Roberta's Parsley Cake

March 12, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Green cake is the new green beer. And parsley is the new dessert.

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

If we can put rosemary in our frozen yogurt and thyme in our cookies, what, if anything, is stopping parsley from treading over the line?

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Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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.

Roberta's Cookbook from Food52

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.

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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.")

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52  Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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.

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52  Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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.

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52  Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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.

More: Why cornstarch also makes the most genius of waffles.

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52  Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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).

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

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.

Roberta's Parsley Cake from Food52

Roberta's Parsley Cake 

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Shinta Oetama
    Shinta Oetama
  • SarahBunny
  • Fran Woodcock
    Fran Woodcock
  • Amy Watson Bish
    Amy Watson Bish
  • sam
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Shinta O. July 20, 2021
I made this as a 6-inch layered cake with cream cheese frosting. Though it tasted delicious, I would use a more mellow, and less sweet frosting next time, like whipped cream frosting, or Swiss buttercream so the fresh parsley flavor really shines. The cake itself is lovely, definitely a keeper
SarahBunny April 20, 2019
Making this for Easter tomorrow -- as a layer cake. I'm thinking lemon curd filling between the layers and strawberry whipped cream frosting (from Genius Desserts). I'll post a response with how it goes over!
Fran W. May 6, 2014
Im searching for sweet recipes that use odd ingredients and this came up! Could I make a macaron that is lemon flavour and have a parsley and lemon butter cream in the middle? Im thinking that this would work as the two flavours go well together anyway...?
Amy W. April 30, 2014
We get so much parsley in our CSA and I feel like there's only so much I can use in dinner. Now I have something new to try!
sam March 19, 2014
This sounded like a good idea because I love parsley, but I didn't like this cake. The sweetness of it just didn't go well with the parsley. I didn't want to give up on it though, so I baked another one, adding only 1 tablespoon of sugar, quite a bit less salt (1 teaspoon), left out the mint, and added chopped green onions. I also used only a half cup of olive oil, 2 eggs instead of 4, and a half cup of milk. I sprinkled the top with sesame seeds, baked it in a Pullman pan, and served it sliced thick with dishes of olive oil and zatar for dipping, a cheese platter, tapenade, chopped salad, and mugs of tomato bisque. It was fantastic! Especially with whipped feta.
Sharon May 19, 2014
I like the way you think, Sam. I'm not big on the idea of sweet + parsley, either. But then, I'm not a desert person at all. I'm going to fool around with this a bit and see what I come up with. I'll report anything worth reporting. Planted parsley in my garden 25 years ago and have never had to buy any since. It's all over the place now. Plenty to experiment with. What I really like is the way this has everybody thinking outside the box!
Maya M. March 18, 2014
Made this for St Patrick's Day dinner, and I know it will now be a yearly tradition. I wanted to go all out, so I served it with lemon granita and caramel fennel gelato. I used the lemon granita recipe in David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop book and the caramel gelato recipe in the Franny's cookbook, minus the caramel crunch and with fennel seeds steeped in the hot cream and then strained out (side note: one of the best frozen dessert recipes I've ever made. The gelato texture was perfect). I highly recommend this recipe, and making the accompaniments is well worth the effort! I felt like it was a high class restaurant dessert in my own home.
Allison March 16, 2014
Made it! Loved it! Taste like "Mother Earth", but in a good way:)
Detrishious March 16, 2014
This inspires me. I've been bouncing the idea of a basil strawberry cake...if parsley can make a cake...I'll try this parsley cake with a citrus glaze, heavy on the grapefruit. Thanks for posting!
Lori S. March 13, 2014
Is this a sweet cake or savory? I'm dying to try it on kids but hate to waste a time/food investment in something they might not like...
Kristen M. March 13, 2014
It's sweet, but refreshingly so.
Burf March 13, 2014
Fingers crossed! The batter came together much easier than I thought it would (my herb/oil mixture made me doubt the process, but you shouldn't!). Still debating what sized pan to make it in.
Amy March 13, 2014
My husband looked horrified when I showed him this...which only made me want to try it more! I can't wait to see how it turns out!
mcs3000 March 13, 2014
I MUST try this.
Melina H. March 12, 2014
I'm not sure what to think, but am curious and game to try it… :)
Juliann March 12, 2014
Could you put the herb quantities into ounces? I know I always try to pack as much as I can into a cup measure. A bunch isn't precise enough. I know I will overdo it with the parsley and mint.
Kristen M. March 13, 2014
Thank you for asking -- I just added gram measurements to the recipe page:
nonniedb March 12, 2014
There are a lot of interesting comments, but has anyone made the recipe? If so, how did you like it?
Maya M. March 18, 2014
Big fan! Definitely worth it, for much more than just the sake of novelty.
Literary E. March 12, 2014
I am going to make this for my preschooler, who insists that grass is delicious. If it indeed tastes like a sweet meadow, both he and I are going to enjoy it.
JadeTree March 12, 2014
Yes! And report back with your child's reaction! We may have outfoxed them this time.
Literary E. March 14, 2014
He likes it, and is happily nibbling a warm slice now. It's the coda to a "Peter Rabbit" lunch of pasta with puréed carrot sauce and peas (and chive "sprinkles"). I topped it with a glaze flavored with coconut oil and Pernod and a fluff of whipped cream. If I had it, Indian candied fennel seeds would be on this.

