A wonderfully tender white cake flavored with sakura extract. This cake is incredibly special due to it’s inside which is designed to emulate Japanese cherry blossom tree branches swaying and full of pretty pink blossoms.
The perfect cake to welcome spring: sakura flavored white cake is laced with chocolate batter and pink sprinkles to give the look of cherry blossom branches. This is a subtly sweet, slightly floral cake that is an absolute stunner.
Cherry Blossom Cake with a surprise design inside
I make this cake every year and it’s how I both welcome the spring season but also how I mark the decent of my favorite trees in DC. The idea came before buttermilk was a thing (the photo below is the first version of the cake from 2017).
Way back then, I had gotten the idea to make a cake that looked like a cherry blossom tree from the inside. I think it stemmed from making too many funfetti cakes in 2017, and focusing on how the sprinkles distributed within the batter. My idea was to combine a funfetti like cake with a marbled cake look – but the marbling would be very thin so that it would look like branches:
How to make Sam’s Cherry Blossom Cake
The very special part of this cake, the inside is breathtaking (I was amazed the first time it turned out, and am amazed every year lol) but also, crazy easy. You make a white cake batter, add pink sprinkles. Then (or before) make a chocolate batter, just a bit – this is going to be our ‘branches’.
The layering here is key: first some pink specked white batter then some chocolate squiggles. Then again – and repeat until the cake tin is about half full. When the cake bakes, the batter rises on the sides first and in the middle last so you’ll get some lift on the sides and sometimes, if you’re lucky you’ll get some swirling that kind of looks like trees (see above!).
Ingredients for Cherry Blossom Cake
Sakura Essence: I use sakura essence in the cake and in the buttercream, you might find it in local Japanese stores or you can order it on online (the amazon link doesn’t always work and sometimes is very pricey, on a good day I’ll find it for $12). It is flowery and lovely and pairs beautifully with pure vanilla. If you cannot find it, don’t stress – use another floral essence. I’ve listed a few in the recipe.
Cake Flour: will yield a more tender cake but in a pinch can be subbed for all purpose flour.
Dutch cocoa: for the chocolate batter, the darkness of this cocoa will make for prettier branches.
Buttermilk or kefir: I’ve found I can either of these in most of my cakes so both are great. Sometimes kefir is very thick, if you find it overly so, use a bit of water to thin it out. If you cannot find buttermilk or kefir, thin out some greek yogurt.
Coconut oil: Use refined which won’t have that coconutty taste or smell. I don’t have a substitute for this. It’s okay if it’s warm and runny and it’s okay if it’s solid. Weigh it!
Butter: Should be at room temperature before you begin making the batter but not melty. When you press it, your finger should leave a small indentation.
Sugar: Granulated, not organic which often has bigger granules and will take longer to dissolve.
Eggs: You need whites for the white cake batter and just one yolk for the chocolate batter. For the remaining 3 yolks you can… make cookies!
Vanilla: Sakura is very gentle in taste so some vanilla rounds it out. Use a paste, a scraped bean or extract. Avoid artificial vanilla which will give that ‘birthday’ flavor.
Salt: fine sea salt. Don’t use table salt which is overly salty in taste.
Pink sprinkles: local cake or hobby stores usually sell small packets of bright pink jimmies. If you can test them beforehand to be sure they aren’t the type that bleed as soon as they hit the cake batter, do that. I often make my own for this cake because I like it to have two different shades. This also means I can add sakura extract to the sprinkles too!
Notes on making Sam’s Cherry Blossom Cake
The recipe below makes two 8” round cake layers. If you want to bake it in a sheet pan, use the quantities listed below and bake it in a 13×9 pan. Check for doneness at 25 minutes.
To decorate big petals like I did on the layer cake, use the back of an offset spatula to gently swipe buttercream onto the cake. To do the smaller ones like on my sheet pan version use a petal piping tip and draw an upside down tear drop.
For the sheet cake, I did something very similar, but made a water colored background (to emulate the tidal basin against which many of our trees grow) and drew a tree with simple petals on it (see end of post for photo). I think the idea of the tree is exquisite enough that you don’t have to fuss over making any part of your design perfect as it will still turn out beautiful.
To decorate with the ‘splatters’: mix two tablespoons of water with some pink food coloring. Dip a (clean, foodsafe) paintbrush in the water and flick it at the cake. I got the idea to do this for my 2022 cake from this gorgeous Funfetti Cake.
1tspsakura extract can sub with rose waterorange blossom water
4large egg whites
250gbuttermilk or kefir 1 cup
½ - ⅔cuppink sprinkleshomemade or storebought
4tablespoonsbuttermilk or kefir
Sakura Vanilla Buttercream
1cupbutterunsalted and at room temperature
2 ½cupsorganic powdered sugar
1tablespoonheavy whipping cream or milk
½teaspoonpure vanilla extract
Make the chocolate batter:
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. add the egg yolk, baking soda and vanilla and beat for a few more minutes. Sift in the flour and cocoa, add the buttermilk and stir until just combined. Set aside. When it is time to build the cake, put some of this batter in a small piping bag.
Make the white cake batter:
Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour two 8” cake pans.
Beat butter, sugar and coconut oil together until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes. Add egg whites one at a time, beating for a good 2 minutes after each addition. Scrape down bowl. Add the salt, vanilla, sakura extract, and baking powder and beat well. Scrape down bowl. Sift in flours, fold a bit with a spatula so it doesn’t make a mess when you turn the mixer back on, and with mixer on low, slowly pour in buttermilk. Mix until just combined. Fold in pink sprinkles and ensure all batter is homogeneous by scraping the bottom of the bowl.
Add some of the white batter to the bottom of each pan and smooth it down - just enough to make a 1/2 inch layer.
Grab your piping bag with the chocolate batter and snip off just a bit so you have a small opening. You’ll squiggle it (this is the best word I can think of to describe it, see pic) around the batter, shaking it as you go and overlapping (don’t make straight lines) so that it kind of looks like branches that are intertwined. Don’t overdo it or it will weigh down the center of the cake.
Add more white batter, smooth the top down very gently without disturbing the squiggles and pipe more squiggly lines.
Repeat until all the batter is equally distributed between the two pans.
Bake cakes for 40-50 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then invert onto a cooling rack.
Make the Buttercream:
Beat butter until very light in color, about 7 minutes. Add the vanilla, sakura and salt and beat to combine. Sift in powdered sugar and beat until combined and fluffy. Add cream or milk and beat to combine.