Lemon, pistachio & rose cakes

Lemon, cake, fondant, icing, french, french fancies, frenchfancies, fondant fancy, fondant fancies, fondantfancies, sweet, pistachio, rose, nuts, moroccon, morocco, retro, baking, bake, chocolate, GBBO, homecook, Philip, sponge, genoise, philipfriend, Philip friend, BBC’s, bbc1, kipling, Mrkipling, mr kipling, television, Mary Berry, Maryberry, Claudia Winkleman, Claudiawinkleman

Rose, lemon and pistachio work so well together and my poshing-up of the classic fondant fancies – real, unashamed retro food – gives what I think is a delightful sweet treat.

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Fondant fancies work well with a Victoria Sponge mixture but I prefer the lightness of a Genoise sponge, and a 2-egg mixture is enough to give 12 cakes.

Rose can be such a difficult flavour, I think. Like lavender, subtlety is the key: too much and it smells like a grannie’s pot pourri-filled underwear draw (ok, I’ve never been there, but in my mind……) and has a taste that must be like eating soap!

But used sparingly, it can add such a delicate nuance to dishes. Here, the rose is used to flavour the buttercream, and there is a punchy tang of lemon in both the icing and the sponge, making these cakes really come alive.

The easiest way to coat and ice these cakes

The sponge has two coats of icing: a thin buttercream and then the fondant icing. The buttercream not only adds flavour, it ensures that when the fondant is poured over it will set to give a smooth finish.

It can be something of a chore to spread the buttercream around the cakes. Not to mention risking crumbs falling into the icings or the delicate cake crumbling.

The following approach make this a much easier affair:

  • freeze the cooled sponge before cutting it into cubes: this ensures clean cuts without crumbs being shed
  • heat the buttercream (the under-coat!) in the microwave until very runny and dip the frozen cubes of cake into it: this makes this first costing very quick to do and will also make the icing set perfectly smooth almost instantly
  • make sure the fondant icing (the top coat!) is slightly runny: if you lift some out and let it fall back into the bowl, the icing should vanish very quickly
  • put a butter-creamed cake on a knife or spatula and hover it over the fondant icing before spooning the fondant over: give it a gentle shake gently and letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Place onto a wire rack this time with paper underneath to catch further drips. Once fully set, use a palette knife to lift the cakes off.

Recipe: lemon, pistachio & rose cakes – makes 12

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 70g self-raising flour
  • 70g caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted
  • 30g pistachios, crushed finely
  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar
  • about 1 tablespoon rose water
  • 300g fondant icing sugar
  • lemon juice to mix
  • a little yellow food colouring
To finish:
  • about 40g melted dark chocolate
  • about a tablespoon of crushed pistachios

(1) Grease and line a small rectangular cake tin (about 6” by 8”) with greaseproof, pressing down firmly into the corners. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan).

(2) Whisk the eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water until thick, moussey and about doubled in volume.

(3) Sieve the flour on top of the egg mixture and fold in very carefully with a large metal spoon. When most of the flour has been incorporated, sprinkle over the pistachios and pour the butter around the edge, folding in just until there are no visible streaks of butter. Pour the mixture into the tin and gently tilt so the mixture fills in the corners.

(4) Bake for 12-15 minutes or until well risen and a light golden-brown. It should have a gentle spring if you lightly touch the surface.

(5) Cool for 5 minutes in the tin and then lift out the cake using the paper to help it out. Leave to cool fully in the paper.

Tops tip: freeze the cake when it has cooled and cut it into cubes from frozen. This prevents the cake from breaking apart or crumbs falling into the icing.

(6) Make the buttercream by beating the ingredients together for several minutes until very soft and smooth. Taste and add a little more rose water if you think it needs it, but don’t go overboard as it can dominate very quickly.

(7) Remove a couple of tablespoons of the buttercream and set aside. Heat the rest of the buttercream in the microwave until it becomes very runny.

(8) Place a sheet of baking paper onto a flat plate or chopping board. Take a cake cube (ideally straight from the freezer) and stick a fork underneath: even though the cake is frozen, it won’t be solid and the fork will go in easily.

(9) Dip into the runny buttercream and lift it out again. Use a knife to gently prise it off the fork and onto the baking paper. Repeat with the other cake cubes and chill until you are ready to apply the fondant icing. You can pipe or spoon a little of the reserved buttercream for the characteristic bobble on top.

NB: dipping the frozen cake into the icing will make the icing set smooth almost instantly. 

(10) Make the fondant icing by mixing enough lemon juice to give a thick but pourable icing.

(11) Take a cake and place it on a spatula. Hover it over the fondant icing and with your other hand spoon the fondant over it generously, making sure it cascades down all the sides. Shake gently to let the excess drip back into the bowl. Place onto a wire rack this time with paper underneath to catch further drips. Repeat with the remaining cakes.

(12) Sprinkle a few pistachios over the cakes and drizzle over or pipe melted chocolate. Leave until the icing has set and use a palette knife to lift the cakes off.


Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

2 thoughts on “Lemon, pistachio & rose cakes”

  1. ok, now I have ZERO excuses not to try to make these… the tip about melting the buttercream is genius, I can tell how much it will help the whole process

    I need to keep calm and go for it!


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