What better way to get one of your ‘5 a day’ than in cake form! 🙂
Nettles are a superfood, they’re packed with a long list of vitamins and minerals, as well as good fats, high in protein for a green plant and in fact contains all 12 of the essential amino acids we need to intake to make proteins in our own bodies. Nettle is anti-imflammatory and anti-histamine (so it’s good for hayfever and other allergy sufferers), it’s adaptogenic so it’s good for regulating stress hormones such as cortisol in the body, and of course it’s tasty and highly-nutritious! If you put a table of nutrients and benefits for spinach and nettle side by side, nettle will win on every single count.
Carefully harvest just the top few sets of leaves from a good clean nettle patch, away from dog walking areas, paths and roads. I use a glove on one hand and scissors in the other. Trim off any stalks at home, so you just have the fresh young leaves. We only need 85-100g fresh weight of leaves for this recipe.
If you have more nettle leaves you need, you can dry the extras, to use for tea, or to grind to a matcha-like powder or in a host of savoury dishes later. Or you can blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds, cool rapidly and squeeze the excess water out, then freeze in balled-up portions to use later. Or, you can steep in cold water and fridge overnight to drink the next day for a refreshing vitamin-rich water.
Nettle and lemon cake recipe
Recipe makes one loaf or 12 large cupcakes (using the 2″ deep cases, not the shallow ones).
Cake batter ingredients
85-100g fresh young nettle tops, stalks trimmed away, just leaves
100ml (or 93g) oil (I use veg or sunflower)
170ml (or 170g) water
Zest and juice of of half an unwaxed lemon (apx 1.5 tbsp) (prep & keep other half for the icing)
275g self-raising flour (I used a fine, ‘supreme sponge’ flour)
1 tsp baking powder
200g sugar (I used golden caster but I think any will work as a wet mix)
A pinch of salt
A pinch of mild green unsalty seaweed flakes too e.g. sea lettuce or nori – totally optional
Topping option 1: thin icing
Zest and juice of half an unwaxed lemon (other half of cake mix lemon)
200g icing sugar or powdered sugar
Mix and drizzle over the cooled cakes. Add edible flowers or a dusting of nettle matcha if you like (see note on edible flowers).
Topping option 2: vegan buttercream frosting
150g vegan or plantbased ‘butter’ block – I use Naturli
400g icing sugar or powdered sugar
Zest and juice of half an unwaxed lemon (other half of cake mix lemon)
Whisk butter with icing sugar then add lemon juice. Add extra icing sugar if want it even stiffer (it will harden on the surface though after an hour). Decorate with edible flowers or a dusting of nettle matcha (see note on edible flowers).
Zest your lemon whole then halve and juice. Keep half the zest and half the juice aside for the topping. Trim the stalks off your nettle leaves, wash, drain and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 200C, 180C fan, 400F, gas mark 6. Line a loaf tin or put 12 deeper cupcake cases in a muffin tray.
Weigh 85-100g fresh young nettle leaves in to a blender or small food processor, depending on how much you have. Add the oil, water and juice and zest of half the lemon. I’ve put the weights of the oil and water in the recipe as well as the volumes because I found it easier to weigh in into the blender cup, it makes less mess! Zero your scales between each ingredient and pour it in. Lemons vary in size so just use half a lemon but it will be work out at 1tbsp for a small lemon and 1.5 tbsp for a larger one, either is fine. Blitz to a fine green liquid. A high-speed blender gave me best results for a smooth liquid. A stick blender and beaker may work too, though it might remain a little bitty. You could even make a nettle paste using a pestle and mortar if you need to, then add the other liquids and mix well.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and add the sugar and salt. Mix up, then add the liquids and mix to a smooth batter. It’s quite a wet batter, no need to whisk loads to get air in or anything. For a single cake, place the mix into the lined loaf tin. For buns, divide the mix equally into the cupcake cases. They will rise a bit so make sure they’re the slightly larger paper cases (about 2″ deep) not the really shallow ones, or they’ll overflow!
