Blackberry Buttermilk Cake

What’s the difference between a cake fail and a cake triumph, you ask?

Location, location, location!

A cake triumph you get to eat at your coffee table off a nice dish with your favorite fork.

A cake fail you have to eat with your fingers out of a Ziploc bag while standing over the kitchen sink.

Perhaps you saw this picture on my Facebook page a few days ago. Yes, it’s the little blackberry buttermilk cake that put the brakes on a nearly year-long record of personal kitchen triumphs, excluding my long painful road to perfecting pizza crust and the time I used three times the amount of water I was supposed to while trying to boil rice.

Oh, and the time I accidentally lit the dish towel on fire while it was in my hand and didn’t notice.

This cake was coming along like gangbusters.  Except for the buttermilk, I had all the necessary ingredients in house, there was minimal prep involved, and it emerged from the oven with a golden top, the aroma of sweetened berries and batter spiralling up to my nose.

It didn’t go wrong until I tried “turning the cake out.”

I wasn’t readily able to see where I’d gone wrong, so I gave my mom a call.

“I made a cake this afternoon,”  I started, but before I could go any further, Gloria  jumped in. “I saw your cake on Facebook.  What is it, what was it supposed to be, and what the hell did you do to it?”

I explained my process, but when I reached the part about buttering and flouring my pan, she stopped me.  “Butter and flour won’t always give you the best results,” she advised. “Just use plain old vegetable spray.  Spray some on the pan, and spread it around with your fingers, on the sides of the pan too.  I never rely on butter and flour.  I use PAM all the time.”

“How did you figure out that PAM works better than butter and flour?” I asked, exepcting a juicy story I could re-post here.

“I don’t know,” she answered plainly, “I must have screwed something up once, so now I use PAM.”

When in doubt, ask mom.

It turns out Gloria was right on the money. I took her advice with Blackberry Buttermilk Cake 2.0, and it “turned out” perfectly.

Now, perhaps… and I’m just saying perhaps, Gloria isn’t the first person on the list of people to ask for tips on releasing desserts from their imprisoning kitchenware, but she certainly adds a lot of fun to the process where you thought there was none to be had. Witness the battle below:

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake adapted from Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Gourmet, June 2009
Makes one thin 9-inch cake.

  • 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
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries (about 5 oz)

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, or use vegetable spray.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter blackberries 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, 20 to 25 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.

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