One thing I never bother hiding anymore is just how much of a geek I am. It’s a pretty hopeless endeavor: last week was Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ birthday — September 22nd — and I baked a cake and had a party.
No, really. I baked a cake for fictional characters.
And it was delicious. I am not embarrassed to say that my most successful cake to date was for fictional characters….who are not even human. That’s the kind of fun you have when you are me. (This does not mean that I will not bake a different cake next year, because while this was excellent, and devoured with all appropriate, hobbit-like speed, I was not keen on the frosting. I try to avoid corn syrup, and that was not the case for this recipe. Which is why I am not sharing the recipe here.)
Sift together 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter and 2 cups sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I have what you might charitably call a “heavy hand” with vanilla extract). Add 4 eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in 2 cups buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in a buttered cake pan, then whack pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Apparently, there’s some kind of rule this month that Fridays have to be vile, rainy and cold and windy. Two weeks in a row is probably just a coincidence, but my conspiracy-theorist heart is deeply suspicious.
I am determined not to let Friday beat me, and so I spent the morning tromping around, buying people presents, and came home (soaked and freezing) to take the hottest shower I could stand and make cake. I got this recipe way back in February, in the 14 Valentines celebration, and it seemed appropriate, because if you looked out the window today (or went outside), it was February to the naked eye.
Unfortunately, this chocolate buttermilk cake is not an instant-gratification cake; it doesn’t pay to lick the bowl. I’m not sure why, but the batter is almost bitter — maybe the buttermilk and the cocoa? — and produces a really unpleasant sensation at the back of the throat. It is, however, made up by the finished product, which is tender, moist, and an almost reddish color. (And, like pretty much anything baked, it perfumed the kitchen wonderfully while baking.)
It’s a pretty old-fashioned piece of foodery, I guess —white sugar? Cocoa powder? My inner Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingfisher is appalled — but it tastes really good. Although this recipe, as I got it, makes one hell of a large cake; next time, I am halving it. (I was actually planning to make cupcakes. That…was not exactly possible.)
Chocolate buttermilk cake
Oven: 350 F, 177 C, gas mark 4.
Mix 3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/3 heaping cup of cocoa powder.
Add 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil, but grapeseed, canola, anything like that would be fine), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 eggs. Mix thoroughly. Add 1 cup boiling water and mix in.
Pour into a greased 9 by 15 cake pan and bake 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.