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Like a lullaby

For almost a year now, Brandon and I have performed a particular ritual at the start of each new season. It’s going to make some of you want to roll your eyes and gag - and really, be my guest; I gag a little just typing this - but I want to tell you about it anyway, because it’s kind of dreamy. You might even want to join in. Basically, the ritual goes like this: one night, when the season is just beginning, we climb into bed, prop ourselves up on pillows, and I read to him from Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: You read aloud to him? From a cookbook? Oh, PLEASE. But before you lean back in your chair and aim that letter opener at your eye, I hope you’ll hear me out. There’s been a lot of talk about Edna Lewis lately - the second anniversary of her death is this week, and Gourmet made her the centerpiece of their January issue - and rightfully so. The granddaughter of a freed slave, Miss Lewis grew up in a small farming community in Virginia and went on to become what some have called the South’s answer to Julia Child. The lady was a national treasure. The Taste of Country Cooking, her second book, was published in 1976, wrapped a yellow and brown cover with an endearing shot of Miss Lewis on the front, standing in a field of sunflowers, wearing a pinky-white dress and gazing into a bowl of tomatoes. Organized by season, the book is filled with reminiscences on her childhood and the food her family grew, cooked, and ate. In the summer, Brandon and I read from the summer section; in the winter, we read from the winter one. The same goes for spring and fall. It’s like a lullaby in printed form. I don’t know about you, but I think someone would have to be pretty heartless to not feel pleasantly dopey after a passage like this:

One usually thinks of lamb as a spring dish but no one had the heart to kill a lamb. The lambs were sold at the proper time and the sheep would be culled - some sold and a few butchered. My mother would usually buy the head and the forequarter of the mutton, which she cooked by braising or boiling and served with the first asparagus that appeared in along the fence row, grown from seed the birds dropped. There were the unforgettable English peas, first-of-the-season garden crop cooked and served in heavy cream along with sautéed first-of-the-season chicken. As the new calves came, we would have an abundance of milk and butter, as well as buttermilk, rich with flecks of butter. Rich milk was used in the making of gravies, blanc mange, custards, creamed minced ham, buttermilk biscuits, and batter breads, as well as sour-milk pancakes. And we would gather wild honey from the hollow of oak trees to go with the hot biscuits and pick wild strawberries to go with the heavy cream. (Spring, p. 4-5)

Of course, I should also warn you: bring some cookies or cake or something into bed with you. You’re going to need them. That, and some cheese, and olives, and salami, and last night’s leftover spaghetti, and a pint of ice cream, and the salted peanuts in that baggie on the counter, and a beer.

Ever since I got my copy of the book, I’ve had my eye on one recipe in particular. It’s from the summer section, and it’s called “Busy-Day Cake or Sweet Bread.” If that name alone doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what will. Maybe Miss Lewis’s description? Let’s see:

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 must have read, and reread, those words at least a half dozen times. But for reasons I cannot fathom, it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally made the cake. And all I can say about that is: DO NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE. Hop to it.

The busy-day cake is exactly what you might imagine, only even better. It’s a simple, quick-to-make white cake composed of the usual suspects: butter, sugar, egg, flour. But it bakes up into something uncommonly fragrant, moist and nubbly-crumbed. When Miss Lewis called it “sweet bread,” she was onto something. More than a cake, really, it reminds me of cornbread: dense, chewy, and only moderately sweet; the kind of thing you want to keep nibbling long after you’re full. I baked it yesterday afternoon, just in time to spoil our dinner, and as of this writing - a scant 25 hours later - we’ve already eaten over half of it. Miss Lewis, I think, would be very pleased. I’m usually a chocolate-cake-and-banana-bread kind of girl, but now, I don’t know. I already feel another busy-day cake coming on.

Edna Lewis’s Busy-Day Cake
Adapted from The Taste of Country Cooking

For this cake, Miss Lewis called for 4 teaspoons of a particular single-acting baking powder called Royal Baking Powder. It is no longer being made, so I used my standard baking powder, Rumford brand, which is double-acting. (Most commercial baking powders today are.) Because I was using the double-acting type, I should have used less than Miss Lewis indicated, but, uh, I didn’t think to. (See here for information about ingredient substitutions like these.) As a result, my cake collapsed(!) in the center - as cakes with too much leavening can do - and had an especially coarse texture. I happen to love it, though, so to tell you the truth, next time, I might not change a thing. I don’t mind a cake with a crater in the middle; its rustic! But if you want the cake as Miss Lewis intended it, decrease the amount of baking powder to about 2 ½ teaspoons. Or make your own homemade single-acting baking powder. It’s very simple: mix / sift together 2 parts cream of tartar and 1 part baking soda. Ta da, it’s ready. You’ll use 4 teaspoons of this mixture, as Miss Lewis calls for. Any extra can be kept for weeks, or even months.

