One hot summer evening over ten years ago, I tried basil and chocolate together for the first time. It is a memory that hasn’t left me, and I find the combination of these two ingredients almost perfection. Since that night I have been frequently day-dreaming of a layer cake to bring these two ingredients together, but never got around to making it for one reason or another. This week, however, I decided it was time. Hello, simple dreams, now is the moment to awaken you! step into you! before I am just another faded star, twinkling in the night sky.
I went with my favorite chocolate cake recipe; it’s such a great cake and I knew it would be the perfect base. I also wanted to infuse the basil into the icing to make it smooth and creamy [and not full of leafy chunks], so I used a buttercream recipe made with heated cream, so the basil could steep in the milk over night.
It was a success! Upon first bite my taste buds were pleasantly hit with the basil, and then the chocolate and basil flavors slowly intertwined, leaving a perfect and completely delicious taste of cake in my mouth. Here it is, my own celebration cake.
Chocolate Cake with Basil Buttercream
The batter will be very, very liquidity, so don’t let that worry you. Remember that the sugar goes in with the dry ingredients – I have left it out twice now on accident and had to remake the cake. Instead of brewed coffee, you could substitute heated up cold press [which is what I do] and it works just as well. If you are not a coffee fan, you could just use hot water, but I haven’t tried that out, so I can’t guarantee you if the cake will still be as rich and wonderful. [My husband, who hates coffee, eats this cake with the coffee in it and has never complained].
1 3/4 cup [249g] all-purpose flour
2 cups [400g] granulated sugar
3/4 cup [75g] good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely, removing parchment paper.
Place one layer, flat side up, on a plate [you can cut the layers in half, but please read the notes for the frosting]. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
This frosting makes just enough to cover the cake and two or three layers. I had originally cut the two layers of cake I had baked in half, hoping for four, but I was running out of frosting so just used three. Next time around, I would double this recipe. If you don’t want to cut the cake layers in half, you should have enough, but you won’t be able to do any decorating/pipping. A crumb coat is a good idea here, this cake is very tender. Make sure when you are mixing together the sugar and flour that you spend 30 seconds to a full minute whisking them together well. This will help the flour not to lump up as it cooks.
The first day this frosting is made the basil flavor is present but delicate, and it develops the longer it sits. I loved it on days two and three, but my family thought it was too strong. Also, if basil isn’t your thing, I could see this working really well with fresh mint.
(A lovely reader sent in this tip to get the frosting tinted green: After simmering and cooling down the basil leaves in the cream, put the mixture in the food processor until combined (but be very careful not to whip the cream!) Set the mixture over a fine strainer and filter the chopped basil leaves out. The result: a pale green buttercream. Even after beating the butter in later, it stayed nice pale green. I haven’t tried this yet, but let me know if you do! And note, this might make for a much stronger taste of basil in the buttercream.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup [48 g] all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups [3 sticks | 339 g] unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces (about 70 degrees – butter should be soft enough to mix well, but firm enough to give some structure to the buttercream)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the milk, heavy cream, and basil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat gently, until just simmering, and remove from the heat. Let cool, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Remove basil leaves from cream, squeezing any ‘basil juice’ from the leaves into the cream.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together for 45 seconds, making sure they are well combined. Add the milk-cream-basil mixture and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool, 7 to 9 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about another 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.