Bake for 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, or closer to 30 minutes for a loaf cake (or until a skewer comes out clean for either style). Allow your cakes to cool completely before icing or slicing.
This cake mix could also be used for making a ‘moss’ inspired coating for other cakes! Simply allow to cool and then crumble it up, or pulse briefly in a food processor. Then coat a cake or your choice in buttercream and coat in mossy nettle cake crumbs! It looks absolutely amazing.
Thin lemon water icing
Mix together 150g icing sugar and the juice and zest of half a lemon. A teeny-tiny bit of salt may be nice too. This should be thick enough to spread on the cooled cake without it dripping off the sides, using a knife warmed in hot water if needed. Loosen the icing with a little water if you wish to actually drizzle or drip it more. Or stiffen further with more icing sugar, if desired/needed (lemons are different sizes after all, so may produce more juice than my ones did!). Decorate with edible flowers while the icing is still wet, or wait until it’s set and dust with nettle matcha powder. Blackberries are also lovely on top!
Lemon vegan buttercream frosting icing
Cream 150g vegan butter in a mixing bowl (in a block is best rather than spreadable, I use Naturli, but any will do, just room-temp softened but still cool not too warm) and whisk it with 400g icing sugar and the juice and zest of half a lemon. It should be quite thick already, but if you want it thicker, add more icing sugar, or chill it a few minutes then whip again. Decorate with edible flowers while it’s still malleable, or wait until it’s set and dust with nettle matcha powder. Blackberries are also lovely on top.
Loads of flowers are edible, especially in spring! You can also buy little packs of edible flowers from specialist suppliers, more interesting supermarkets or foodie markets. Some florists might be able to get them too.
Some are mild / flavourless but really pretty, so they’re perfect for cakes, such as violas, pansies, forsythia, dog violets, primroses and primulas, daisy and dandelion petals, green alkanet (blue flowers), forget-me-nots, cherry or plum blossom petals, quince blossom petals (red), aquilegia petals, herb robert flowers, self heal, clover, purple or white deadnettle flowers.
Magnolia petals taste a bit gingery, they would work. Sweet violets taste of parma violet sweets, but would probably pair okay with a nettle cake if not too many of them. Whole cherry or quince blossoms taste of almond. Darwin’s barberry flowers (orange) or mahonia flowers (yellow) are sweet-and-sour in flavour, if fully opened and collected on a sunny dry morning. Flowering current blooms (dark pink) are herby and a little like blackcurrant and can also work on these cakes. Rosemary flowers (baby blue) may work, if only a couple. Mint flowers (pink) might be fun! Elderflowers in small florets could work, just remove as much stem as possible as that’s not nice to eat. I don’t recommend using wild garlic flowers 🙂
Nettle matcha powder, nettle latte, cakes and ice cream
This is a wonderful ingredient to make it the spring to use throughout the year. Harvest the young spring tops from nettles while they’re fresh and abundant. Dry them by laying out in a warm room, in a very low oven with the door open, on the radiators, in an airing cupboard or in a food dehydrator until crisp and crumbly. Grind in a pestle and mortar or in a spice grinder or blender until you have a super-fine green powder. The smell is reminiscent of green tea powder called matcha, as is the colour and the way it behaves in cakes and drinks!
You can make a nettle matcha tea using hot water, or why not add your favourite plant milk or dairy milk and make a nettle matcha latte! It’s also great in cakes, mochi sweets and ice cream, substitute into any green tea matcha recipe and it will work just as well with your fine foraged nettle powder too 🙂
Inspiration and adapted recipe source/credit
My nettle cake batter recipe is adapted from a basic vegan lemon sponge cake by Kate Siddons on the BBC Good Food site. The frosting proportions came from various sources until I had settled on my favourite combo and adapted timings and so on for cupcakes.