When I lived in Falmouth whilst I was studying, the greengrocer on the high street offered a 10% student discount so it usually turned out a bit cheaper than the Asda up the road. As well as the usual fruit and vegetables, they also sold impossibly shiny chillies and on occasion, bunches of lemongrass stalks, three or four times longer than those you find neatly trimmed and pre-packed and a little dried out alongside the fresh herbs. Buying it from that shop was my first experience of cooking with lemongrass, so I’ve always been quite unsatisfied with offerings from elsewhere. However, as I spotted some promising looking stuff last week, I had to pick it up. Of course, then I had to find something to do with it all!
Half of it went into making some chicken skewers, using the fatter end to make a marinade with some chilli and garlic, and using the thinner end to hold the meat. The rest I decided to experiment with on baking and put a twist on a lemon drizzle cake, adding to the tropical lemongrass by substituting some of the flour for desiccated coconut.
I did a bit of hunting online for similar lemongrass cakes or syrups, but it was slim pickings. After reading a few recipes for similar things, I decided the best approach was to simmer the lemongrass in water before reducing the stock down and making a sugar syrup from that. It seemed like a logical method but I hit two snags: firstly, reducing the lemongrass stock ended up destroying much of the delicate flavour because of the prolonged heating, and secondly, because I use unrefined caster sugar with a light treacly taste, the flavour of the sugar ended up dominating the final syrup. The end result was a light and moist coconut sponge with a slight background flavour of caramel. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to tell that a stick of lemongrass had been anywhere near it.
Mistakes are meant to be learned from, so next time I have some lemongrass on hand, this is how I’d make a coconut and lemongrass drizzle cake next time.
For the lemongrass drizzle:
Preheat the oven to 160°C and line a 1lb/8×20cm loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth, either by hand or with an electric mixer. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, beat the eggs into the batter thoroughly. Add the baking powder and approximately a third of the flour and coconut and fold this into the batter gently until it has all been combined, using some of the milk to loosen the mixture. Then add the second third of the flour and more of the milk and fold in before adding the remaining flour and folding in – the batter should be thick, but fall off a spoon quite easily.
Transfer the mixture to the lined tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer pushed into the centre of the cake comes out clean or with a few small crumbs clinging to it. While the cake bakes, make the lemongrass drizzle.
Bruise the lemongrass sticks by hitting on the side with a rolling pin, and cut into manageable lengths. In a saucepan bring the water and lemongrass to the boil and simmer, uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or until the water has turned a pale green and tastes noticeably of lemongrass. Remove from the heat and strain to remove the lemongrass pieces, before dissolving the sugar in the hot stock. Leave to cool slightly until the cake is finished.
Once the cake has finished baking, pierce the top of the cake with a skewer in several places and pour over the lemongrass syrup. Sprinkle over the reserved coconut for decoration. Once the cake has cooled enough to handle, remove it from the pan and cool on a wire rack.