baking buttermilk cake or adventures in frosting

wpid-buttermilk-cake-slice_01.jpg.jpegAs I continue to flip through the yellowed three-by-five cards in Great-aunt Helen’s recipe boxes, I’m amazed at the breadth of her recipes. Savory and sweet, complex and simple, old-school and avant-garde–they all happily co-exist.

Admittedly, more are simple than complex, sweets outnumber savory, and old-school beats out avant-garde. Today’s recipe qualifies on all counts.wpid-cake-recipe.jpg.jpegWho Edith is, I’ve no idea, but we have her to thank for this classic cake recipe. While the ingredients are clearly defined, the directions leave much to the imagination. Though basic cake mixing technique works (sift together dry ingredients, cream fat and sugar, beat in eggs and flavor extract, add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk), there’s no mention of pan size. The icing recipe, on the back, was even harder to follow.wpid-icing-recipe.jpg.jpegThe second line had me stumped: “almond and lemon.” didn’t sound right. Adding a spot of vanilla extract, I followed the recipe as best as I could figure. In the end, the cake was amazing–a homey, light and delicate, sweet but not too cake. But the journey to the final cake had a few bumps.

A silky smooth batter had me hopeful.wpid-cake-batter_01.jpg.jpegBut the 45-minute bake time was too long. When I checked at 35, the cake was already starting to overbrown. (A 9×13-inch pan might have needed the full 45.)wpid-cakes.jpgThe browned crust actually worked here–adding another layer of texture, almost a crunch. But an extra 10 minutes would have made for charred cake.

Now the frosting: Simultaneously beating and cooking the sugar, water, and egg whites over “rapidly boiling water” called for a double-boiler; I improvised with a saucepan and metal bowl.wpid-beating-frosting_01.jpg.jpegExpecting it to cook up like the traditional 7-minute frosting, I enjoyed seeing the hot sugar mixture thicken.




Once whipped, it was time to add the softened butter. Chemistry said that adding fat to whipped egg whites would deflate the volume. Thinking maybe the sugar would help protect the air bubbles, I gently beat in the butter. And…wpid-frosting.jpgMy beautifully whipped frosting was gone and in its place an almost runny meringuey mess. Soldiering on, I filled and frosted the cake layers.wpid-buttermilk-cake-frosted.jpg.jpegWhile more rustic than pretty, the “icing” dried and in the end crowned a perfectly acceptable and amazingly delightful and delicious cake.

Lessons learned while working through this recipe brought Great-aunt Helen to mind. She was a smart lady, also very patient. She wouldn’t have minded taking the extra step to set up a makeshift double-boiler. She would have waited the six or seven minutes needed to get the fully whipped icing. As the frosting “melted” after adding the butter, she would have calmly kept stirring, knowing that it would set nicely once spread over and dried on the cake.wpid-buttermilk-cake-slice_02.jpg.jpegHelen might have served this cake at one of the birthday parties she hosted for various family members. She might have made it and packed it for a picnic at one of Minneapolis’s lakes. Or it might have been presliced and brought to the tailgate meals she enjoyed with friends before University of Minnesota sporting events.

Whatever the story behind the cake, it’s an honor to have the recipe in my collection and now the cake on my counter (for as long as it lasts, ha). Come back next post to see what we’ll be drinking with Great-aunt Helen’s Buttermilk Cake.wpid-buttermilk-cake-slice.jpg.jpeg

48 thoughts on “baking buttermilk cake or adventures in frosting

  1. My tummy is rumbling, Liz. I loved the photos of all the steps you went through for the Edith/Helen concoction! I think the trial and error is because of the pan size omission. The time-in-oven would definitely be related to the thickness of the cake more than the wideness, am I right? So a shallow pan needs less time than a deep pan.

    Am I getting the hang of baking from following Food for Fun? Not that I would ever. πŸ™‚

    Now for a drink to accompany …

  2. I just love these posts, all the history and fantastic plates. I do love the browned edges, whether it be cake or a cookie or a pizza crust, but as you say, just a minute longer can destroy it. The first batter pics did look creamy, like a sour cream dip, good enough to dip my Ruffles into. (into which to dip my Ruffles, you know what I mean). I do have to mention that my mother is Helen and her mother was Edith, so this is getting a little coincidental at this point. πŸ™‚

    • Why yes I do understand into which you dip your what, Kerbey. Got it. That is crazy about your Edith and Helen connections. I am sure my great-aunt Helen is not your mom, though your Edith could very well be great-aunt Helen’s Edith πŸ˜‰ Appreciate your kind words and support. You’re helping me to justify my compulsory thrift store tableware purchases!

  3. Oh this is a good one Liz. You are very fortunate to have your Great Aunt Helen’s recipes! I love vintage recipes, they are so simple and there seems to be few ingredients. So many recipes these days can be complicated and time consuming. Sounds like it all came together perfect in the end. πŸ™‚

    • Her simple recipes are my favorite, Seana. Date bread, oatmeal muffins, buttermilk cake. Such elegance! Which is right up your alley πŸ™‚ Thanks for coming by.

      • omg, when i read this back, it sounded horrible, but i was just trying to think of the toughest image i could think of. one that never gives up, is strong and perseveres. and yes, i would love a slice or three.

    • not sure what she would think, Kerry. In her last year or so she was crabby and grumpy, so she may not have been impressed at all, lol. Oh how I wish I knew her better when I was a kid. What a strong woman. But yes, better late than never on the recipes. Thanks, Kerry!

  4. I hate to eat and run….so rude, but had to let you know I stopped by quickly and guzzled my slice down. So delicious!! I will stay longer when you pour the next cocktail. Deal? πŸ™‚ Happy weekend !

    • Thanks, Bonnie πŸ™‚ Cocktail was supposed to be up last night, but letting it go another week. Hard to keep my head above water right now and the blog takes the hit this week. Glad you got your cake–of course ok to eat and run. Glad to connect whenever we do!

  5. A few days ago, I looked at this lovely filled cake & frosted cake! I loved the step-by-step guide too! I made it yesterday afternoon! It was fun, fun, fun too!
    Muy hubby Peter, my mom, dad & I all loved the cake & frosting too! xxxx
    thanks a bunch! πŸ™‚

    • Love that you made this cake, Sophie. You rock!!!! The frosting is especially, yum, I agree πŸ™‚ Just posted the accompanying cocktail. Cheers to you!

    • Thanks, Ada. It is indeed tasty πŸ™‚ I’ve completely fallen off the WP train, so have no idea what you’ve been up to–sorry! Things going well? Would imagine you’re craaaaaaazy busy!

      • I have fallen off the WP train long before you haha. But I finally made a (short) post recently. Things are going well–busy finishing up with the wedding planning! I started so early, but now it feels like I don’t have enough time! How have you been lately?

        • been nuts where I am as well. Been especially busy with my youngest–she’s having a rough year in school 😦 But keeping up with the blog needs to happen. Somehow I no longer get posting notifications via email and I’ve never been good using the reader. Which means I’ve become a rotten Follower. Going to check you out right now though!!!

  6. Pingback: Kentucky cocktail, cake optional | food for fun

    • You are so kind to check in, Amanda! Thank you πŸ™‚ And thanks for the comments. I am getting back on the WP wagon soon. Been a long haul since January–lots of mommy stuff. My youngest started having behavioral issues and we needed to get to the bottom of things. The brain is a fascinating thing and it’s been quite the journey. TMI, maybe, but know that I miss the WP connections tons. Hope you’ve been well. You are such a very kind soul!!!


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