Also, the original version of this recipe calls for the batter to be mixed by hand with a wooden spoon. But since I’m a little lazy, I used my stand mixer. (Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever creamed butter without a machine. I hope Miss Lewis will forgive me.) You could also use a hand-held mixer, or, if you’re a better woman than I, you could do it by hand. I imagine you might end up with an especially nice texture that way.

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ½ - 4 tsp. baking powder (see headnote, above)
¼ tsp. salt
1 good pinch freshly grated nutmeg, or more
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9” springform pan with butter or cooking spray. (Miss Lewis used a 10” x 10” pan, but I don’t have one. A 9” springform pan has a similar capacity.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the butter and the sugar 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 ¼ of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat on low speed to incorporate. Add 1/3 of the milk, and beat again. Add the remaining flour mixture in three more doses, alternating each time with a bit of milk, and beating to just combine. 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. This cake has a tendency to brown quickly on top, so after about 20 minutes, you might want to peek into the oven and tent the cake with aluminum foil if necessary.

Serve warm.

Note: This cake is pretty wonderful plain, although it’s also good with crème fraîche, and I’ll bet it would be lovely with some warm, crushed berries.


Blogger Hui Wen said...

Dear Molly,
I'm a long time reader of your blog and love your writing style. Although it is obsessive, I am only slightly ashamed to say that I check your blog at least once a day, eveyday, hoping for a new post. I do this knowing full and well that you usually only post once a week. To me, your writing is both comforting and addictive and I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't read this blog. Thank you.

P.S. I hope I didn't come across sounding like some kind of stalker

7:09 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Michelle said...

I don't know which excites me more, the thought of making that cake, or the thought of reading her cookbook. I just gotta have it! And, I'm still chuckling at the thought of you in bed, reading to your hubby. So funny! Can we clone that guy?

7:30 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger detroit dog said...

Very nice ritual -- really!

It might be interesting to read a post about "Best Foods in Bed."

7:37 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Just one tall girl named Laurel said...

Wow! I so love your blog! As a bit of a cake-- (albeit usually of the cup variety)-- experimentalist myself I am super excited to try this recipe. Sounds like the perfect thing for dessert tonight and, let's be honest, breakfast tomorrow too. Thanks for authoring one of my favorite landing places in all of the bloggosphere.

7:42 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Mercedes said...

Gasp, you've never creamed butter by hand? But that is, in my opinion, the best part about baking. The intrinsic feeling of having the butter change textures under your hands, the way it lightens in texture as the sugar is incorporated, that's the hows and whys of cake making. Maybe I'm just a luddite, but I love to do it by hand.

This sounds exactly like something I'd love, and while I know it stands alone as a plain cake, I bet you could play around with adding a few anise seeds, or some vanilla bean or lemon or (ooooh) black pepper and serve it with fresh peaches.

7:49 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Caroline said...

I love reading aloud of any kind! Never considered a cookbook but perhaps I can persuade my hubby to share the moment...

8:11 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Ellen said...

that's a sweet tradition. I love the idea of reading out loud in bed. Reminds me of bedtime as a kid. And cookbooks, I think, are the best of comfort reading. At least warm, chatty cookbooks that showcase the writer almost as much as the food... Will need to check out Miss Edna Lewis's book.

8:12 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger The Joyery said...

I've been reading (loving) your blog for quite some time now, and it's your moments just like these (propped on the pillows, reading to each other about food!) that make me sigh and swoon. It's such a warm feeling to know there are other nuts out there like myself! Now I just need to find myself a Brandon...

8:15 PM, February 11, 2008  
Anonymous Ashley said...

What a wonderful tradition you and Brandon share. I think my husband would fall asleep if I read him a cookbook. Although I can not think of anything more romantic then lying and bed and dreaming of the season's finest offerings. :)

8:52 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I consider my signed copy of Taste of Country Cooking to be one of my most prized possessions.

I loved hearing about your reading out loud ritual - Mr. E and I do that a lot as well. Farmer Boy also works well for this :)

9:24 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Katelyn said...

