Saturday, September 3, 2011

Baking with Herbs and Preventing Scurvy

There is no way I'll be coming down with scurvy any time soon. I adore citrus fruits, especially lemons, and the past week or so was an intense lemon-fest around here. It started with me poking my head outside, into the herb garden, and discovering that not only was the pineapple sage I planted almost as tall as my hip, but that the lemon balm and catnip had gone completely nuts as well. Since I'm still (still!) waiting on the next batch of heirlooms to ripen (as far as I can see it's going to be a gigantic Black Seaman next!) I couldn't whip up another batch of my yummy salsa, not to mention the family were off in Stratford and I wouldn't be able to eat it all.

Since I knew I did have a few opportunities to "pawn off" some baking on other deserving and gracious people, I figured that the two would work in that respect. I had previously made Hannah Kaminsky's “Sweet Basil Shortbread” (p.68 in Vegan Desserts) with a mix of pineapple sage and lemon balm, with excellent "fresh-tasting" results, so I wanted to try out something new this time around.

It actually took a while to settle on what the next herby experiments would actually be, simply because I didn't know what would really "go" with the harvested greens other than lemons. Various Google searches kept returning with savoury applications, and rarely was there anything sweet in the mix. In the long run, to make it easier on myself, I settled on looking up baked "lemon" recipes with the goal of incorporating the herbs right before baking. I didn't really want to buy berries (since few recipes ever call for a whole pint and they're pricey, even in season), but I kept finding berry-laced cakes and muffins with just a scent of lemons. I did know that the first "anything" I would do that was lemony would be lemon-poppyseed based... after a rather disasterous result the last time I tried to make a previously successful (and much loved) recipe by Anna Olson (one of three recipes by her that have failed in the last few years), finding or developing our "new favourite" became a bit of an obsession.

Ironically, I had completely whipped up the batter (based on a New Zealand's Chelsea Sugar Company recipe for "Lemon Syrup Loaf") and popped it into the oven, patting myself on the back because I had been able to boost the tang and "lemoniness" while lowering the fat and sugar (thanks to using 3 lemons, some low-fat quark and the Krisda prize pack I got from Kristine at Busy But Healthy) when I realized something. In the interest of keeping the herbs as fresh as possible before being chopped, I forgot to go out and pick them. Yeah... so the Lemon-Poppy-Herb Loaf turned into a regular old Lemon Poppyseed Bread - with the twist of a sour-sweet syrup soaked into it fresh out of the oven. The lemoniness was undeniable, and the moisture and tang from the fresh cheese and syrup won the heart and tastebuds of my RMT and other practitioners at the Clinic.

Sticky Lemon-Poppy Loaf
Serves 10
2 eggs
120 g low-fat quark (or smooth ricotta) cheese
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp lemon extract (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice
grated zest of 3 lemons
1/3 cup sugar
2 packets Krisda powder
1 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup low-fat milk
2 tbsp poppy seeds

1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a medium loaf pan with parchment.
  2. Beat together egg, egg powder and water, quark, butter, extracts, juice and zest.
  3. Add the sugar and both stevias and beat well.
  4. Stir in flours, salt, baking powder and milk, then add poppy seeds and mix until combined.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, mix together the drizzle ingredients.
  7. While the loaf is still hot, poke holes over the surface of the loaf and pour over the syrup. Cool completely in the tin.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 189.8
Total Fat: 4.7 g
Cholesterol: 46.7 mg
Sodium: 42.4 mg
Total Carbs: 33.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.1 g
Protein: 5.6 g

As good as the loaf was, it still left me with that little dilemma of too much "herbage" proliferating outside. So I got busy, intending to just make a batch of cookies for the girls at our hair salon (as I always do when coming to an appointment). Well, in the search for a "new", sweet herby or lemony cookie that was either already vegan or which I could veganize easily, I came across both a second loaf-cake (which actually had lemon balm inside!) and some promising cupcakes from VegWeb that I could play with (since the previous loaf took up the last of my poppyseeds) along with a glittery "icebox" style cookie. Since the cookies had to chill, I wanted to make them first - deciding on a whim to make them not only herbed, vegan, lower-sugar, and lower-fat in my version, but gluten free as well. One of the benefits of my baking arsenal and a decent amount of experience baking gluten free (nowhere near as stellar as the GF food bloggers out there however) is that I can do that - I know the rough ratios of flours and starches in baked goods (and which taste best when), where guar or xanthan gum needs to be added, or where to add an extra egg.

Thankfully, my alterations not only worked, they flew. It's hard to pass up a bright, sparkly lemony cookie - even when there is mention of herbs in the dough. Again, the "fresh" flavour of the lemon balm in these little gems really shone through, enhancing the lemon zest and juice and adding just that little bit of interest that can fall by the wayside in common slice-and-bakes. The two gals with celiac who worked at the salon loved them, as did the rest of the "vultures" (their name for themselves) who snapped them up!

