January 31, 2010

A Matter of Fact Cake

A thermal blanket of fresh snow was wrapping itself around the outside, but the air inside was heavy and warm with vanilla. Heavy. Amazing what a little  extract can do. Just 1 1/2 teaspoons and ribbons of vanilla scented the entire house, whispering I promise you I'm going to taste so good when I'm done. The little oven had been kicking for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Spring form, a little off center, on the center rack.

The better half of the morning had been spent in search of recipe for a plain buttermilk cake. Found, one Buttermilk Birthday Cake, page 210, How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson.

The book jacket had been disposed of years ago. Not for wear and tear, mind you. I just don't like book jackets. I like my books to be nice and plain, like my cakes. I want to see fabric and paper, embossed text running the length of the spine. Jackets tear, shift, discombobulate. It's all so very out of sorts when you think about it.

A cake that requires frugal use of time, energy and product, why, that's the cake for me. Simply, I'd like a cake that resembles something Laura Ingalls Wilder might have eaten back in her day. Something her mother would have wrapped in cloth and placed at the bottom of her lunch pale. A treat to be devoured under an oak on the hill after a day spent fishing down at the creek.

Nigella's recipe was rather matter of fact and exactly what I had been looking for. Flour (1 2/3 cups, all-purpose), baking powder (1 1/2 teaspoons), baking soda (1/2 teaspoon), and salt (1/4 teaspoon) were whisked together and set aside. Buttermilk (3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons) and vanilla (1 1/2 teaspoons) combined in a measuring cup. Butter (1/2 cup, unsalted and softened) and sugar (3/4 cup) were added to the stand mixer bowl and whipped until pale and fluffy. To this, eggs (3 large),  were added and mixed. Then, alternating the flour and buttermilk mixes. Careful not to mix too much.

The spring form was greased and a layer of parchment added. The oven ready, I poured the batter into the round and slid the cake in.

Ah, but a watched cake never bakes, it seems. I turned my back, only peeking a few times the entire 40 minutes. So hard, not flipping the oven light switch, bending over, face to the glass, examining.

At 39 minutes, 23 seconds, I could wait no more. The door open, the rack slid out, the cake tested. The designated tester (a toothpick) came out clean.

Set on a cooling rack, I bent down several times to inhale the cake which smelled as if it had been drenched in a vanilla bath.

After dinner, which was quite ample in pasta, olives, wine, salad and fish cakes, I pulled the dome to the table. A slice for Roberto, a slice for me. It tasted not too sweet. The texture, quite surprising. It was almost as if the cake had been soaking in something, but it wasn't wet at all. A bit squidgy, but not squashy. It plumped back, like memory foam. A very large buttermilk pancake, set to bake, not fry.

Nigella suggested icing of butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and milk was ignored. We kept it plain, of course. Mmm...but, I imagine this would taste quite lovely warmed with a bit of maple syrup.


  1. That is gorgeous! Mmmmm. Funny thing, I have some buttermilk on hand...oh delicious. Your pictures are really wonderful.

  2. ps. --I also get rid of book jackets. So not necessary.

  3. I love the crumb of a buttermilk cake. always one of my favorites!

  4. It looks so good!!!!
    My kind of cake;)

  5. Your description of it makes it sound even more tempting than it already looks, and the idea of a bit of maple syrup added...heaven!

  6. I really like plain cake, Nigella and your writing (oh olives, pasta and fishcakes too, especially fishcakes) so I am easy to please on this one.
    lovely, lovely.

  7. I hate book jackets too! Ned hates that I love to throw them away. They look so much more neat and organized on the bookshelf!

    And that cake looks lovely Tracy.

  8. Anna - We usually don't have buttermilk on hand and the expiration was creeping closer...I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds book jackets useless. :)

    Beth - This was my first buttermilk cake. The crumb was quite surprising. We soaked up the last of our cereal milk yesterday with a slice. It was perfect.

    Elisabelle - I think everyone needs a simple cake in their life. :)

    Kath - I might test the maple syrup idea tonight or tomorrow morning...

    rachel - You still have the ultimate plain cake on your blog, as far as I'm concerned. That will always be in my recipe box. :)

    Elizabeth - I think Roberto feels the same as Ned. I think you could eat this cake without worry of throwing off your goals. I've heard buttermilk speeds up the metabolism. ;)

  9. Oh, yes - maple syrup with this.(And that just reminded me, I was going to make glazed maple cookies this week, plus now probably this cake as well.) A great recipe - gotta love Nigella.

  10. A very large buttermilk pancake? I am intrigued!

  11. tiina - I was close to making maple cookies this weekend, but I had to use up the buttermilk. Maybe next...

    Denise - It would taste very very good for breakfast, if one were to eat cake for breakfast. :)

  12. Love your poetic description of the scent of the cake, you transported me over the ocean and into your kitchen!

    I sorely miss pure Vanilla extract. Ever since I moved from DC, have I used Vanilla sugar, the only way I can find this heavenly fragrance here.

  13. this looks so delicious and i love the way you describe things, i can imagine smelling the vanilla wafting through the kitchen :)

  14. Merisi - Thank you. I couldn't imagine not having pure vanilla extract. I'm happy that I could transport. :)

    Cocina Savant - The best part about winter, a vanilla scented kitchen. :)

  15. I LOVE this! :-) I grinned so big with your Laura Ingalls Wilder reference. I totally know what you mean. :-) Drenched in maple syrup sounds just heavenly.

  16. Rambling Tart - And Laura was a bit of a Pollyanna and an Anne of Green Gables herself. :)

  17. oh, the wonders of buttermilk, it really does something special in baking---that "squidgy-ness" a plain, unadorned cake has been so underrated (too many cupcake places with great mounds of frosting!)
    thanks for sharing this one. It is especially fun to bake when it's snowing.


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