I am exhausted after a long day and a funk concert. I plop down to check for the new Orangette post, and after reading about a simple country cake, I'm rearing up and ready to bake it RIGHT NOW. (My more sensible housemates have persuaded me to wait until morning... but I was very tempted!!)

I visited Scotland for awhile a few years ago and my host mother would always pack me lunches including two just very slightly sweet pancakes, room temperature or cold, with some farm butter spread on them and stuck together like a sandwich. OH MAN. Better believe I have been craving those bad boys for years now. No bisquick mix or even my own concoctions have come close to those glorious pancakes. '

This plain cake might just fill a similarly shaped void in my heart!!

11:28 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Anita said...

Is there a recipe for single-acting baking powder in 'Taste of Country Cooking'? There definitely is in 'The Gift of Southern Cooking'... Cameron will not think to make Miz Lewis's biscuits without it.

It's really worth the very small hassle of making it... we make a recipe a couple times a year and store it in a click-top container (labled "Miz Lewis's baking powder", of course) with our other baking staples.

11:31 PM, February 11, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Hi guys. Brandon wants to thank you; he's pretty psyched to know that he's clone-worthy! We'll let you know when the first prototypes are ready.

Mercedes, okay, okay, you've convinced me. The next time I make this cake, I'll do the creaming and mixing by hand! The Joy of Cooking has a good explanation of proper creaming technique. I'm going to brush up...

And Anita, you're right! There is a single-acting baking powder formula at the very back of Taste; I'd totally forgotten. Thank you for reminding me. I'll add it into the headnotes for the recipe. But for anyone reading here, the basic rule of thumb is this: 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part baking soda. Mix / sift them together, and you've got homemade single-acting baking powder.

12:28 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger kickpleat said...

c and i read together in bed from the same book, never a cookbook, but it is a lovely ritual. the cake looks stunning. lovely photo.

12:30 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger lobstersquad said...

I might try reading aloud to José in bed, but heaven forbid having him and anything with crumbs inside at the same time.
And btw, Royal Baking Powder is the standard, the only available brand in Spain.

2:44 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Aran Goyoaga said...

That sounds really romantic to me! Your writing is simply lovely. Thank you for sharing with us.

3:14 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Luisa said...

You two are the cutest.

3:42 AM, February 12, 2008  
OpenID megrje said...

I have to say- I don't have a stand mixer, and I don't always like to pull out the hand mixer, so I frequently just do it by hand. (Although people give me the look of the crazy for meringue and whipped cream). But for cakes I think it's great because you don't want to overmix them and you can see exactly when everything is blended. It really doesn't take that much longer, you just have to start with softened butter.

4:58 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Julie said...

How could anyone not love Edna Lewis? I've never read her aloud but I reread her account of how Christmas was celebrated in Freetown, Virginia, the town where she was born, at least once a year. It's one of the chapters in Christmas Memories with Recipes -- a book I love and look forward to reading every year.

Her stories of life on the farm and in this little village where almost all their food was grown on the farm or hunted in the surrounding area create a picture of life that seems almost impossibly idyllic. People work hard, there's not a lot of luxury but they never want for food. There's a feeling of abundance and deep appreciation for what they have that is beautifully conveyed in Edna Lewis's writing.

5:34 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Urban Eater said...

I am glad to know I am not the only one who covets my cookbooks as if they were Romance novels. I've not read to my Hubby in bed, yet, but we do sit around on the front porch every Sunday afternoon, espressos in hand, flipping through our latest luxuries, quoting from personal testimonies to one another.
Right now we are on a Keller kick, so he is reading The French Laundry and I am reading Bouchon. Talk about food porn.

5:38 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Kate F. said...

It's funny, I was surprised to read that you've never creamed butter by hand--something about your style and the pleasure you take in drawing out the lusciousness of simple things doesn't jibe with that. You should try it some time--I know it seems silly when you have a stand mixer, but in my pre-stand mixer days I always felt somehow strong and Laura Ingalls creaming butter in a bowl with a fork. That sounds dumb, but I think it would be right up your alley.

Speaking of alley's, I'll be slinking down one now, before I wimp out and don't post this silly comment!

6:03 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous C said...

This is one of my favorite posts as of recently. I must have been living under a rock because I didn't know who Edna Lewis was, but she sounds utterly charming and now I want to read her books. Also, you'e the only person I know who can make something covered in plastic wrap look good!

