Recipes provide a great jumping off point for innovation. Perhaps the best example of that is what you can do with an ordinary – or not so ordinary – pound cake. At its core there are some basic ingredients but from there you can build on extra flavors. Without the lavender and buttermilk, this is just a pound cake. But the title says Lavender Buttermilk Cake and that sounds much more exciting, doesn’t it?
The cake originally started as a recipe from this month’s Food and Wine magazine for an orange buttermilk loaf cake. Anything with buttermilk will draw my attention and a quick look told me this was a variation on a pound cake with a fancy substitution for the milk. Traditionally a pound cake is equal parts (by weight) flour, milk, butter, and eggs but anytime you see a loaf cake with what seems like a large amount of dairy and eggs, there’s a good chance it’s a pound cake. This one uses more milk and less eggs but the idea of an everyday loaf cake is the same. I hadn’t thought of using buttermilk in this kind of plain cake before but it makes sense; it’s an easy 1 to 1 substitution for milk in any cake.
But even after I’d made up my mind to try this cake, I wasn’t excited about orange. I wanted something more ‘grown-up’ and that generally means something floral or herbal. I settled on lavender which makes any baked good smell amazing. But if lavender isn’t you thing, feel free to substitute 1 ½ teaspoons of the flavor you want. Stick with orange, maybe try ginger, or go for a more sophisticated flavor like black pepper. Blend it into the sugar with your fingertips so that the taste gets into the batter and flavors the whole cake rather than just the bit where the spice touches.
Finding a new ‘recipe’ doesn’t always mean actually making a new dish, especially when it comes to baking. Often just changing the main flavoring agents – switching up the spices, substituting a different kind of liquid, or using a different extract than just vanilla – makes the whole flavor different. There’s a good chance this cake will show up at potlucks and holiday parties in a variety of different disguises and if I hadn’t blabbed about it here, no one would even know.
Buttermilk Lavender Cake or Ways to Spice Up a Pound Cake
Adapted from Food and Wine’s Orange-Scented Buttermilk Cake Loaves
Makes 12-16 servings, depending on the generosity of your slices
7 oz flour (1 ½ cups cake or 1 2/3 cups all purpose)
½ tbs baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
1 stick (1/4 lb or 8 tbs) butter
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp lavender flowers (or spice of your choice)
¼ cup sour cream or yogurt
2/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a loaf pan (10 by 5 inches).* In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir to combine and set it aside.
Use a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin on a cutting board to bruise and crush the lavender flowers until they are fragrant. Mix the lavender with the sugar and toss it thoroughly with your fingers to scent the sugar. In the work bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl (using a hand mixer), cream the butter and the lavender sugar on medium speed until well combined. Then up the speed to high and cream them for another 3-4 minutes or until the butter is lightened in color and fluffy from air.
Turn the mixer back down to medium and add the eggs one at a time, mixing in between to combine. Then add the sour cream and mix again for a minute to combine.
Turn the mixer back down to low and alternate adding the buttermilk and the flour so that you make three additions of each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula in between additions so that everything is evenly mixed.
When the batter is just combined turn off the mixer and give it one of two more stirs with the spatula. Then pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes or until the top is a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool down until it’s only warm to the touch. Serve slices warm or room temperature, preferably with some jam or whipped cream.
* Do not make the mistake I made and fail to grease the loaf pan foolishly thinking there’s enough butter in it to prevent sticking. The large amount of sugar makes the edges crackly which is delicious but also sticks to the sides. Grease the sides well and maybe even line the bottom and long sides of the pan with a foil sling to make removing the cake easier. The cake it still good but it would be prettier if I hadn’t been so lazy.