(Naturally) Blue Cake
Here’s a celebration of the colour blue.
Maybe it’s because I started meditating and blue brings to mind serenity. (Well, if you call 9 minutes of floaty distraction and 1 minute of actually ‘noticing my breath’ meditation.) Maybe it’s because Mirazur just topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and this is in celebration of its name. Or maybe it’s because blue is the colour of justice on the American flag, unity in Malaysia’s Jalur Gemilang, and harmony on the pride flag—values we need in these tumultuous times.
But more than all three tentative reasonings, a big part of it comes from searching the cuisines of the world and realising how rare of a colour blue is, and it’s made me love Malaysian food a little more.
“There are blue foods!” you might say. Yes, there are blueberries, blue corn, and that one eggplant dish from an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden I had 6 years ago was incandescently blue. But that’s about it. Most other things that are ‘blue’ isn’t actually. Blue steak isn’t blue, blue cheeses are more a greenish-grey, and though some sea critters might have slight shades of blue, lobsters that are truly, vividly blue are literally one in a million.
Yet in Malaysia we have blue rice in nasi kerabu, blue desserts in pulut tai-tai and seri mukas, even naturally blue cocktails that blush purple at the slightest hint of lemon juice. And all of it comes from a single source—the butterfly pea (or blue pea) flower.
So in celebration of the splatters of blue this flower has brought to the Malaysian culinaria, I made blue cake and jam. Okay technically just the glaze is blue, and the jam/curd turned purple from the lemon juice, and the cake within is your classic lemon and poppy seed bundt (a very good one at that, adapted from Sarabeth’s Good Morning cookbook). But the glaze is so strikingly, psychedelically blue and dripped so obediently that I forgive myself for not making everything blue. (Plus I’ve a feeling it wouldn’t look nearly as nice without some contrast from the bronzed crust and lilac jam anyway.)
So while I might not quite rival Dr. Seuss’s when it comes to garish food colours, at least I’d actually eat this blue cake. Yes, the whole cake.
Lemon Bundt Cake with Brilliantly Blue Glaze
Makes a 9-inch bundt cake
Lemon & poppy seed bundt (adapted from Sarabeth’s Good Morning Cookbook)
420g all-purpose flour
5g (3/4 teaspoon) baking soda
3g (3/4 teaspoon) salt
175g plain yogurt
75g whole milk
Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon (you’ll use the rest of the juice in the soaking syrup)
200g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
380g caster sugar
50g poppy seeds
Lemon soaking syrup
100g lemon juice
100g caster sugar
Blue pea flower glaze
30 blue pea flowers, stalk removed
150g icing sugar
15g (1 tablespoon) milk
~20 blue pea flowers, optional, for garnishing
Purple lemon curd (optional)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
30g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
Bundt cake: First let’s prep the dry and wet ingredients. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. And in a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, lemon zest and juice. Then, place the cubed butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attached, and beat it on high for 1 minute until smooth. Then, add in the caster sugar and continue beating for around 5 minutes, until it turns light and fluffy. Next, add in the eggs one at a time, and beat for another minute until it is well combined. Then, turn down the mixer to low, and add in a third of the flour mixture, mix it for 10-15 seconds, then add in 1/3 of the yogurt mix, and mix again. Repeat this two more times until the flour and yogurt are all incorporated in. Finally, add in the poppy seeds and mix it for a final 30 seconds until they are well-distributed.
Heat your oven to 180°C, and grease your bundt pan with a teaspoon of oil or butter. Pour the cake batter into the bundt pan, and using a spoon or spatula, smooth the surface of the batter. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Soaking syrup: As the cake is baking, place the lemon juice and sugar in a pan and bring it to a boil. Simmer until all the sugar has dissolved. When the cake is done, let it cool for 10 minutes before flipping it out of the mould, then brush it all over with the soaking syrup. (You might not use all of the syrup, but I like my cakes super moist so I forced all of it in, heh.)
Glaze: To make the glaze, combine the blue pea flowers and water in a small pot, and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 5 minutes until most of the colour has leeched out of the flowers. Strain the liquid and discard the flowers. In a separate bowl, mix the icing sugar and milk, and a tablespoon of the blue colouring. Depending on the intensity of the colour you prefer, you can add more blue colouring and/or icing sugar to adjust. But what you’re looking for is a pretty thick glaze, one that takes 2-3 seconds to droop off your spoon or spatula when lifted. (You’ll have some leftover blue colouring, which I used for the curd, though you can also reserve some for colouring rice (like in nasi kerabu) or desserts (in pulut tai-tai).)
Curd: In a bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and eggs. Place this over a pot of simmering water, but make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. (It’s a steam bath, essentially.) Using a spatula, keep stirring the liquid and scraping down the sides until it thickens. Cook this for 15 minutes over low heat. (It’ll curdle too quickly if the water below is boiling too vigorously.) If your curd isn’t smooth, just pass it through a sieve and it should smoothen out. (Don’t worry this has happened to me a couple of times because I got impatient and cranked up the heat.) Then, add in roughly two tablespoons of the blue colouring leftover from the glaze. (The blue glaze will turn purple as soon as it comes into contact with the lemon juice, and turn a weird shade of purplish-brown. It won’t look pleasant at first, but add a little more and it’ll deepen into a nice lilac.) Cook this over the steam bath, stirring continuously, for another 10 minutes until it thickens. Finally, mix in the butter to give it that nice sheen.
Serve: When your bundt cake is cool to touch, place it on a wire rack. Then, carefully pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and give the wire rack a few gentle taps to make the glaze spill off the sides. Then, top the cake with some fresh blue pea flowers. Portion the cake into 8-10 slices, and serve with some lemon curd.