cherry blossom cake

March 21, 2018 Portland, OR, USA

In two weeks, my mom and I are heading to Turkey for our Girls' Trip! Before we landed on visiting Istanbul and Cappadocia, we considered a ton of other places: the Catalonia and Basque region of Spain (too politically unstable), the southern Italian countryside around Naples, and Hokkaido, Japan's northern island. I'm not going to lie — my vote was for Japan. I've never been, and have been dying to go ever since my friend Steph published her food guide to Tokyo (is it unsurprising that food is my largest motivator for travel?). Unfortunately, Mama Lopez nixed it because she'd been to Japan three times in the last year chasing the Cherry Blossom Trail. What a life!

It also happens to be cherry blossom season in Portland, which is one of the prettiest times of the year to be in the city. Portland has a lot more trees and greenery than your average city in the US, and it's especially obvious this time of the year when everything bursts into bloom. I've been waiting for Portland to do so ever since moving back from New York — as much as I loved living in The Big City, the parks and gardens there can't ever hold a candle to springtime here where there are literally just streets lined with flowering trees.

So last weekend, as I was biking back from my fauxcycle studio, I did something kinda naughty (and no, it wasn't "use salted butter in my baked goods", eyeroll): I "foraged" (sounds so much better than stole, right?) a blossoming branch (or two) from some of the trees I passed by. I'd recently ordered some sakura extract from Japan with the intention of making this cake and thought that they'd be lovely on top.

If you're unfamiliar with sakura, here's a quick primer: sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom. And although it's not common in the United States, it's used as a culinary flavor in Japan and other Asian countries, usually in desserts. If you've ever had a pink-colored mochi, it's likely that it was sakura flavored. It's a very delicate and perfumey flavor, and is similar to using rosewater or lavender in baked goods — too much and it would taste too perfumey, but a drop or two is just perfect. I replaced vanilla extract for sakura extract in one of my favorite white cake recipes and couldn't get enough of it. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • I bought my sakura extract online via Amazon; it took ages to get here (it always takes around a month or so because of the Japanese customs process, I think). You can also try and source it from an Asian supermarket, but I had no luck with the Japanese supermarket in Portland. So if you live in Portland and know where to find it here, lemme know! I'll give you bakes as a reward. 😜

  • The cake recipe is based on the white cake from Ovenly, a popular bakery in New York City. I tested Ovenly's vanilla bean cake recipe as a base recipe for the white cake recipe in my cookbook but found that it wasn't quite what I needed for my purposes. But it makes a damn good cake (think: moist, fluffy, and yet dense? idk) because it uses both cream and sour cream. Let's live our best selves and forget calories exist, mmmkay? For the sour cream, I used Vermont Creamery's vanilla crème fraîche, which is slightly sweetened and spiked with a TON of vanilla beans. I'm flat-out addicted and it's worth sourcing (you can usually find it at Whole Foods) for this cake, but in a pinch, you can use regular sour cream and 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. You don't want to use anymore than 1/2 teaspoon since it might drown out the sakura flavor. Oh, also, the cake color is not natural or from the sakura extract — I used food coloring from this Americolor set to try and replicate the color of cherry blossom petals.

  • The frosting is inspired by the many gorgeous frosting jobs of Buttercream Bakery (see here and here) and also meant to replicate the color and texture of cherry blossom petals — I deliberately didn't smooth down the dabs of frosting to get a more textured effect on the cake, making them look like real petals. To get the look, cover the entirety of the cake in an even base layer of frosting. Divide the remaining buttercream into three bowls and add a drop or two of pink and/or red food coloring in each bowl; you want to have different shades here for the full effect. Take a small spatula (I used this one) or a small offset spatula and dab—literally, just dab don't even think about it, flicking the spatula away quickly, not worrying about if the frosting is too smooth or uneven or whatever— a very small amount (about half the size of your pinky nail) of dyed frosting on the cake. Repeat across the base layer with the different colors and step back. Voila. You've got petals.

Cherry Blossom Cake




For the Cherry Blossom Cake:
(makes an 8-inch, double-layer cake)
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 fluid ounces) heavy whipping cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) Vermont Creamery Vanilla Crème Fraîche, at room temperature (see baker's notes for sources and substitutions) 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sakura extract (see baker's notes) 
  • 1 to 2 drops of pink food coloring (I used the "Soft Pink" from this Americolor set)
  • 1 1/4 cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar 
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the Cherry Blossom Frosting:
(makes enough for an 8-inch, double-layer cake)
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sakura extract
  • food coloring (see baker's notes)



For the Cherry Blossom Cake:
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Prepare two 8-inch cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper circle; spray the paper with cooking spray and set aside.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups cake flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and whisk until well combined. Set aside. In a large liquid measuring cup, combine 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, 1/2 cup crème fraîche, 1 1/2 teaspoons sakura extract, and food coloring. Use a fork to whisk until well combined. Set aside. 

  3. In a the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup unsalted butter. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, around 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and add 3 large eggs one at a time, only adding the next egg when the previous one is fully incorporated. When all the eggs have been incorporated, stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer back on to its slowest setting and add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the wet ingredients in two parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Continue beating on low speed until just combined — do not overmix or you'll end up with a tough cake and I'll cry for you! Scrape down the sides of the bowl and incorporate any remaining dry ingredients by hand.

  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops of the cake bounce back when gently poked and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with few crumbs. Transfer to a wire rack to cool in their pans for 20 minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the Cherry Blossom Frosting:
  1. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 cup unsalted butter and a pinch of kosher salt. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and add 4 cups confectioners's sugar in 3 parts, beating until the sugar incorporates into the butter. Add 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream and 1 1/2 teaspoons sakura extract. Turn the mixer speed back to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. 



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