Vivid hibiscus flowers are often flaunted in brewed tea, but I’ve found that their tart, earthy notes make for a wondrous edible treat, too. So when I recently came across dried hibiscus petals in powdered form, I knew they were destined for my next dessert. Besides, with spring in full swing, it’s hard to keep blooming flowers out of mind. (Ah-choo!)
This time, I echoed the hibiscus with other tangy tones: rich buttermilk and plenty of Meyer lemon. The result was a refreshing and succulent new cake — moist, citrusy layers with a deep burgundy hue. Cream cheese frosting proved a decadent and well-balanced pairing, but the cake is also lovely when simply dusted with powdered sugar.
Buttermilk Hibiscus Cake
Makes two 8-inch cake layers; serves 12-16
- 2 medium-large lemons, preferably Meyer
- 2 extra large eggs at room temperature
- 1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as sunflower or canola
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2.5 ounces (70 grams) powdered hibiscus petals (about a scant 1/2 cup)*
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two 8-inch cake pans, and either line bottoms of pans with parchment or dust with flour; set aside. Rinse and dry the lemons. Finely zest the outer lemon peel; set zest aside. Juice the lemons and strain to remove seeds. Measure out 1/3 cup lemon juice; set aside. (Reserve any leftover lemon juice for frosting.)
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until smooth and even. Sift the flour, hibiscus powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt over the bowl. Begin to beat, gradually adding the 1/3 cup lemon juice and the buttermilk, stopping to scrape the bottom of bowl with a spatula, and mixing until smooth. Fold in about half of the lemon zest, stirring until just dispersed. (Reserve remaining zest for frosting.)
Pour batter into prepared pans evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until fragrant and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out batter-free; a few moist crumbs are fine. Let cakes cool completely in pans before removing (loosen sides with a butter knife, invert cake and remove parchment). Store cooled layers tightly covered at room temperature until ready to frost and/or serve.
- 1 pound cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, well packed
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hibiscus powder (optional, for color)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- remaining lemon zest from above
- a few whole dried or fresh hibiscus flower petals for decorating (optional)
Beat the cream cheese and butter until well blended and uniform. Sift the powdered sugar, hibiscus powder and salt over the mixture; mix until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla and lemon juice, whipping well and scraping bowl with spatula. Finally, fold in the lemon zest until evenly dispersed. Slather or pipe the frosting over cooled cake layers, whether stacking them into a two layer cake or serving them separately. If desired, decorate with hibiscus petals. Keep frosted cake covered and chilled for up to 3 days.
With a burst of distinctive hibiscus flavor, this tender, fragrant cake offers vibrant deliciousness in every bite. The buttermilk batter creates a lusciously moist crumb, while the subtle surge of lemon makes for a clean and bright taste. A beauty to both the tastebuds and the eyes, this celebration of hibiscus is a reminder of the sweet satisfaction flowers can bring — whether eaten, sipped, or simply beheld.
*I found my hibiscus powder at a nearby natural foods store and have seen it online. If you can only find the dried whole petals, they can be powdered in small batches in a blade spice/coffee grinder until a fine, even grain is produced.
Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers where this recipe first appeared.
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