Lemon-Lavender Tea Bread and Stress Baking

You may have noticed a trend in my posts over the last couple of weeks – my oven has been getting quite a workout. It’s that time of year: stress baking time. The latest attempt to calm my nerves about law school finals yielded a seriously delicious lavender-lemon tea bread.

I’m actually not too stressed about finals this term. I’ve done my reading, I got my hardest exam over with already, and I have a job lined up for the fall at a great law firm. The whole “finishing school” business, though, is pushing me into the kind of transition period that tends to freak me out. In two weeks I’ll be packing up and moving out of the apartment where I spent the last three years. All my stuff is going into storage (including most of my cookbook collection) and I’m going to live at home with my dad, stepmom, and stepsisters while studying for the bar exam this summer in a Boston suburb. Now, not only am I repeatedly getting Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ the Suburbs” stuck in my head, I’m leaving my city and many of my friends, and I don’t have an apartment lined up for when I get back. I know I’ll find one, but…I really just hate limbo.

The stress baking thing began when I was working as a paralegal before law school, and became a regular exam-time occurrence during my first year. I loved that the carefully controlled processes of baking let me regain control in the face of things – like law school exam grading – which make no sense. My law school friends and I have a “finals listserve” on which we send around dumb Youtube videos and Sporcle games for procrastination; at one point, I set up a fake Gmail account for the baked good I happened to make that day: Mango Mini Muffins. Through my MMM alter-ego, I started spamming everyone regularly and advertised cinnamon buns, scones, cookies, and other sugary treats. This became kind of a running joke, so of course when the talented Wilde in the Kitchen posted a recipe for Mango-Lime Muffins right before I started finals, I just had to make a mini version and resurrect MangoMiniMuffins@gmail.com one last time.

Because I’ve been looking to baking for soothing, I decided to try to incorporate some lavender into my experiments: baking meets aromatherapy. Lavender pairs well with lemon, so I started poking around for a lemon cake recipe in The Collection. I found what I was looking for in New Southern Baking.

This book, you may notice if you visit my [recently revamped] Collection page, was published only 6 years ago (in 2005). I have two types of books in my collection, though: serious vintage, and vintage recipes collected by other authors. Damon Lee Fowler’s baking book is one of the latter type. I think this divide actually maps nicely onto true archaeology, where you can dig things out of the ground yourself, or you can do research on already-excavated pieces in museums. Fowler already dug up an awesome tea bread recipe (apparently from someone named “Candy”): I’m adding to it and adapting it…

I started with the basics – lemon and butter – but added some in-season lavender. I chopped up the lavender buds and added them, at the very beginning of this recipe, to the dry ingredients I whisked together. Chopped lavender will make your kitchen smell absolutely amazing. And possibly a little like your grandma’s bathroom.

From here we go back to conventional tea bread land: first we cream butter and sugar.

Then beat in the eggs. Look at that mixer go! I feel it worthwhile at this point to mention that I did eventually decide to name my Kitchenaid “Buttercup.” Often when I’m in the kitchen I’ll hear her calling, “Celia! Make a cake with me!” And I just say “As you wish,” and start baking…

Getting back to it…we add flour and milk and flour and lemon juice and zest…

…And finally finish up with flour, and lump the thick batter into a greased and floured loaf pan.

When the batter is smoothed out, you can see bits of lavender in it.

Whisk confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice together to form a simple glaze, and pour it over the cake when it’s still hot from the oven: the sugar melts and sinks into the cake, so when it dries and cools there’s just a thin lemony crunch to the crust.

Mmm. I feel more relaxed just looking at this. Nothing like a nice, simple, floral loaf cake to take things down a notch. Maybe I’ll brew up some Earl Grey to go with…

Lavender-Lemon Tea Bread (Makes one 9-inch loaf)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried culinary lavender
9 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon

For glaze:
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.
2. Chop the lavender finely and whisk it together with the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix the lemon juice and zest together in a small prep bowl.
3. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fully, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat about 30-45 seconds on medium after each addition, until the eggs are just blended in.
4. Add one-third of the flour mixture, and beat until incorporated. Β Mix in the milk. Β  Add another third of the flour, then the lemon juice and zest, and finally the last of the flour, mixing about 30 seconds after each addition.
5. Pour the batter into the floured pan, smooth it down, and bake for 50-55 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. While the cake is baking, whisk the lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar together to form the glaze.
6. Remove the pan from the oven and, while the cake is still hot, pour the glaze over the top and brush it around with a pastry brush to distribute evenly. Let the cake cool about ten minutes in its pan as the glaze sets, then pop it out and cool it down the rest of the way on a rack before serving.