I find myself looking for constants during this unfamiliar time, constants like a favorite recipe or time of day, a comforting memory to revisit.  South Louisiana springtime remains constant, as do the gardenias blooming and blackberries ripening in my backyard. 

The blackberries take me back to picking the sweet and tart berries as a child, in a labyrinth of thorns, guarded by the ickiest bugs and the heat of the sun.  The patch that produced the most fruit for us sat a few yards away from my grandparents’ house, and I would spend hours eating and picking, picking and eating, until I decided it was dumpling time, which undoubtedly began as soon as I returned home, lips and fingers stained, belly almost full. The rest of the family anticipated the dumplings, longed for them, but I looked forward to the largest bowl I could find, brimming with blackberries, sprinkled liberally with sugar.  I had dreamed about that bowl of sugared berries since I devoured last year’s final bowl, waiting as patiently as a third grader could for those tiny white flowers to morph into black jewels.  Last year my husband planted two blackberry vines, the thornless variety, thankfully, in our backyard.  We now reap their bounty.

When my husband and I were searching for a home a few years ago, a quest that took well over a year, I felt as though we would never find the right place.  At one point, my husband told me to dream about the perfect house—not only about how many bedrooms and baths, but if I could have anything in a home, what would it be?

Flowers.  I wanted flowers outside so that I could walk out the door, cut them and bring them inside to be arranged, leaving their beauty and scent in every room of the house.  Through a series of events I could not have imagined, we ended up in a house with more flowers than I had dreamed: native irises, magnolias, lilies, azaleas and camellias. On an enormous bush grows the most fragrant of them all, the gardenia, whose scent, exotic and lush, permeates the entire backyard and now our home. 

While the branches of the gardenia bush bend with the weight of too many blooms (impossible, really), I am so thankful that year after year I can depend on them, like an old friend, to bring their beauty and perfume into our lives.  A constant.  A new memory.  

This year, with an abundance of both gardenias and blackberries, I began to think about how I could use them, in different ways and together.  I thought about how delicious the flavor of elderflower is (St. Germain is one of my favorite liqueurs), wondering if I could do something similar with gardenia. 

I made a simple syrup, combining equal amounts of sugar and water, steeping whole, cleaned gardenia blossoms in the cooled syrup for 12 hours. Gardenia syrup has an intense floral and citrus scent that dulls as the syrup is refrigerated, so I recommend using the syrup within a day or two.  My favorite uses so far?  Gardenia syrup sweetened tea is a treat on a quiet afternoon, but I could imagine how wonderful such a tea would be for a bridal or baby shower.  Gardenia lemonade sounds promising. It just feels like one of the most Southern things one could do….

Gardenia syrup in a glass of prosecco or Champagne is a more regal treat, garnished with a twist of lemon and a floating blackberry.  I plan to add the syrup to my next cocktail.

But what about cake?  Could I use gardenia syrup to flavor cake?  Buttercream? And somehow pair it with blackberries, testing the “what grows together, goes together” theory?

I wanted to see where the blackberries and gardenias would lead me. 

And that is why I baked a cake….

blackberry gardenia roulade

I begin with my favorite chiffon recipe for a roulade or bûche de Noël, from the lovely Cheryl Day and Griffith Day, published in their cookbook Back in the Day Bakery:  Made With Love, in 2015. They are currently offering signed copies of all three of their cookbooks, all worthy of a spot on your cookbook shelf, on their website, linked here.  After soaking the cooled chiffon with gardenia syrup, I fill the roulade with a small batch of blackberry jam and a whipped white chocolate and blackberry ganache, inspired by Maja Vase’s (@majachocolat) fruit ganaches.  Swiss meringue buttercream (I use the recipe from sweetapolita.com, linked here, with a couple of minor changes) flavored with more gardenia syrup tops off the roulade. And the decorating, well, that always makes me most giddy….

Find the decorating details on my Instagram, @whyibakedacake, in a post, on my stories, and saved in the highlights.


1/4 cup vegetable oil

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon water

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free

3/4 cup granulated sugar 

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or lemon juice

Confectioner’s sugar (to roll the cake)

1 recipe Gardenia Syrup (recipe follows)

1 1/2 cups blackberry jam (homemade or store-bought, preferably seedless)

1 recipe Whipped White Chocolate and Blackberry Ganache (recipe follows)

1 recipe Gardenia Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe follows)

