Because I somehow always manage to book retreats on Mother’s Day, I was in the unusual position of having a couple of spaces left on Sunday’s retreat at the start of this week. So I said that the next person to book could pick the cake. Jennifer was the next person, and she picked a lemon cake. Good choice.

Lemon rosemary cake

I only just remembered to take a photo before it all went!

Now, I’m quite into herby sweet things and had been wondering about a rosemary cake for some time. I figured that if lemon and rosemary works in savoury food it should work in sweet too. And it did. This cake has a subtle rosemary flavour and is prettily flecked, which you can’t really see in the photos (I lost my phone for ages… in my pocket). Cooking mellows the rosemary’s medicinal backnote and the lemon-sharpness is intensified by drizzling the hot cake with syrup then filling it with lemon curd.

I’d love just a touch more rosemary flavour, but think it has the right amount of rosemary flecks as it is. If you put your rosemary in the sugar the night before I think you’d add the right amount of subtle, aromatic depth. Just take it out and chop up when you start to make the cake. In fact, I might just make a jar of rosemary sugar in case I want to cook with it again.

This is a sponge base, and although I’ve given weights, I always weigh my eggs in their shells then use the same weight of flour, butter and sugar. This is a much easier way of working out the right weight and the only way I can remember how to make sponge without a recipe…

For the cake and syrup:

3 medium eggs (room temp)

175g caster sugar plus 1-2 tbsp

175g soft unsalted butter

175 self-raising flour

1tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary plus 2 large sprigs (or whatever’s left if you’re buying a packet)

2 lemons, zested


Now, if I’m honest, I didn’t weigh my icing ingredients. I also made it with water rather than butter, but think a butter icing would be better.

For the icing/filling:

250g icing sugar

75g unsalted butter (whatever’s left from your packet after making the cake)

1 tbsp honey

1/2 jar good lemon curd


Lemon rosemary cake

Cake batter. Yum.


1. Heat your oven to gas mark 3, 160C, and grease and line 2 round cake tins (I used 8 inches – if you want a taller cake use a 7 inch tin or add another egg and adjust the flour/butter/sugar weights until they each equal the weight of your 4 eggs with their shells on).

2. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s soft, pale and fluffy.

2. Beat the eggs together and add veeeeeeery slooooooooowly to the mix, adding a little flour after the first third or so. If you’re using an electric mixer just leave the motor running and pour gently.

3. Add the lemon, rosemary and flour. Fold in gently, adding a splash of milk at the end to get a soft dropping consistency.

4. Divide the mixture between the tins. I don’t think you need to spread sponge mix out, it normally levels itself out in the oven, but I like to spread mine out with a shallow dent in the middle to prevent a domed top (the low oven temperature will also help prevent an uneven rise).

5. While the cake is cooking, make your syrup. Juice your lemons and put in a pan with the tablespoon of sugar (I’ve suggested caster sugar because that’s what I had out, but you can use icing sugar or anything other sugar you have knocking about) and the remaining rosemary. Bring to a simmer and allow it to cook gently for as long as possible. For extra rosemary power you could actually do this step before starting the cake or even the day before.

6. Bake for  at least 20 minutes, or preferably 25 before checking. My cakes needed 35 minutes, but my oven is a bit temperamental. It’s done when it springs back if you touch it with your finger, and it will also smell different when it’s ready – like freshly baked cake, oddly enough!

7. Poke it all over with a knife or skewer and gently spoon your syrup over the whole surface of both cakes. Leave them to cool in the tin for 15 minutes then remove (gently, the syrup will have made the sponge delicate) onto a wire cooling rack.

8. Once they’re cool, sandwich the cakes together with a nice fat layer of lemon curd.

9. Sieve your icing sugar and beat (gently at first!) with the other icing ingredients. You can always add more lemon curd or icing sugar if the texture isn’t quite right. Feel free to tinker until you get something you like. This amount of icing will give you a generous topping, or if stretched you could probably ice the top and centre with it instead of using lemon curd in the middle.

10. Make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and enjoy it with a slice of cake.