An Invitation to the Spaces Between with Elderflower Rhubarb Fairy Cake
The spaces between are filled with a different kind of light, an ethereal magic, a hidden portal. Think of an elderflower bush twinkling mischievously on the edge of a meadow, gatekeeper to the mysterious dark woods that huddle behind it. Think of the tidepools, constantly adapting to the crashing waves or beating sun, teeming with an unbelievable amount of eager life. Think of that space between fully awake and asleep, that twilight filled with lucid dreams and new ideas and the feeling of flight. Perhaps that’s why we find sunsets so particularly bewitching - they, too, are another space between. They are more than the sum of their parts; as the high golden heat turns into the indigo darkness of night, we are treated to a dancing and diverse display of colors. Flashes of the brightest oranges and pinks are highlighted with cotton candy clouds and mercurial waves like liquid metal. The whole world looks gold for a few brief moments, then into the dusky purple twilight we settle. (A recipe inspired by the gorgeousness of the twilight realm is coming soon too, by the way.)
The ancient Celts believed in an “otherworld,” a supernatural realm that existed in the same time and place as our own but in a different dimension. This mysterious land had its own rules and laws, its own communities, its own landscape. It was a representation of the true wild, an idealized land full of magic. It was said that you could see glimpses of it out of the corner of your eye in the right conditions - during the golden hour of sunset, on specific magical days like the Solstice, tucked into flowers or deep underwater. The fabric of reality sometimes folded, showing a glimpse of a space both here and somewhere else. Humans would stumble upon entrances in those spaces between: the caves that were between air and earth, the waves between land and sea, the dream space between awake and asleep. Time moved differently in this otherworldly realm and tales told of men stumbling into that land for 3 days and returning to their own world only to find that 300 years had passed and everyone they’d known and loved was long gone.
If there is one plant that, to me, represents those ethereal spaces-and-times-between, it’s elderflower. The scent of elderflower blossoms is unlike any other smell: floral, uplifting, utterly bewitching. I’ve always thought that if one was looking for an entrance into the fairy realms, an elderflower bush on a midsummer night would be a pretty good place to begin. This cake is a celebration of those spaces between: the glowing sunsets, the strange dreams, and those invitations to the fairy realms. Fluffy elderflower cake is sandwiched between layers of rich tart rhubarb curd, strawberry jam, and elderflower whipped cream, then topped with edible butterflies and lots of fresh fruit and edible flowers. I have it on good authority that this cake can take you places.
This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to make plenty of extra cordial to mix into other baked goods or top with sparkling water for a delicious summer beverage.
10 elderflower heads (or 1/4 c. dried elderflowers)
2 c. water
2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. citric acid powder (15 grams)
1 unwaxed lemon
1 unwaxed orange
- Harvest the elderflowers on a cool morning by gently snipping whole flowerheads into a paper bag. Be sure to only harvest ones that are in their prime; don’t both with flowers that haven’t opened yet or ones that are beginning to brown. Be sure to harvest sustainably and only take a couple of flower heads from each bush.
- Pluck the flowers off of the stems into a clean heat-proof large bowl. The stems are toxic, so be sure to only use the flowers. (Small stems that cling onto individual flowers are okay in moderation.)
- Slice the lemon and orange and add them to the bowl of elderflowers, along with the citric acid powder.
- Boil the water and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve it. Let cool slightly, then pour over the elderflowers and lemon slices.
- Leave in a cool place to infuse for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain well and transfer to bottles. Store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
- Note: the citric acid helps preserve the mixture, but is optional. If you leave it out just be sure to keep your cordial refrigerated and use within a couple of weeks. You can also add more lemon juice to preserve the tart flavor.
3 c. cake flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 2/3 c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. softened unsalted butter
3/4 c. yogurt (try lemon for extra yumminess)
1/4 c. elderflower cordial (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 c. fresh elderflowers, removed from stems
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3 Tbs. lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9” cake pans and line with parchment paper.
- Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and beat until the mixture is evenly crumbly, like damp sand.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl after each egg.
- Whisk together the yogurt, elderflower cordial, and vanilla. Add half of the mixture to the flour and beat 1-2 minutes, until fluffy. Add the remaining yogurt mixture and beat until fluffy again.
