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Lemon Basil Sheet Cake

Lemon Basil Sheet Cake

Renée Robinson

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.

Ingredients Lemon & Basil

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.

Lemon Slices

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. 

Lemon Basil Sheet Cake in Pan

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.

Slice of Lemon Basil Sheet Cake

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.

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Lemon Basil Sheet Cake

Recipe by Renée Robinson



A moist and tender sheet cake contains 1 1/2 whole lemons which are ground up in a blender. Fresh basil and candied lemon slices finish it off beautifully.

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  • Candied Lemon Slices
  • 1 1/2 whole lemons, seeded and sliced VERY thinly - 20 to 24 slices

  • 1 cup (200g)granulated sugar

  • 1 cup water

  • Lemon Basil Sheet Cake
  • 1 1/2 whole lemons, seeded, unpeeled, cut into chunks, rind and all

  • Buttermilk - Approximately 3/4 cup

  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, plus 20 -24 tiny basil leaves for garnishing

  • 2 sticks /226g salted butter

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar/350g

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups all purpose flour/278g

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt

  • Lemon Icing
  • 1 stick /113g salted butter

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, at room temperature

  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 1 pound /454g powdered sugar, sifted

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest


  • Candied Lemon Slices
  • In a large sauce pan, melt the sugar in the water over medium heat. When it comes to a simmer, add the lemon slices. Place a lid, slightly ajar, on the pan and let the slices simmer for about 10 minutes. The exact time will depend on how thinly you sliced your lemons. They are done when the rind is transparent. Carefully remove the slices from the syrup and place them on a metal rack. Let cool and sit for about an hour in order to dry out. These are not stiffly candied. They will remain soft.
  • Lemon Basil Sheet Cake
  • Preheat oven to 350° with a rack placed in the center.
  • Place the pieces of lemon in a blender (I use my Vitamix), add a few tablespoons of buttermilk to enable the mixture to puree. Blitz until the puree is as smooth as possible. Add the cup of basil leaves and blitz again until the basil is very finely chopped. Remove from the blender and put into a glass measuring cup. Add enough buttermilk to the mixture so that the measurement of puree and buttermilk comes to 1 1/2 cups.
  • Melt the butter in a large bowl in the microwave. Whisk in the buttermilk/lemon/basil mixture, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour and baking soda and either whisk until completely combined or use a hand held electric mixer on low speed.
  • Pour the batter into a half sheet pan (18” x 13”), which has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Spread evenly and bake for 18-20 minutes. Test the center with a toothpick and be careful to not over bake. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for only 5 to 10 minutes, at which time you will pour on the icing.
  • Lemon Icing
  • Melt the butter in a medium sized bowl in the microwave. Add the lemon juice, buttermilk and powdered sugar. Beat with an electric beater until smooth. Add the lemon zest and continue to beat until the zest is fully mixed into the icing.
  • Immediately pour the warm icing over the cake and spread evenly. Let cool before garnishing with the candied lemon slices and basil leaves. This cake will keep very well for several days at room temperature. I did remove the basil leaves after the first day and then added fresh ones to the slices on subsequent days. Enjoy!


  • Half Sheet Pan - 13 inches x 18 inches x 1 inch
  • Blender

9 Responses

  1. Do you think this would work if I replace the butter with olive oil? I’ve been looking at olive oil lemon cake recipes for a Mediterranean pot luck, but I’m intrigued by the addition of basil.

    1. Hi, Karen. Well, yes, I do think it would work with olive oil for the cake portion. But not the icing. You need butter in order for the icing to set properly. I would not substitute an equal amount of olive oil for the butter. Only use 3/4 cup of olive oil and then proceed with the recipe as directed. I would use a medium bodied olive oil – not a peppery bitter type. I would also add an additional 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt to the cake. Please let me know how you like it!

    2. Hi, Karen. Yes, I think olive oil could work in this cake. But don’t substitute the butter for an equal amount of olive oil. Only use 3/4 cup of olive oil and use a medium bodied oil – not a peppery and bitter variety. And add an additional 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt. But I would not substitute the butter in the icing for olive oil. The icing needs the butter in order to set properly, which would never happen with olive oil. Please get back to me and let me know how you like it!

    1. Hi, Karen. The weight is about 25 grams. If you’re a little over or under you’ll be fine.

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