form the dense carpet, or the dazzling dewdrops suspended on the reproductive stalks? When I walk barefoot in these glowing green woods I can't help but feel like I am walking on a lush carpet of miracles. Mosses were the first plants to conquer land, changing the landscape dramatically and settling into nearly every ecosystem on Earth. They are the first bits of green I see each spring after a cold, white winter. They bring the hope of an awakening earth and the comforting constancy of an organism that has been alive far beyond my human understanding of time can envision.
This cake is representative of a Pacific Northwest take on the Japanese tradition of “Hanami,” tree-blossom observing. Instead of reminding us of the frailty of life through ethereal blossoms, moss reminds us of the constancy of life through ancient plants. Mosses have been here far longer than humans have existed, and some of their patches can be hundreds of years old. Those little dew-covered sparks and mossy beds have guarded over their forests for longer than I have been alive. So when life gets overwhelming and my problems seem larger than myself, I escape into the woods and practice the art of moss-gazing. I’d love it if you joined me: make a point to notice the minute and the tiny; the dramatic landscapes found within the soft carpet of moss underfoot and the diversity of flavors hidden under a decaying log. Just remember, if you’re having trouble seeing the big picture, just look closer.
I’m also honored to mention that this recipe (as well as some of my other work) has appeared in the most recent issue of Faerie Magazine, one of my absolute favorite magazines to dive into and explore. The theme of this issue is “Tolkien Magic” and it is full of just that, with feasts for hobbits, beautiful photography of elves, gorgeous woodcarvings, articles about Tolkien himself, and so much more. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed diving into the magical world that this magazine provides. I’m so honored to be included in it and have the chance to share my magic with others as well! You can find it on their website, or at many book retailers including Barnes and Noble. And you can find the moss cake recipe in it too, though I’m also sharing it here for those who don’t subscribe to Faerie. Cheers!
Stinging Nettle Moss Cake:
A stunningly-magical cake that is also really easy, full of nutrition, and tastes wonderful? This nettle moss cake is the best of all worlds. This cake is a vibrant green without the use of any food coloring and is incredibly easy to decorate. Don’t let the stinging nettles intimidate you; they grow plentifully in the springtime and are completely safe (and very nutritious) to consume once the’ve been cooked. A fresh citrus flavor makes this cake extra scrumptious.
1 1/2 c. shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 Tbs. lemon juice
zest of two lemons
2 c. nettle puree (or spinach puree) - see below
4 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
- Preheat your oven to 325F and prepare 2 (9”) cake pans and 1 smaller pan (any shape) by lightly greasing and dusting with flour. Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom and grease it as well.
- In a large bowl, cream the shortening and the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, until they are well combined. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest and mix well. Add the nettle puree.
- In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well, then mix into the nettle mixture.
- Pour into baking pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or about 25 minutes.
Douglas Fir Grapefruit Buttercream:
This is an optional flavor, as a simple lemon buttercream would also taste wonderful. I just like to make use of another sprin
1 c. shortening or butter, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt (if using unsalted butter or shortening)
1 Tbs. ground fresh Douglas Fir needles
1 1/2 Tbs. grapefruit juice
4-5 cups powdered sugar (1 lb.)
- Cream the shortening, salt, and fir needles until smooth and creamy. Add 4 cups powdered sugar and mix at low speed until incorporated to make a stiff dough.
- Add the grapefruit juice and mix until smooth. Assess the consistency and add more powdered sugar or grapefruit juice as desired.
- To ice and decorate the cake, first allow it to cool completely. With a long bread knife, trim the tops of the cake so that they are flat. Place one cake onto a serving plate and place strips of waxed paper around the cake for easier clean up later.
- Spread a layer of frosting over the top of the cake, then carefully set the other cake on top. At this point it can be helpful to place the cake in the fridge for an hour or so for it to firm up. Meanwhile, crumble the scraps from the tops of the cake and the smaller extra cake into coarse crumbs using your hands or a food processor.
- Spread the rest of the frosting over the entire cake and press the crumbs into the surface to look like moss. Remove the strips of waxed paper and serve!
1. To make stinging nettle puree, pick off all of the leaves (wear gloves!), then boil them for a couple of minutes. Strain and immediately plunge into an ice bath to cool. Puree the cooked leaves into a smooth paste in your blender - you may need to add 1 Tbs. of water to get them to grind properly. To make a spinach puree, just blend raw baby spinach leaves in the blender with enough water to get them to form a smooth puree.
2. Make sure to note the lower baking temperature of this cake. Baking it at a lower temperature for longer helps it retain the fresh green color.
3. If you are unable to forage or purchase stinging nettle, spinach works just as well! And don’t worry about your cake tasting like salad - the green veggies add a very subtle flavor that is accented nicely by the bright citrus. You’ll barely notice them.
As always, if you enjoy my writing and want to support my mission of sharing everyday magic with strangers, please take a look at my Patreon Page to learn about all of the delightful offerings I have there for you!