As much as I enjoy making extravagant three-tiered cakes, despite the fact that they’ve given me some of the most stressful moments of my life, you can’t just up and make a layer cake at the drop of a hat. There’s frosting involved and a crumb coat and the whole general waiting time. With layer cakes, you must plan in advance and particularly if your schedule is as busy as mine is, you’ll have to carefully plan ahead when you will bake the cake, when you will make the frosting, and so on, so that you can run errands in between and not sit in your apartment waiting for the next step. I learned that with my first layer cake – call it a lesson learned.
So even though I don’t have an option of always having cake on hand (this is for my own good as much as being busy at work) I’m also one of those people who enjoys to have something homebaked at the drop of a hat especially when friends drop by unexpectedly. Or on occasions when you’re making a book club dinner during weeknight for a group of young ladies with discriminating palates.
So when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, naturally. And if life prohibits you from spending your mornings and afternoons fussing over a layer cake complete with piped frosting, there are some simple quick cakes that are well within your reach and can be made in under an hour using a maximum of two bowls. Edna Lewis referred to these cakes as “busy-day cakes”, and while the name suggests just messily throwing ingredients together, there is nothing harried about these cakes at all. In fact, for me, they evoke a kind of Southern tranquility and calm. The kind where you sit in a rocking chair sipping lemonade and eating cake. Easy to make yes, but you’d never think these were sort of thrown together. They’re lovely and delicate and kind of decadent in their own way.
I made this cake for the book club ladies and this is another one that will have to be made again and again. For picnics, and hostess gifts, for potluck suppers, for random last-moment get-togethers. And have I told you how much I love baking with buttermilk? It makes cakes lighter and more delicate. And since I am a fan of adding some tart to my sweet, berries make a great addition. Here I used raspberries, but blueberries or strawberries would have been equally lovely.
Lastly, one of the most winning traits of such cakes, for me personally, is that they’re not overly sweet, and can be eaten either as dessert or as coffee cake the next morning. Their simplicity is the kind of honest, low-maintenance appeal that I love about busy night meals, when you still take the time to cook a proper supper, but manage to strike a balance between homemade and practical. As all of us with office jobs know, cooking on a weeknight can appear to be an insurmountable challenge. And the lovely thing is that – it doesn’t have to be. Here’s proof!
Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2009
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (about 5 ounces)
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.
At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.
Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.