- Stir in the lemon juice and fresh elderflowers and beat the batter at high speed for just 15 seconds to make sure everything is combined.
- Divide the batter into 4 even portions and pour them into 9” cake pans. (This will bake a thin layer of cake, perfect for sandwiching with fluffy whipped cream!)
- Bake on the middle rack in your oven for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly.
- Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then gently loosen the edges and turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours to make slicing and assembling the cake easier.
Strawberry Rhubarb Curd:
2c finely chopped rhubarb, as pink as possible
1/2 c. chopped strawberries
2 Tbs lemon juice
3 large eggs
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp. corn starch
1 c. granulated sugar
- Wash and cut the rhubarb stalks into small sections. Cut the tops off of the strawberries, and place the fruit into a food processor with the lemon juice. Blend until the fruit has broken down into a pulp, then push that through a fine sieve with a spoon to extract the juice. You should have about 1 1/3 c. juice.
- Whisk the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch in a heat proof bowl until smooth.
- In a small saucepan, heat 1 c. of the fruit juice until gently simmering.
- Remove the juice from heat and pour 1/4 of the hot juice into the egg mixture very slowly, whipping constantly. Pour the egg mixture into the hot juice and continue to whip constantly. Place the pan back over low heat, add the butter, and continue to whisk until the mixture has thickened to the thickness of sour cream. Push through a sieve to remove any lumps. Add the remaining rhubarb and strawberry juice and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it gently to make contact with the surface of the curd to prevent a skin forming. Let chill.
2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 - 4 tsp elderflower cordial, syrup, or liquor to taste
- Place the cream and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat until stiff.
- Gently fold in the elderflower cordial to taste.
1/2 c. strawberry jam, softened on the stove
Fresh elderflowers, wild roses, and other edible flowers
Edible berries (strawberries, gooseberries, golden currants, etc.)
Edible butterflies, optional.
Bamboo skewers, optional
- Heat the jam until liquid over low heat.
- Brush the bottom layer gently with the softened jam, then spread with 1/3 of the rhubarb curd. Top with a layer of whipped cream, then place another cake layer on top. Repeat the layering until the cake is assembled. You may find it helpful to use bamboo skewers to hold the cakes in place as the whole thing can get rather messy in the summer heat. Just remove before eating.
- Garnish with edible flowers, berries, and edible butterflies.
These are easy to make but do take a bit of time and concentration. Note: ingredients marked with an (*) are part of my Amazon affiliate program, which helps to fund the cost of sharing posts like this with you! You can read my full disclosure here.
4 sheets of edible rice paper *
2 Tbs. vodka
big pinch saffron threads
1/4 c. dark chocolate
1/2 tsp. butterfly pea flower powder *, optional
piping bag with very fine metal tip (tip: I use plastic bottles with small metal tips from the ceramic supply store; you can find similar products in most craft stores in the paint section. Just be sure to use a clean bottle that has never been used for paint or glaze.)
- Print or draw some outlines of swallowtail butterflies on a piece of paper. Place on a baking sheet and top with waxed paper, then a sheet of edible rice paper. Meanwhile, infuse the saffron in half of the vodka and the butterfly pea powder in the other half in separate dishes.
- Using the clean paintbrush, gently place a dab of the now-yellow vodka in the center of each butterfly. Let dry completely. Add small blue dabs of the butterfly pea powder where the blue eyes on each wing are and let dry.
- Use the edible food coloring pen to draw the lines of the butterflies, then cut them out and prop them between two chopsticks on the parchment paper.
- Gently melt the dark chocolate and place into the fine-tipped piping bag. Carefully trace some of the veins and designs. Pipe the body in the middle.
- You can “glue” the butterflies to rice noodles and stick those in the cake to give the illusion that the butterflies are flying above the cake.
- Dust very gently with edible luster powder (if desired) and store in an airtight container until you're ready to use them. They'll last several weeks stored in this manner.
Enjoy the magic of early summer and this invitation to the fairy realms!
As always, this recipe is free to you thanks to the contributions of my patrons. These lovely people donate a set amount every month to support my mission of sharing magic with everyone. You can join their ranks on my Patreon page!