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baking cake

chocolate cake with basil buttercream

Friday, May 4, 2012
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.

the chocolate cake
Ina Garten

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 flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
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.

basil buttercream
adapted from Baked:Explorations

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. 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. {or rosemary?}

[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 all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) 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 tsp pure vanilla extract

Combine 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. 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, 7-9 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 1-2 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.
  • Reply
    RecipeGirl
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:08 am

    beautiful! And Basil Buttercream?? Pretty much a brilliant idea!

  • Reply
    Amy
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Love this! I would have never thought to pair basil buttercream with chocolate cake, but it sounds amazing! Beautiful cake as well!

  • Reply
    Sacha
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I’ve never played with the two flavors in my own kitchen, but there is a lovely restaurant in Boston that serves this dark, rich chocolate terrine with basil ice cream and a sprinkle of maldon. Your cake is so beautiful and perfectly frosted! I use that frosting recipe quite often, and it’s great for infusing flavors.

  • Reply
    Laura (Blogging Over Thyme)
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:30 am

    I’m in culinary school and just a few weeks ago, we paired a deliciously moist chocolate cake with basil ice cream. TO DIE FOR! Love the idea of turning this delicious pairing into a cake 🙂

  • Reply
    BigFatBaker
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:41 am

    This sounds amazing!! I never thought of basil buttercream but its nothing short of brilliant. I love Ina’s chocolate cake too… Must try this ASAP!

  • Reply
    Ashlae
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:43 am

    Yes, yes, yes to basil + chocolate. If I wouldn’t break out in hives, I’d reach through the screen for a bite of that cake.

    Gorgeous cake, by the way.

  • Reply
    Spencer
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Looks absolutely delicious! I would love to try some.

  • Reply
    Amrita
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 6:42 am

    I’m gasping at basil buttercream. You know, I’m weak-willed. Every time I make a birthday cake I get all excited because it gives me a chance to explore butter-creams and flavour combinations with a twist. And then I wimp out and go back to my usual chocolate-on-chocolate.

    The cake looks gorgeous, but you already know that.

  • Reply
    london bakes
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Basil and chocolate are such a wonderful combination and this buttercream sounds like such a wonderful complement to the richness of that cake.

  • Reply
    Laura
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    This is so dreamy. The cake, your words and gorgeous photographs. Mega love. Open a bake shop next to my house and teach me all of your secrets please? Ok thanks 🙂

  • Reply
    Anna
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Wow. This sounds amazing!

  • Reply
    Jeanine
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I love basil in anything – I’m so intrigued by your frosting… I’ll have to give it a try!

  • Reply
    marissa at the boot
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    this is so inventive and beautiful! i am truly intrigued. 🙂

  • Reply
    rmdc
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    You never (ever) cease to amaze me, Sarah. This sounds magical!

  • Reply
    la domestique
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I love it when an idea marinates for a long time (10 years!) and then finally comes to fruition. I think the basil leaves are so pretty atop the cake. I can’t wait to try this flavor combo.

  • Reply
    Holly
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I am so intrigued by the basil buttercream! I must try this, as I am already conjuring up ways to infuse other herbs as well.

  • Reply
    kankana
    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Chocolate and mint .. yes. Chocolate and basil .. for the first time! You got me very curious about the flavor.

  • Reply
    Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles
    Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    This sounds so interesting! I’m intrigued… Happy MN weekend to you!

  • Reply
    Marjolein
    Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I was totally enthusiastic about this recipe, so I tried it today. I made a small change and I managed to get the pale green color in the frosting.
    I used fresh basil leaves and after simmering and cooling down I put the mixture in the foodprocessor. It did not get really puree, so I put it into a sif to filter the chopped basil leaves out.
    The result: a green mixture. Even after whipping the butter in, it stayed nice pale green.

    Thanks for posting this recipe!
    best greetings from Holland.

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 2:59 am

      Oh, this is perfect! Thank you so much, I’m going to add this to my frosting notes on the post. Did you enjoy the frosting? {i hope so!}

  • Reply
    dessert girl
    Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Brilliant! Bookmarking now!

  • Reply
    vanillasugarblog
    Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    that is just gorgeous my dear. i would love to try this, basil must taste so good in a frosting; i would want to make it a touch more green though.
    do you grow your own herbs? i need to get on that
    (looks like I’ve missed a lot of your posts, sorry about that!!)

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 1:47 am

      I do grow my own herbs – it’s about the only thing I can keep alive, along with rhubarb. :/ I’m a terrible gardener. {And no worries about missing posts! I’m behind on all my blog love, too. 🙂 }

  • Reply
    Renee
    Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 1:53 am

    Totally smitten. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen
    Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Unbelievable! Basil buttercream?!

  • Reply
    Kasey
    Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Sarah, I have been experimenting with pairing fruits and herbs a lot lately, and even chocolate and spices…but chocolate and basil? I would have never thought of such a combination. It sounds magical…This just might have to be my birthday cake this year!

    xoxo

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 1:54 am

      If you make it, let me know! I find that it is pretty magical. 🙂

  • Reply
    Kelsey
    Monday, May 7, 2012 at 3:20 am

    The photos alone, friend, seriously! Then basil buttercream? Top notch. I love basil and chocolate together, actually, one of our favorite restaurants locally has a vegan/raw brownie with julienned basil on top. Unreal. High fives, Sarah! Thinking of you tonight.

