A Vibrant Sheet Cake – Just in Time for Spring.
My love of sheet cakes is fairly well known by now. First of all, when it comes to ease of preparation, they can’t be beat. They will also feed a crowd, if necessary. Finally, there is no last minute fussing around, you can even make it the day before.
But none of this matters if it isn’t delicious, right? And I mean really delicious. When I set out to develop the recipe for my Orange Buttermilk Sheet Cake, I knew exactly what I had in mind because I’d never been fully satisfied with any other orange cake. Well, the same held true this time around.
I love all things lemon and have made some tasty lemon cakes – lemon drizzle cake, lemon yogurt cake, etc. But I’d never experienced a good lemon sheet cake. I’ve made a few and they weren’t what I had in mind. I wanted a very tender crumb and the flavor needed to be bursting with lemon.
This was easy to accomplish by using buttermilk and my technique of grinding up whole lemons in the blender. I had plenty of lemon flavor and the texture was spot on. But it was one note. It needed something else to balance out the tangy/tart/sweetness.
I decided to try adding some fresh basil. Think about it. Basil already has lemony notes of flavor, but it also has a slightly spicy and pungent element that I hoped would be the right counter balance to the sweetness of the cake. I knew I was on to something on my first try, but the amount wasn’t right. It ended up taking more than I initially thought in order for it to be discernable once the cake had baked.
I didn’t want it to be smack-you-in-the-face basil centric. I was going for a balance and one cup of loosely packed leaves added to the batter was the sweet spot. It is enough so that you notice it, but it doesn’t play a starring role. The cake had now become interesting.
After trying it out, I knew I wanted a little bit more fresh basil flavor and tried topping each slice with one tiny leaf of basil. Yep, that did the trick. But I still felt it needed something else. Something that would really bring home the lemon basil combination and also make it pretty enough to be deemed celebration worthy.
I took some very thinly sliced lemons and simmered them for only 10 minutes in sugar and water. They were now nice and tender, but not fully candied. I didn’t want them to be hard or brittle. After letting them dry on a rack for a little while, I placed them on top of the cake, along with the little basil leaves and the cake was now something really special.
When you eat a slice, the basil comes through as floral and slightly peppery. It lends the most beautiful nuance to the overall flavor of the cake. And when you bite into that one little leaf on top, it’s a burst of flavor that works beautifully with the sweet lemon slice.
Don’t be put off by the thought of a savory element in this cake. Basil is inherently sweet and it pairs perfectly with the lemon. I’ve made several of these in order to get it right and we’ve yet to get enough of it. It’s bright, earthy, tart, and sweet. Really delicious.