Fresh blackberries for decoration


  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF and carefully line a sided sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the oil, 4 egg yolks, water and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. Into a large bowl, sift flour and baking powder. Add 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon sugar and all of the salt, combining with a whisk. Add the egg yolk mixture to the flour mixture, whisking for one minute or until very smooth.
  4. Whisk the egg whites (in a stand mixer on medium with the whisk attachment, with a hand mixer, or if you are feeling really courageous, by hand) until frothy.  Add the cream of tartar and continue mixing to soft peak stage.  Still whisking, add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, one teaspoon at a time, whisking until the peaks are stiff and shiny.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the stiff egg whites into the yolk mixture in two parts, starting with about 1/3 of the whites, to lighten the yolk mixture.  Fold in the remaining whites, gently, until just completely combined.
  6. Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading as evenly and as gently as possible with an offset spatula, so as not to deflate the batter.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cake is just set.  Cool slightly and, using a dull knife, release the sides of the cake from the pan.
  7. Sift a small amount of confectioner’s sugar over the surface of the cake.  Cover the cake with a clean kitchen towel, one slightly larger than the cake itself.  Place a cooling rack (or another larger pan or a cutting board) over the cake and gently turn it over, removing the pan and the parchment paper from the cake.  Now the cake should be on top of the towel.  Again sift confectioner’s sugar over the exposed cake.  With the short side directly in front of you, begin to loosely roll up the cake, keeping the towel inside the roll (doing this while the cake is warm helps rolling the filled cake so much easier—a video of this process is saved in my highlights on Instagram under Bûche de Noël).  Let the cake cool completely.
  8. Once completely cooled, the cake can be carefully unrolled.  Using a pastry brush, soak the cake evenly with the Gardenia Syrup—the cake should not seem “wet” from the syrup.  Rather, the syrup should just lightly moisten the cake, leaving a hint of its scent on the cake.  
  9. Dollop small scoops of jam around the surface of the cake.  Using a small offset spatula, spread the jam into a very thin, even layer across the entire cake.
  10. Using the same method, spread the Whipped White Chocolate and Blackberry Ganache over the entire cake.
  11. Re-roll the cake, as tightly as possible, securing the seam under the finished cake (again, there is a good video on my Instagram highlights under Bûche de Noël).
  12. Coat the outside of the roulade with the Gardenia Swiss Meringue Buttercream, decorating with blackberries and buttercream gardenias, detailed in my Instagram post and highlights, here.

gardenia syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

4-6 washed gardenia flowers

  1. Heat sugar and water over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Do not boil.  
  2. Remove from heat, cool slightly.  Add cleaned gardenia flowers and allow to steep, 12-20 hours. Transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate.  Use the syrup within 48 hours, not because the syrup goes bad, but because it loses the essence of the gardenias.

Whipped white chocolate and blackberry ganache

2/3 cup fresh blackberries (about 100 grams)

1/4 cup heavy cream (about 60 grams)

7 ounces white chocolate, chopped

  1. Purée blackberries in a blender or food processor.  Pass through a sieve to remove seeds and set aside.
  2. Warm heavy cream on a low fire to just under boiling.  Pour the hot cream over the white chocolate and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Whisk until smooth.
  3. Add blackberry purée and refrigerate until cold and set.
  4. Whip the cooled ganache in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until lighter in color and texture. 

Gardenia Swiss Meringue buttercream

10 large fresh egg whites (about 300 grams)

2 1/2 cups sugar (about 500 grams)

a large pinch of cream of tartar

a large pinch of salt

6 sticks unsalted butter (about 680 grams), cut into cubes, sitting at room temperature for 20-30 minutes

1 1/2 – 2 1/2 tablespoons Gardenia Syrup (depending on the potency of the syrup)

  1. Gently warm the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar over a double boiler.  Stirring constantly, warm the egg mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved—when rubbed between your fingers, the mixture should be warm and smooth with no grittiness from the sugar present.
  2. Add the warm egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk on medium-high until cool and fluffy, approximately 10-12 minutes.  
  3. Lower the mixer to medium and begin adding the butter, one piece at a time. If, at the end of mixing, the buttercream is too soft or soupy, try putting the entire bowl of buttercream into the freezer for 8-10 minutes, returning to the mixer with the paddle attachment.  Scrape down the bowl and mix on medium until the buttercream becomes smooth and silky, repeating the process if its still too warm. Likewise, if the buttercream is too stiff and looks curdled, it is likely too cold. Return it to the double boiler for a few minutes, until you can see the buttercream around the edges begin to melt.  Mix with the paddle attachment on medium until the buttercream is smooth and silky. The post titled “Swiss Meringue Demystified” from sweetapolita.com can be found here–along with all the helpful tips on how to get it just right.  

5 thoughts on “Gardenias and Blackberries

  1. I think you left a couple of steps out of your cake recipe… The ingredients call for flour, Baking powder, salt, and 3/4 of a cup of sugar… Your instructions do not include any of these items and only 3 tablespoons of the sugar. I have baked similar cakes many times so I’m able to correct that in my own kitchen but there may be people reading this recipe who experience catastrophic failure and have no idea why.

    1. Thank you so much for the alert. I have been away from here for a while, and your acute eye has found I forgot an entire step to the cake recipe. I apologize for the oversight and have mended the error. Thanks!

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