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 1:55 am

      Thank you Kelsey. {and those brownies sound amazing!}

  • Reply
    Megan Pence
    Monday, May 7, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Oh dear goodness – there are no words to say how badly I want to try this combination.

  • Reply
    thelittleloaf
    Monday, May 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    What an absolutely fascinating combination. I’ve never had basil and chocolate together but can imagine the sweetness of basil works wonderfully. And that cake with all its layers looks so moist and delicious. Fab post! 🙂

  • Reply
    Heather Mulholland
    Monday, May 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    What a fascinating combination, I wish I was a better baker to make this.

  • Reply
    Elaina @ Flavour
    Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Oh my goodness, I love everything about basil and adore that you used it in this cake! I’m going to be planting cinnamon basil and can’t wait to bake with it!! Thanks for the inspiration. x

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 1:56 am

      Let me know what you come up with! I adore basil, too. 🙂

  • Reply
    Em (Wine and Butter)
    Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I know so many people for whom that is the perfect chocolate cake… but I could never fully make it work. My personal fave is actually Nigella Lawsons BUT I do adore chocolate and basil. I’d love to make your basil buttercream to go atop that cake… yum!!!

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 1:57 am

      I’m sorry you can’t make this cake work! I have a cake like that, too – one by America’s Test Kitchen. Every time I make it, it is a disaster. And everyone raves about it. Alas.

  • Reply
    OCFoodBlogger
    Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 2:46 am

    I love the basil leaves as the garnish. Simple yet pretty.

  • Reply
    Anonymous
    Friday, May 25, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I’m making this RIGHT NOW, re-read many times, and wish there were some note as to when to strain the basil leaves out. The final buttercream looks so perfect in the photo, the leaves couldn’t have been left in while whipping…? Ahh! Help.

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Friday, May 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      I fixed it in the instructions, and 1,000 heartfelt apologies!! I hope it still turns out wonderful for you.

  • Reply
    vanilla bean blog
    Friday, May 25, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Goodness, it’s not clear. I am so sorry. I took them out after letting them sit over night in the fridge. I will make this more obvious!! So so sorry. – sarah

  • Reply
    Kelsie
    Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 8:19 am

    I tried making the cake last night and both pans sunk in the middle. What did I do wrong? The basil buttercream turned out brilliant though!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Kelsie – I’m not quite sure! I’ve only had them sink just a teeny bit when I didn’t bake them quite long enough. But otherwise they’ve always risen fine. I’m so sorry! But I’m glad the buttercream turned out well. Can you cover them up with lots of frosting? 🙂

      • Reply
        Kelsie
        Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 12:22 am

        Haha well I was going to try but the shape was just not working. I am going to attempt again though! Thanks for the great recipe!

  • Reply
    Jane
    Friday, May 17, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Just made this recipe – delicious! I should have listened about doubling the frosting, though 6 sticks of butter seems rather excessive for one cake. I did make 4 layers and also added a layer of fresh sliced strawberries to each filling. I think it’s a new favorite!

  • Reply
    Amanda
    Monday, June 3, 2013 at 11:18 am

    FYI – technically this is a butter roux frosting because it includes cooked flour. It is divine! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Thanks Amanda! And, I’m so glad you like it! 😉

  • Reply
    emma
    Sunday, January 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    my sister and i made this for our mom’s birthday. we had planned to wait a day for her actual birthday to eat it, but it just smelled so amazing that we had to have it as soon as possible!!! the frosting is so yummy and the basil flavor comes out a few seconds after you take a bite. thank you for the recipe!!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Sunday, January 26, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      Hi Emma! I’m so glad you liked it. It’s one of my favorite cakes! 🙂

  • Reply
    Aimee
    Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I’m not sure what I did but my Buttercream Frosting has turned out runny and even though I keep trying to cool it and then whip it, it doesn’t seem to thicken. It tastes great but isn’t the right consistency. What could I have done incorrectly or is there a way to fix it? Thanks!!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Friday, February 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Aimee! I saw on instagram you had frosted the cake – did the frosting turn out ok? I’m not quite sure what the problem was, but if it happens to you again, you can try refrigerating the frosting until it’s chilled, then adding more powdered sugar – a little bit at a time, until it thickens up.

      • Reply
        cgbookcat1
        Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 9:36 pm

        Hi Sarah, the frosting recipe as written says granulated rather than powdered sugar. I’m making this tomorrow and just assumed you meant powdered sugar. Granulated could make the frosting too runny. Maybe that was Aimee’s issue?

        • Reply
          Sarah
          Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 10:45 pm

          Hello- granulated sugar is correct! I’ve made this many times and never had a problem with it. (I suggested to Aimee to add powdered sugar to it after it was cooked and cooled to try and help save the buttercream since it was runny). If the cooled flour/sugar/basil mixture and butter are both room temp (about 70F) the buttercream should work just fine. Let me know how it turns out for you!

