Today: Green cake is the new green beer. And parsley is the new dessert.
Maybe it's because we've only just begun to appreciate parsley as a worthy ingredient -- not a garnish -- that we've kept it locked up in savory dishes till now.
But parsley is an herb as shapeless as all the rest; it just hasn't made the leap in our imaginations yet. That's why we're lucky to have the Roberta's restaurant gang, namely former pastry chef Katy Peetz, to do the imagining for us.
In its bones, this recipe is a relatively normal sheet cake -- sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder. There are also 5 bunches of parsley in it. Nobody, to the internet's knowledge, has tried doing this before.
There's some fresh mint too, for lift, and olive oil, to give it more savory cred. And even though Piglet judge Tad Friend called it "pond scum", what could easily turn into a gimmick and an eyesore works. (Don't worry: Friend landed pro-parsley cake, perfectly deciphering its taste: "like a sweet meadow.")
But, whether it works or not, we still have to ask: why parsley cake? The Roberta's team wanted "a dessert that really tasted and looked like it came from the garden," as they write. "Whenever there's an abundance of green things at the farmers markets and in our garden, green inevitably spills over into our desserts."
So the desserts chapter also includes a watercress gelato and a green granita with more cress, parsley, and celery, plus green apple and lemon. All of them strange, but all strangely appealing.
And there's still more to the genius! After blitzing up parsley oil in your food processor and stirring it into your batter, you'll rest the mess a few hours or overnight, to make it still greener and hydrate the flour for a lighter, dewier crumb.
Peetz is fond of slipping in some cornstarch with the flour to keep gluten from forming and toughening batters -- a trick you'll see in her gingerbread and strawberry shortcake, too.
At the restaurant, the cake is served with fennel caramel gelato, lemon zest granita, and more parsley cake crumbles. We did the lazy equivalent: store-bought vanilla ice cream and lemon zest (sans granita). They also suggest eating the cake for breakfast, warm with a little butter.
You can even make it for St. Patrick's Day, with your pride intact and nothing artificial in play (and it doesn't even have to look like these).
It's green cake in a way that's festive and shamrock-forward, but also a cleansing moment at the end of a dense, salty meal.
Like a bitter wedge of chocolate or a gripping bite of sorbet, the best and brightest desserts aren't always what you expect.
Adapted slightly from Roberta's Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2013)
Serves 12 to 14
4 cups parsley leaves, tightly packed (about 5 large bunches)
1 cup mint leaves, tightly packed (about 2 bunches)
3/4 cup good olive oil, plus more for the pan
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-pupose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
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Photos by Mark Weinberg