Okay, so it's earthy, with a complex and teensy bit bitter herbal quality that enhances the subtle sweetness. I personally want more mint, but my mint was awfully mild. I might like a little bit of orange zest too. The herb mixture looks, smells, and tastes like grass clippings after the olive oil goes in, but have faith: it is tasty once the other ingredients join in.
Ceege March 12, 2014
If anyone tries this, PLEASE let us all know how it tastes.
Recipes is so interesting (and mysterious), so would like to know before trying it out.
Literary E. March 14, 2014
It's different. It's tasty and very refreshing, leaving an amazing clean taste on the palate. I wish my grandma Red, whose birthday was on April 1, were still around to make it for: she'd have thought it was a riot, and after a lot of prank cakes that were not delicious (wasabi icing!) it would be nice to give her one that looks like a prank but is yummy.

If you hate olive oil cakes, or don't like parsley, you probably won't like it. But I like them, and it makes me happy,
Maya M. March 18, 2014
It is amazing. Going to make it every year on St Patty's day. Especially with lemon granita and caramel fennel gelato!
tigerlille March 12, 2014
The parsley cake is really quite lovely and fresh looking.
johnbycz March 12, 2014
I have now concluded this site overuses the word "genius".
nancy E. March 12, 2014
Perhaps you perceive the word is over used because the site is called "Genius Recipes" Hence, they apply that word to the recipes within.
Kristen M. March 12, 2014
johnbycz, let's agree to disagree -- this cake has been a big hit around the Food52 office.
Jazzball March 12, 2014
I might like to keep the greenness a surprise. If you were going to put a frosting atop it, what would you suggest? Not a traditional buttercream, surely. Something with mascarpone or cream cheese or yogurt + lemon, maybe? I'd like to make this on 3/15 for a potluck, and don't know the palates of my dinner companions. Would it pass muster across a spectrum of tastes? Thanks.
dc March 12, 2014
I was thinking goat cheese and black pepper frosting...
Jazzball March 12, 2014
Very, very interesting. Please say more.
Kristen M. March 12, 2014
Brilliant, dc. Crème fraîche with lemon zest could be a good idea -- but you'd want to put it on right before serving so it doesn't have time to weep. If you want to get fancy and sweet, something with caramel could work well too (Peetz serves it with caramel fennel gelato).
dc March 12, 2014
ala Martha Stewart's recipe... cream cheese, goat cheese and a little confectioner's sugar and then add just a sprinkle of black pepper (or a tiny grind on top when you serve a piece).
shannon March 12, 2014
I recently discovered an Irish breakfast tea frosting...I wonder..?
Melina H. March 12, 2014
What about lemon curd and mascarpone? Sounds tempting to me!