          • cgbookcat1
            Friday, May 27, 2016 at 8:06 am

            Got it, thank you! I did add a little bit of extra powdered sugar, but didn’t need much.

      • Reply
        Aimee Mars
        Friday, June 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm

        Well, it’s several years later and here I am making this cake again. Although this time I’m going for a chocolate buttercream frosting instead of the Basil Buttercream (which I ended up eventually mastering and love). It’s funny – after I had problems with the buttercream frosting I took it upon myself to learn many frosting recipes and now come up with my own flavor creations!

        I didn’t notice your response back then, but yes the cake did turn out and yes I did snap it for Instagram!! Therefore I’m making it again for probably the 10 time since my original comment.

        • Reply
          Sarah
          Saturday, June 25, 2016 at 4:41 pm

          I’m so glad you liked it, mastered it, and are now making your own. Buttercream can feel so intimidating at first, but once you figure it out, it’s so fun to come up with frosting combinations. 🙂

          • Aimee
            Friday, November 4, 2016 at 8:44 am

            Well, thanks for the inspiration!! It all started right here and in fact I’m writing about my own favorite buttercream recipe on my site and linking to this post.

  • Reply
    Sophie
    Sunday, April 13, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Wow, beautiful cake ! Can’t wait to try the idea of basil with chocolate. Sounds yum !

  • Reply
    Ace
    Friday, May 23, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Oh dear I’ve made this frosting twice with beautiful results but now I’ve made it 4 more times (in a single day) and my final frosting keeps separating. I’m using chilled butter and the mixture is completely cool before I start whipping (even the bowl is cool to the touch). Do you have any suggestions? I refrigerate the final frosting but it comes out looking lumpy and separated still. I’m so disappointed! I adore this frosting!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Friday, May 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      I’m so sorry you’re having trouble! I’m glad to hear you have had some success with it. I’m wondering if the chilled butter is too cold? The butter needs to be soft (about 70 degrees) but not warm, which is what I meant by cool (but I’ll add the temperature in the directions). ‘If it’s too cold it won’t mix freely with the other ingredients, but if it’s beginning to melt it can’t form a good emulsion. At its ideal temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s soft enough to mix well but firm enough to give structure to the buttercream (from everydaylife.globalpost.com) I did find this article from The Kitchn about saving a broken buttercream: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-rescue-how-to-save-a-br-69323 which might help. Did you start with chilled butter the first two times you made it?

      • Reply
        Ace
        Friday, May 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm

        Oh that is so helpful thank you!! I can’t remember how chilled my butter was before but if I know me I’d say it was probably pretty soft. I’ll try that next time. I was able to whip it up with about 2 cups of powdered sugar but I can tell if it gets too hot it’s going to all separate again on me. Hopefully the weather holds tomorrow. Thanks again! I’ll try to make it this week with softer butter and see if that works.

  • Reply
    Plum Cupcakes with Basil Frosting | Andy's Kitchen Corner
    Sunday, August 24, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    […] very high speed, incorporating butter as you go in order to give it structure. I strongly adapted the original recipe because it asked for 430g (eek!) of butter, which I thought was excessive. I don’t want to […]

  • Reply
    Amaretto Cake with Chocolate Mousse Filling
    Friday, January 30, 2015 at 6:02 am

    […]   Cake recipe from The Cake Bible, mousse adapted from Hershey's, frosting adapted from The Vanilla Bean Blog. I used all weights when I made the cake but have included the volume measurements from the book as […]

  • Reply
    Rosemary shortbread cookies - Dessert Tales
    Friday, November 6, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    […] just opened up a whole new world of desserts and herbs to further explore. Like this recipe with chocolate cake with basil buttercream I’ve on bookmark for a while […]

  • Reply
    Vickie
    Friday, January 6, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    The link to your favorite chocolate cake link is broke.
    I’m getting an error message page can’t be found.
    Where can I find it please and thank you. I’ve searched all around your blog looking.

  • Reply
    Anahita Mehta
    Sunday, January 15, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Hi Sarah, regarding the cupcake version of this from your book, any tips on what I should do if both the muffin pans can’t fit on the middle shelf of my oven? Should I bake them one after the other? or different shelves? Thanks!

  • Reply
    Julia
    Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I finally made this cake and the flavors are interesting. I cut the two layers in half and made 3 layers with the basil buttercream and homemade blackberry jam in the middle. I think the blackberry jam is key to bringing the chocolate and basil flavors together, otherwise basil might be too surprising to some people. The basil sat in the milk for two nights and I used a blender to get the green color and sieved out the particulates. Also my cake was done well under time (about 30 mins), which is odd but good!

  • Reply
    Katy
    Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 12:11 am

    Hello, I am making this cake for my birthday and may have to make a few days ahead. Might it work if I freeze layers, make the frosting closer to the day, and assemble it the day of while letting the frozen layers thaw out beneath the frosting? Or would it be best to make the layers as close to the date and store in the refrigerator? How long will it last refrigerated also? Thank you!

  • Reply
    Ana
    Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 2:20 am

    Great

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