I’ve been in a cake baking mood lately. A dangerous mood to be in. I was hoping I could fight the “I just have to bake a cake now” urge until Easter, for which I have claimed the title of Head Pastry Chef; that is, I volunteered to bring dessert and no one objected. Clearly, I was too impatient to wait until then.
Unlike for Easter though, today I wanted to bake a simple cake. A cake that would be comforting and homey. A cake that was made for a plain, old, boring Sunday evening. Being a fan of simple cooking, even when it comes to desserts, I have seemingly a million such cake recipes bookmarked, dog-eared, stored in my head, or written on scraps of paper tucked into massive piles of more paper. This one though, this one has been at the very top of that list, kept in an easily accessible part of my brain – of which sometimes I think there are very few – forever. Forever.
There was a point in my life when I claimed I didn’t like cake. I think I was really just sick of eating store bought birthday cakes that tasted like cardboard and were topped with way way way too much sugary frosting, if you could call it that. Somewhere along the line my opinion changed and I became a cake lover. I promised myself I would only eat good cake though. Cake that was made from scratch, not from a box. Cake that was not overly sweet. Cake that was light and moist. Good cake.
During staff training this summer I broke my promise. I was desperate folks. I needed stress relieving, tiredness reducing cake. Any kind of cake would do. Even the box-made, chocolate cake my co-counselor one night announced was for dessert would do. I snagged my slice and she hers. I dug in, but she grabbed a carton of milk and proceeded to do something unusual. She opened the milk carton and poured its contents right over the cake. Perhaps this is normal in the UK, where my co-counselor was from, but for a born and raised Midwesterner this was far from the norm. I ate my cake and drank my milk separately. Until then, that is.
Upon returning from camp and reuniting with the internet, I was reminded of this cake. It seemed to be calling for a bath in milk, which is, of course, exactly what I gave it. The cake, and my stomach, thanked me again and again and again. And I’ll thank Coral, my co-counselor, for her genius take on cake eating. Thank you my dear.
Busy Day Cake
Tim of Lottie + Doof uses buttermilk instead of whole milk in his version. I have yet to try the buttermilk method, but I will be next time! He also notes the importance of using good ingredients because this cake is so simple. His advice is sound, especially in the nutmeg department. Breakdown and grate it fresh.
Lewis proposes several serving options: “Busy-day cake was never iced, it was always cut into squares and served warm, often with fresh fruit or berries left over from canning. The delicious flavor of fresh-cooked fruit with the plain cake was just to our taste and it was also refreshing with newly churned, chilled buttermilk or cold morning’s milk” (p. 86). I liked pouring milk right over the top of mine (see above), but I also think it would be lovely with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Makes 1 9-inch cake
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature, plus extra cold milk for serving
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9 inch springform pan with butter.
Beat the butter and the sugar by hand, or in the bowl of a standard mixer, until light and fluffy. One by one, add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract, and beat to blend.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.
Add about 1/4 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix to incorporate. Add 1/3 of the milk, and mix again. Add the remaining flour mixture in three more doses, alternating each time with a bit of milk, and mix to just combine. (You should start and finish with additions of flour, i.e. add flour then milk, flour, milk, flour, milk, and flour.) Do not overmix. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir to incorporate any flour not yet absorbed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly across the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in pan. Remove from pan and slice, placing each slice in a bowl. Pour several tablespoons of cold milk over each slice and serve immediately. (Not a milk fan? See headnotes for further serving suggestions.)