Lemon-Herb Cookies
Makes 30
4 oz shortening or vegan margarine (like Earth Balance)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg replacer, prepared
zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup millet flour
½ cup sorghum flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 tbsp agar agar flakes, ground to a powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup minced lemon balm
Yellow coloured sugar (optional)
  1. Beat shortening and sugar.
  2. Add egg replacer, lemon zest and juice, beat well.
  3. Add flours, cornstarch, agar, baking powder, salt and lemon balm.
  4. Shape dough into 2 logs , wrap in plastic and chill 2 to 3 hours (up to 4 days in the fridge, 6 months in the freezer).
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 cookie sheets.
  6. Cut logs into ¼  thick slices and place 1" apart. Sprinkle with yellow sugar.
  7. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 15 minutes. Cool on the sheets 5 minutes then move to a wire rack and cool completely.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 81.1
Total Fat: 3.4 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 1.1 mg
Total Carbs: 12.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.5 g
Protein: 0.8 g

Once I had the cookie dough nicely squared away in the fridge, I turned to the next find of mine - the cupcakes. I opted not to frost, turning them into light and fluffy muffins, and rather than just have a one-note "lemon" flavour with actual herbs in the finished product I brought in another lemon-loving ingredient: tea. I am such a fan of tea with a squeeze of lemon juice, and wondered if it would work out in these babies. Instead of a plain liquid addition (in this case, low-fat soy milk), I heated it over the stove, added teabags and the lemon balm, and let it infuse as it cooled before straining it. I made a few more of my "usual" tweaks before popping them in the oven, and though the tea flavour was subtle it was still there in the end. If you're as big a fan of black tea with lemon as I am, you'll LOVE these.

Tea with Lemon Muffins
Makes 12
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used low-fat soy)
2 black teabags
¼ cup minced lemon balm
½ cup flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup brown sugar
4 packets Krisda stevia (or 2 tbsp + 2 tsp sugar)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
  1. Heat milk in a small bowl in the microwave or in a pot on the stove. Add teabags and lemon balm, stir, and set aside until cool. Strain and set liquid aside.
  2. Preheat oven 350°F, line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease.
  3. Combine milk and herbs in a small pot and bring to a low simmer. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 15 minutes. Remove teabags.
  4. Mix together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  5. In a large bowl, mix together oil, applesauce, sugar, stevia, lemon zest and juice, vanilla and milk mixture.
  6. Add the dry ingredients, folding in well.
  7. Bake 20 minutes. Cool in the tin 5 minutes, then unmould.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 93.0
Total Fat: 2.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 45.8 mg
Total Carbs: 16.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.2 g
Protein: 2.2 g

The last, but not least, in my lemony baking spree almost wasn't. I said earlier in this post that I didn't want to make a lemon-berry cake recipe because I couldn't afford to waste half a container on a cake gone wrong. I was fully prepared to go simply with the lemon and graham-cracker-laced cake I had envisioned, until when looking for dinner inspiration in our deep freezer I stumbled onto a full bag of "Antioxidant Fruit Blend" - basically a mix of cherries, black currants, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. Score one for the baker... until bake day, when my search for graham cracker crumbs (which I know I had!) came up empty. Luckily I did find a half-crushed bag of Vector cereal on that shelf, which suited the purpose fine after I finished their decimation. Then I wound up using a loaf pan that was a bit too big for the amount of batter, but with a tiny alteration to the bake time (just 5 minutes less than the correct recipe below states) it emerged as a low (but unburnt) dessert studded with bursts of berry. Call it desperation to bake, call it stubbornness, but the truth is the enjoyers of the recipe called it tea-time!

Lemon Balm Berry Cake
Serves 10
1 1/2 cups graham (or whole wheat) flour
3/4 cup Vector (or your favourite crunchy-flake) cereal, crushed
1 tsp turmeric (optional)
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp stevia extract powder
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp fresh-grated ginger
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 eggs
3/4 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup minced lemon balm
2 tbsp minced pineapple sage
1 cup mixed berries, fresh or frozen (I used Europe's Best Antioxidant blend)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, grease a medium (8") loaf pan.
  2. Combine flour, cereal crumbs, turmeric, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together sugar, honey, vanilla, stevia, butter, ginger, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add eggs and beat well.
  4. Stir in milk followed by the dry ingredients and herbs, then fold in berries.
  5. Bake for 55 minutes.
  6. Cool in the pan 15 minutes, then unmould and cool on a rack.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 187.7
Total Fat: 6.6 g
Cholesterol: 50.1 mg
Sodium: 77.7 mg
Total Carbs: 27.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g
Protein: 2.4 g

Have you used herbs in sweet baking before? What did you make?


  1. Great post ... I've used lemon verbena in shortbread cookies, lemon thyme in an herbal mix that I toss with pasta. I'm wondering, though, what to do with pineapple sage?

  2. Wow, you've been busy! I just lemon in almost anything. I have to be careful, though, if my son detects it he reminds me how much he doesn't like it! You baked goodies look and sound amazing, and so fresh. Thanks for the terrific recipes!


Thanks for the feedback!