Basil Mint Cake with a Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Life in retrospect is a series of stories and memories. Many are smile inducing moments we hold dear to our hearts. Some are lessons we learned from heartache and adversity. Often though life becomes a collection of patterns built from what is comfortable to us, repetitive acts of homage to our own past. My first ever memory is a distant, dark memory. I can only remember a brief snippet of time from this lone memory; I simply remember crawling on a floor in a room that at the time seemed gargantuan. I was crawling to a collection of colored bins that held various toys. I remember being afraid and unsure as tears clouded my sight. Everything else seemed so foreign and strange. I have somehow managed to remember this memory from the first ever moment I was separated from my mother, and at less than one year old the memory is a distant, fading thought.
At one year old, to the exact day, I don’t have any particular memory but I do have a picture, fairly typical for a shot found in a baby book, of me enjoying–seriously enjoying–my first ever cake. While I am amazed at my own ability to use a spoon, I am quickly reminded though that despite using a tool at this age the majority of the cake still ended up on my face. While I do not have a memory of this moment, I have an inkling this could be the moment I fell in love with cake.
At three years old birthday cake has become a ritual. My ability to get the cake in my mouth instead of primarily smeared on my face has only somewhat improved.
At five years old I am no longer enjoying cake only on my birthday but on many other special occasions. Cake is still a treat though.
At age ten I am now old enough to help my mother in the kitchen and convince her we need more cake in our lives. My experimentation with baking christmas cookies, chocolate chip cookies, the occasional pastry and other out-of-a-package desserts is not quelling my love for desserts or cake. I need more cake. By this age I have built up enough happy memories involving cake to realize cake is a truly fantastic invention.
By age eighteen I am on my own. For the first time in my life I am as alone as I was in that very first memory, that first moment separated from my mother. Fear and apprehension have returned but with nearly a quarter of my life behind me, I am able to supplement that fear with excitement and braveness. I am at the point in my life where it is time to try new things, to taste what life has to offer. Still I get sad and lonely at times and in those moments when the 150 miles separating my family from me are just too much to bear, I find solace in cake, in the happy, calming, pure-contentness that is biting into a delicious, icing-laden cake.
Now at age twenty-five I am so very aware of the power of cake that I harness its powers far too often. No longer is it just a “I’m having a sad day so I need my cake fix” treat but a “I think we deserve to have a delicious cake this week… again” treat. My interests in cooking and cake have changed. No longer am I relegated to going with either vanilla or chocolate and no longer am I using it simply as an upper. Now there is a whole world of cake out there, so many flavors dying to become a part of a delicious, moist, spongy batter baked to perfection, swimming in a buttery, sweet coating of pure, this-can-only-be-frosting deliciousness. With each bite of cake I am seemingly transported back to every happy moment my hands have been on cake, every special occasion, every moment I managed to smile at the site and taste of this perfect dessert.
This time I decided to try a cake far outside my own box. Though I have made a blueberry and thyme cake before, I have never made a cake where the flavor would be coming solely from herbs. I took my favorite herb (paired it with it’s close cousin) and figured if I love it this much outside of cake, surely I’ll love it in cake. Yes. I really, absolutely, positively love this cake. It, like the strawberry-basil eclairs, is nuanced in relation to a typical vanilla cake. The basil and mint combination is enough to let you know you are indeed eating a basil and mint cake but it is far from overpowering. It is a subtleness that when paired with a simple and classic vanilla butter cream screams delicious summer cake. It is fresh, delicious, different, and very much worth making.
While this cake is a little different that the typical cake made with the creaming method–and because of it requiring quite a bit more eggs–it is still a very simple process. This is technically a chiffon cake (made with beaten egg whites to give a light consistency). It is far from a pound cake, but it lies somewhere between a pound cake and an angel food cake. It is pretty much a delicious sponge cake. It is light, airy and my favorite cake base for icing. It reminds me of years of birthday cakes only with a much more refined, delicious flavor. This cake will make two tall 9″ rounds though you could even use two 10″ rounds.
Basil and Mint Cake
Ingredients 1 cup milk 1 bunch basil, rinsed well & dried 1 bunch mint, rinsed well & dried 2/3 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil 8 egg yolks 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 teaspoons basil leaves, finely chopped 1 teaspoon mint leaves, finely chopped 14 ounces (3 3/4 cups) cake flour 14 ounces (2 cups) sugar 4 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 8 egg whites Instructions 1. Line 2 9" cake pans with buttered parchment paper. Don't butter the sides. Preheat an oven to 375F. 2. Place the bunch of basil and mint (not the chopped herbs) into the milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and remove from the heat. Let return to room temperature. The milk should turn greenish and taste like basil and mint. Once cool strain the herbs from the milk, reserving the milk. 3. In a large bowl whisk together the oil and egg yolks. Add the milk slowly whisking to incorporate. Add the vanilla and incorporate. 4. In a separate bowl sift together the cake flour, baking powder, salt and only 1/3 (about 3/4 cup) of the sugar. 5. Add the flour mix into the egg yolk and milk mix and stir together until combined. Add the finely chopped herbs and mix well to ensure they are evenly distributed. 6. Using a mixer whip the egg whites to a foam (about a minute) then slowly add the remainder of the sugar and whip at high speed until the eggs form stiff peaks. 7. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter taking care not to deflate the eggs. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake in a preheated oven for 32 to 36 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly. A tooth pick inserted into the center should come out clean. 8. Let cool completely in the pans before icing. 9. Cut the domes off the top of the cakes so that each cake layer is a flat cylinder before icing. 10. Ice the cake using the frosting recipe below.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Ingredients 2 cups butter, very soft at room temp. 7 cups powdered sugar 1 tablespoon vanilla 1/4 cup heavy cream Instructions 1. Add the butter and sugar and begin to mix. 2. With the mixer on low or medium, begin to add the cream and vanilla. 3. Mix at medium-low or medium until the frosting comes together. Be careful not to mix the frosting at too high of a speed to avoid adding air.
While sharing my earliest memory with my mother she shared a little on her side of that day too; it is a day she has never forgotten either.
“I debated for hours whether or not I could do this. It was mom’s day off at a local church and your aunt suggested I take a day off. It would only be for a couple hours while she and I would go shopping. After dropping you off though I sat in my car and cried and cried,” A truly beautiful, motherly sentiment from my mom. She hasn’t let me out of her sight since.