6:15 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post on Edna Lewis! Thank you for that. Of course, that Gourmet feature on her was really fabulous, wasn't it? A Taste of Country Cooking is one I remember my mother always pulled from the shelf, simply for reading or when ready to cook. I went through a phase growing up, where her bread pudding with healthy gratings of nutmeg was one of my favorite things to make. I agree with you: it's wonderful reading, and inspiring. I will have to try the busy day cake right away!
Atlanta, GA

6:16 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger hannah said...

oh my gosh. i love this so much! and i will tell you why, i am not a girl who likes frosting. there i said it. but it is true! i always only eat the cake, and let me tell you, i am ready for a cake that can stand up solo, just for cake's sake. this also sounds like it would be perfect for breakfast the rest of the week. oh molly. i do love you.

6:34 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Holly said...

The Gift of Southern Cooking is one of my all time favorite cookbooks. I have been a fan of Edna Lewis's cooking since I was in middle school and my mother started making her recipes. As a North Carolina girl living in the cold cold North, Ms. Lewis's writing style and recipes always make me feel like I'm home again.

6:48 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous mkaw said...

I just put this book on hold at my local library and I can't wait to dive into it. Thank you for the inspiration!

7:15 AM, February 12, 2008  
OpenID kateortiz said...

a friend told me that the chocolate mousse i was about to prepare just isn't the same unless you whip the eggs by hand. somehow i was the one that ended up whipping...with no help from on-lookers. i would love to say the mousse tasted better because of it. but my hand was awfully tired. i have sheepishly returned to my beloved kitchenaid. "mix by hand" - i take it as a suggestion...like "wash by hand."

9:10 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger shari said...

i love that book so much, and i love the title of this post. so so true. xox

9:18 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger yvette said...

thank you for this! I love Edna Lewis and I don't think you're coocoo for reading this book out loud in bed. I read cookbooks by the fire at night for HOURS and I love it. Have you read "The Cook and the Gardener : A Year of Recipes and Writings for the French Countryside" by Amanda Hess? It's amazing.

Thank you for your blog. I love it. I read it every morning with my coffee.

9:39 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Drink, Memory said...

I have been wanting to bake something for a long time now, to warm up my cold kitchen (I'm in NYC.)In general,I don't care for sweets, but you make this cake sound so comforting and delicious, especially with the creme fraiche addition! You mentioned that this cake is only slightly sweet, which makes me think it might be the cake for me...perhaps I could try with even less sugar? Also, I am curious as to how it might turn out with a flour substitution, like spelt?

9:56 AM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

it's so important to remember those who have gone. to conjure them, to celebrate their lives. and we are so lucky that Miss Lewis left behind so many gifts, so many treasures.

many times I open one or two cookbooks and think that's all I need.

/thanks for the reminder.

10:28 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Jane said...

This cake is baking in the oven! My mom and I tasted the batter and agreed that it is "simple, but cute". I seem to have lost my 10x10 pan, so had to make it in 2 littler (but appropriately heart-shaped) pans. I'm tempted to ignore the no-frosting edict and combine the two cakes for my parents' anniversary dinner tonight. What do you all think about that? Leave as is, or combine and frost? If frost, what sort of frosting?

Molly, I got your writing in the mail last night (my issue of Bon Appetit) and in my blog reader this morning. It makes me happy! xxxo

11:49 AM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous robin said...

This recipe sounds glorious! The perfect way for me to use up some of my summer canning bounty!

12:04 PM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Lucas said...

Noticed that she speaks of using buttermilk for this cake. Of course the homemade baking powder would be needed w/ the soda I assume...? This one looks similar to the caramel cake that appeared in that same issue of Gourmet, only minus the caramel sauce. Time to get baking.

12:11 PM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous EB said...

Molly-- yes... cheesy and romantic... but wonderful. And Ms. Lewis was such a remarkable voice for her regional cuisine-- I love the image of you two cuddled up and reading together. Here's wishing the two of you a lovely Valentine's Day!


12:32 PM, February 12, 2008  
Anonymous Hillary said...

I think your ritual at the start of each season is so adorable! How very very cute.

12:43 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger isis said...

the royal powder issue caught my eye...
i have one royal baking powder can in the counter. it's still being produced in the country where i live.
i haven't noticed any difference respect to other brands (baking wise) though.

1:19 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Just Jen said...

