I thought that naming this a “garden cake” seemed fitting because it uses fresh Summer garden flavors that I love. The Oklahoma heat is just starting to ramp up, so super heavy desserts are the last thing on my mind. Even though this cake is a deep chocolate-y cake, the strawberry basil compote filling and the chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream make this a light, not-to-sweet cake. The basil flavor in the compote is very light, but it compliments the freshness of the strawberries and the richness of the chocolate beautifully. This is a perfect Summer cake for chocolate lovers!
Chocolate Strawberry Garden Cake
Yield: 1 cake with two 9×9 layers
Chocolate Cake (Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup boiling water
Strawberry Basil Compote
- 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and chopped
- 6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Juice of one large lemon
Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream (Bon Appetit)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 large egg whites
½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
- 5 1/2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon Crisco or vegetable oil, optional (see note)
Garnishments (optional): fresh berries, edible flowers, basil leaves, piped decorations
For the cake:
- Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
- Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.
For the compote:
- Combine all the compote ingredients in a medium saucepan. Stir to combine.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring all the time. Reduce the heat to simmer and allow to simmer for 10 minutes until the mixture is thick, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the heat once the mixture has thickened and allow to cool completely before use.
For the Swiss meringue buttercream:
- Combine the chocolate and the Crisco or oil (if using) in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second intervals until smooth and liquid. Allow to cool to room temperature. Note: Using Crisco or vegetable oil will ensure that the chocolate does not seize. If you do not use the Crisco or vegetable oil and your chocolate seizes, you can always add it in after to fix your seized chocolate.
- Whisk together the granulated sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and set over a medium saucepan filled with 1″ of gently simmering water. Heat, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved and an instant-read thermometer registers 115°, about 5 minutes.
- Fit bowl onto stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until meringue is stiff, glossy, and dense, about 5 minutes. Turn off mixer, add powdered sugar, and mix on low speed until incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until the bowl is cool to the touch, about 2 minutes.
- With the motor running, add butter a piece at a time, incorporating fully before adding the next piece, 8–10 minutes. If mixture starts to look chunky or separated, just keep beating; it will come back together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add vanilla extract and salt. Beat until buttercream looks glossy and smooth. Add in the cooled, melted chocolate and beat until combined.
- Level your cooled cake layers with a knife or leveling tool. Spread a small amount of the buttercream onto a cake board or cake stand and place the first layer on top of the buttercream. This will help hold the cake in place. Spoon about 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream into a piping bag or a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. You do not need any piping tips.
- Pipe the buttercream all around the edge of the top of your first layer to create a “dam” for the filling. This will ensure that none of the compote will leak over the sides of your cake.
- Pour your cooled compote onto the first layer of the cake and spread it to the edges of your frosting dam.
- Pipe the buttercream frosting on top in a spiral motion until the compote is covered. Using a small spatula, gently spread the buttercream evenly over the compote.
- Stack your second cake layer on top of the filled and frosted first layer. Using a spatula or other preferred frosting tool, spread the rest of the buttercream on top of the cake, working your way down to the sides of the cake.
- Decorate and garnish as desired. I went with a semi-naked cake, but how you decorate is totally up to you!
Summer Heat, Summer Sweets
This cake made its debut at my Mother’s Day brunch this year. I came up with the idea for this cake because all of the mothers at my table love chocolate, but I did not want the heaviness that typically comes with chocolate desserts. With the heat rolling into Oklahoma City, I have been steering clear of all things that weigh me down. Well, except pasta. And tacos. But when it comes to desserts, I’m currently craving the flavor profiles of sweet and tart summer fruits with a nice dollop of freshly whipped cream on top.
I had some fresh basil from my garden along with a nice pint of strawberries from the store, so I thought that combining the two would make a fresh and unique filling. But basil and chocolate? Yes. It works! And in my opinion, most basil will work wonderfully with chocolate. The basic sweet basil plants that produce large, lush leaves will work. Thai basil would work. My basil is Holy Basil, or Tulsi, which I found works great because it has notes of cocoa and cinnamon with just a touch of heat. The flavor of the basil with the strawberry and chocolate gives this entire cake a fresh, earthy, Summer flavor all while still being a chocoholic’s dream.
And can we talk about my new love affair with Swiss meringue buttercream? Yea, it’s serious. It’s the perfect silky-sweet frosting that doesn’t coat your mouth with sugar like American buttercream. Don’t get me wrong, American buttercream has a time and place (cookie cake, I’m talking to you). But I think I’d prefer Swiss meringue on more things from now on.
This was a great cake to kick off the Summer baking season! I’m ready for fresh fruit galettes, berry shortcakes, and long swimming and hiking sessions to work off all the sweets I’ll be creating.