Basil Sugar Pound Cakes From Thalia Ho

August 30, 2021
5 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger. Food Stylist: Ericka Martins. Prop Stylist: Suzie Myers.
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • makes three 5x3-inch (13x8-centimeter) loaves, or one 9x5-inch (23x13-centimeter) loaf
Author Notes

This joyful topping would make most any cake sparkle. But it's especially dazzling on this simple, golden pound cake from Thalia Ho's lovely cookbook Wild Sweetness. Set it out for a picnic or barbecue, pack it for a road trip, load it with random summer berries—it won't mind. But whatever you do: Don't skimp.

As Thalia writes in Wild Sweetness, “The point of these is the sugar; the cake is nothing but a vehicle to transport it, albeit a good one. With notes of grass, the basil relieves the richness and enlivens instead. The recipe will make more sugar than you’ll need and the excess can be sealed and stored in the refrigerator for use within the week. It’s lovely paired with lots of things, even fruit.”

A few more tips: The sugar won’t really adhere to the cake, so if you plan to carry the loaf to a picnic or barbecue, consider packing the sugar separately for people to spoon over as much as they like. The leftover sugar is wonderful over other cakes, cookies, and all sorts of fruit (think strawberries or peaches, even sliced tomatoes with olive oil and salt). And if you can make cinnamon sugar toast, basil sugar toast is a very natural next step.

Recipe adapted slightly from Wild Sweetness: Recipes Inspired by Nature (Harper Design, March 2021).

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

Hear more about this recipe from Thalia herself, on our podcast The Genius Recipe Tapes. Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
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Basil Sugar Pound Cakes From Thalia Ho
  • Cakes
  • 1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 cup (1½ sticks/170 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1/3 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (100 milliliters) buttermilk
  • Basil Sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (10 grams) packed basil leaves
  • Zest of ½ large lemon
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C), or 325°F (165°C) if making a single 9x5-inch (23x13-centimeter) loaf. Grease and line three 5x3-inch (14x8-centimeter) loaf pans or one 9x5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang over the sides of the pans.
  2. To make the cakes, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Pause, mixing to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate each addition, then beat in the vanilla and lemon zest. Beat in half the dry ingredients, followed by the buttermilk, then the rest of the dry ingredients until well combined. Divide among the prepared pans, smoothing out the tops.
  4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for small loaves, about an hour for a large loaf, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaves comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning out and onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. When you’re close to serving time, make the basil sugar. Put the sugar, basil, and lemon zest in a small food processor or grinder. Process until even and fine, stopping before the mixture turns into damp clumps—it shouldn’t take more than 20 seconds. Sprinkle over the cakes before serving or serve with the sliced cake for everyone to sprinkle on top. Store the excess sugar, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Miss_Karen
  • Fahimeh
  • Rebecca
  • Nancy Torres
    Nancy Torres
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

7 Reviews

Fahimeh August 1, 2022
I do not bake, but this was so easy for how good it tasted. Although, basil and lemon are a good combination, for some reason in cake form, it was surprising. The cake was dense, and had crispy sugary edges. I modified the recipe and put a lot more lemon rind. I also didn't have buttermilk, so I mixed milk and vinegar, and it worked well. Also, don't make too much of the basil/sugar mixture if you plan on having leftover cake. It doesn't keep well.
Rebecca July 6, 2022
I haven't made this yet but it looks too enticing not to! It will have to be dairy-free and gluten-free, though. If anyone else has jumped ahead and tried this without dairy and gluten, please let me know.
The basil sugar might pair well with grilled peaches. Some wood chips for smoke, grilling cut side down, then flipping and adding the basil sugar then to caramelize for a minute or two? Hmmm. Sounds really good!
Nancy T. November 19, 2021
I just made this afternoon and it’s delicious. Very light not like most pound cakes that are quite dense. The basil sugar was a nice surprise! Trying to see what else I can sprinkle this sugar on.
kiawahbarb8 September 22, 2021
I just made the basil sugar and though my basil leaves were dry, my basil sugar seems too wet...also my basil was way fresher then your's and is a much brighter green. Not sure I like the look...but it does take yummy on a small shortbread cookie. Haven't cut the pound cake yet.
Alexis September 5, 2021
I made this cake this morning and it turned out perfectly. Fortunately, I have a veggie garden and was able to snip some fresh basil to make the finishing sugar. Although each part was wonderful on its own, serving them together was magical! Added a dollop of softly whipped cream and everyone loved it! Thanks for sharing such a fun and beautiful recipe!
Sandra Z. September 1, 2021
Basil sugar- now that is definitely genius!! Do you think it would freeze well? I have a ton of basil in the garden and have already a made enough pesto to get me through winter! Great recipe!
Miss_Karen December 15, 2021
I make orange basil cookies