Herbal and effervescent, a gin and tonic is known as one of the most refreshing concoctions in existence. I’m not sure why the drink has been on my mind lately; perhaps it’s the recent surge of warm weather, or more likely, my own need for invigoration. Whatever the reason, I was quick to transform the classic cocktail into a fresh dessert – first in my mind, then in my kitchen. After all, why not have your gin and eat it, too?
Juniper berries are intrinsic to gin, so it seemed natural to reach for them here, ignoring their common use as a savory seasoning. A bit sweet and sour with a hint of pepper and pine, the little blue spheres taste a lot like the liquor they flavor: aromatic, clean, earthy and botanical. I chose a unique, locally-sourced gin that proved to be simultaneously warm, cool and forest-like on the palate. It was sure to pair wondrously with tangy tonic water and fresh lime, not merely to sip but to bite, chew and savor.
Gin and Tonic Cake (makes an 8″ round cake; serves 10-12)
3 small limes
45 juniper berries (about 1 tablespoon)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup gin, divided (preferably St. George Spirits’ Terroir)
¾ cup tonic water (fresh; not flat)
2 cups powdered sugar
Line an 8” cake pan with parchment paper; lightly grease paper and sides of pan. Preheat oven to 350 F. Finely zest limes; set aside zest. Juice limes and measure out ¼ cup juice and, separately, 1 tablespoon juice; set both aside. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, mash 30 of the juniper berries until small flakes are formed; set aside. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, granulated sugar and vanilla until even and smooth.
Sift over the egg mixture: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix on low speed, gradually adding 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/3 cup gin. Beat until smooth. Toss in the lime zest and crushed juniper berries, mixing until evenly disbursed. Gently fold in the tonic water with a spatula, then quickly pour into prepared pan. (If desired, watch the batter bubble, brown and gloriously raise in your oven!) Ultimately, bake the cake for about 40-45 minutes, checking center with a wooden skewer or toothpick at the 35 or 40 minute mark; cake is done when golden, domed, and no wet batter appears.
Remove cake from oven and let cool in pan at least 20-30 minutes. (For a stronger gin flavor, brush the cake with 1-2 more tablespoons of gin at this point, if desired.) Loosen sides of cake with a butter knife, and carefully transfer cake to a wire rack placed over a baking sheet. While cake cools a bit longer on rack, place the powdered sugar, remaining tablespoon lime juice, and remaining 1/3 cup gin in a saucepan. Whisk over low/medium heat until just bubbling. Let bubble for about 20-30 seconds (longer will turn sugar into a clear sticky glaze). Remove from heat and keep stirring.
Working quickly, pour half of the glaze over cake; it will harden quickly. Immediately repeat with second half of glaze, letting it drip down the sides of the cake. Reserve a bit of glaze in pan, tossing the remaining 15 juniper berries in it. If glaze in pan is already too hard, place pan over low heat momentarily. Using small tongs or baking tweezers (the sugar coating is quite hot), quickly place glazed juniper berries evenly around edges of cake and a few in the center. (You may notice that I only used 8 around the edges of my cake, but I suggest placing 12+ around the edges so that each slice bears at least one berry.) Store the cake covered at room temperature (don’t refrigerate); eat within 2 or 3 days.
With an undeniable echo of the cocktail behind it, the gin and tonic cake offers herbal undertones and citrusy traces of juniper in a moist and fulfilling format. The sweet, boozy glaze envelops a tender crumb, giving each bite both crispness and a kick. While the fizzy carbonation will vanish from the end result, its tiny air pockets make for a springy and scrumptious dessert. Refreshment, sweetness, and good spirits – what more do you really need?
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers where this post first appeared.