- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes three 5x3-inch (13x8-centimeter) loaves, or one 9x5-inch (23x13-centimeter) loaf
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).
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Hear more about this recipe from Thalia herself, on our podcast The Genius Recipe Tapes. —Genius Recipes
1 1/2 cups
(190 grams) all-purpose flour
(1½ sticks/170 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups
(250 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 large lemon
plus 1½ tablespoons (100 milliliters) buttermilk
- Basil Sugar
(100 grams) granulated sugar
(10 grams) packed basil leaves
Zest of ½ large lemon
- 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.
- To make the cakes, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.