Summer has finally arrived full on here in Northern Finland and the time of foraging has begun. One of the first categories of foraging goods are the wild herbs, and many of them you can keep harvesting all summer long. Wild herbs usually should be collected when they are young, in order to have the best results in properties and in taste.
One of my favorite wild herbs is spruce tips, or buds. (Yes, our definition for the term “wild herbs” is quite broad.) They are easy to pick, they taste nice and they have great beneficial properties. Spruce tips are exceptionally high in Vitamin C, rich in minerals and contain carotenoids, aka lots of antioxidant properties. One of the most traditional uses for spruce tips here in the north has been as an ingredient for cough syrup.
As with all wild herbs, spruce tips should be picked from a clean area. Make sure that there are no roadways nearby, and maybe pick them after a rainy day. (Not on a rainy day, they should be picked up dry, so that they survive longer and don’t start to rot). Picking up spruce tips is not included in everyman’s rights, so make sure you have the land owner’s permission, or pick them from your own lands.
Spruce tips are in our opinion best fresh, soft and tasty. You can use them just like that in salads, or you can season foods with them, a little bit like rosemary. For example, big game meat such as elk benefits greatly from the fresh and foresty taste of spruce tips. You can flavor honey with them, eat them with vanilla ice cream… the options are endless. You can also make syrup out of it, or infuse it into a herbal liqueur.
Spruce Tip Layer Cake
We wanted to make a cake that tasted like a Nordic forest in springtime, so we decided to use spruce syrup to moisten the mint sponge cakes, top the cake with spruce tip sugar and add a little freshness to the frosting with lemon zest.
You might decide to make more of the Spruce Syrup and just use it for other purposes, such as making foresty lattes or on pancakes!
For this cake I used two 11,5 cm / 4 ½ inch pans. What to do if you don’t have such mini pans? Well, you have several options:
* Double the ingredients and use two bigger pans of 16 cm / 6 ½ inch
* Use a bigger pan, double the amount of ingredients and make a two layer cake
* Buy two small pans (smaller cakes look cute, it’s easier to frost them, serve many people because the are so tall and are still small enough to finish without fearing diabetes)
Spruce Tip Cake
For the Mint Sponge Cake
- 2 eggs
- Small pinch of salt
- 60 g sugar
- Zest of half a lemon
- 5 or 6 mint leaves
- 30 g flour
- 30 g potato starch
For the Syrup
- 10 g spruce tips
- 1 tbsp 25 g honey
- 4 tbsp 60 g water
For the frosting
- 250 g cream cheese
- 50 ml heavy cream
- 60 g powdered sugar
- Zest of half a lemon
For the Spruce Tip Syrup:
- Add the spruce tips, the honey and the water and let it soak overnight. Sieve the syrup before use.
For the Mint Sponge Cakes:
- Preheat the oven to 160°C/320F.
- Place in a blender the sugar and the mint leaves and blend until the sugar will turn green.
- Add a small pinch of salt to the eggs and beat them for at least 10 minutes, adding little by little the mint sugar.
- Add to the mixture the sieved flour and potato starch and carefully mix the batter with a spatula (do not overmix!).
- Place baking paper and grease the borders of two 4.5 inch (11,5 cm) springform pans and divide the batter into the two pans.
- Bake both cakes at the same time (they are so small that they fit together!) for 25 minutes. Check if the cakes are cooked by inserting a toothpick into the cake: if it will come out clean, the cake is cooked.*
For the frosting:
- In a bowl, whip the cream cheese, the powdered sugar, the heavy cream and the lemon zest until the frosting will be homogeneous and firm.
- Once the cakes are cooled, remove them from the springform pans, even them out with a knife and cut them into two lengthwise, so as to have four layers.
- Place the first layer on a plate or cake stand, moisten it with the spruce tip syrup and spread a thin layer of frosting, levelling it out.
- Repeat the procedure for all the layers and cover the cake top and sides with a very thin layer of frosting. Place the cake and remaining frosting in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let them harden and stabilize and frost the cake a second time with a thicker layer of frosting.
- Serve with spruce tips, mint leaves and spruce sugar.