I'm becoming a regular on your blog since finding it in January '08. I know that isn't that long a stretch but I simply love your blog... your thoughts, photos and recipes shared. And now after this recent post I simply can't wait to go buy a copy of this book you've mentioned. My husband is a native Southerner and I am certain we will enjoy what this book offers. Thank you for sharing.

2:26 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Rosiecat said...

What a delightful story! Despite being the ripe old age of 26, I love it when someone reads to me. It's so soothing and entertaining. I want a man who loves books as much as I do.

If someone were to read a cookbook to me in bed, I would probably choose one of Crescent Dragonwagon's books: Soup and Bread, Passionate Vegetarian, or her latest, The Cornbread Gospels. But to some degree, the reading would be redundant, as I have read each of them cover to cover multiple times already!

3:24 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger marsha said...

i have wondered about that cake. it seems too simple to be soooooo good. i am going to make it asap!

(love the reading in bed ritual! i read gourmet to the husband before going to sleep ever now and then.)

4:13 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Ximena and Isis, that's so interesting that you can still get Royal Baking Powder where you are. I wonder if it's the same company that sold it in the US, or if it's different? Hmm.

Megrje and Kate F., I promise to cream the butter by hand the next time I make this. (Which will be in the very near future! Must. Have. More. Busy-Day. Cake.) You've got me intrigued.

Julie, I wonder if that chapter is anything like the Christmas section in Taste? It's so lovely...

Yvette, you know, I haven't read The Cook and the Gardener. I don't know how it slipped past me, but it did. Thanks for the nudge; now I can't wait to pick up a copy.

Drink, Memory, yes, I do think you could play with cutting back the sugar here. Maybe cut it back to 1 cup at first, and then see what you think? But as for the spelt flour, gosh, I'm not sure. I haven't worked with spelt at all. I might suggest that you try it with regular white flour first, if you can tolerate it, and get a feel for it that way. Then you can play with substituting spelt...

Jane, I'm so sorry to have not gotten back to you earlier! It's probably way too late now to be of any help. But hmm, you know, I really would serve this plain, with creme fraiche on the side and some lightly sweetened crushed berries (fresh or frozen). Or maybe a lemony glaze - just powdered sugar and lemon juice, whisked up. Happy anniversary to your parents!

Lucas, I'm not sure about the buttermilk / soda. I think Miss Lewis was suggesting that buttermilk be served alongside the cake, not in the batter. But I could be wrong...

7:53 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger Katia said...

Beautiful post, I am a long-time fan of Miss Ednaand completely understand your love of her book.

I am in your camp with the mixer, but after reading some of the comments I might just try creaming butter by hand- it does sound lovely.

9:02 PM, February 12, 2008  
Blogger RecipeGirl said...

This is my first visit to your blog. I actually just read your column last night in BA.

My 6 year old son is interested in cookbooks and cooking magazines too. He has grown up looking at pictures and recipes with me :)

6:26 AM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger village mama said...

Thank you for sharing -- and the kick in the apron about 'hopping to it' ;-)

7:12 AM, February 13, 2008  
Anonymous L*Joy said...

do you find yourself stopped in your tracks thinking, 'how, just how! did I end up with a man that not only lets me read cookbooks out loud but actually reads too and enjoys it?'
Reading your posts encourages my heart. It is good to know other people savor their love like my husband and I do. good things are great things when shared... and it keeps getting great-er.

p.s. keep up the gag-me-with-a-spoon love. it is the way love was meant to be

8:02 AM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Anali said...

I love the reading ritual that you and Brandon share. Pretty romantic to me! And thank you so much for sharing Edna Lewis's life story and recipe here. What a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman.

8:42 AM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Mmm, love the story to go with the cake.

11:14 AM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Emily said...

First off, may I say, Molly, just how adorable you and Brandon are? Everyone should share a few ‘lullaby's’ with their love. I have a feeling there'd be less road rage as a result! ha-ha :)

I made the cake, and it was delicious! I thought I'd tell you of the revision I made, as it‘s certainly worth talking about. I surprised myself by not having any Vanilla extract on hand (just terrible, I know), so I used almond extract instead and it was just divine!

Then I made another, for a lady's tea, and added rosewater and orange flower water in leu of the vanilla and it too, was absolutely divine!

I made a milk glaze with the last one, using a little milk (no more than 1/8th- 1/4th cup) heated on the stove with honey to sweeten, and then pulled off the heat and perfumed with a little of the rose and orange flower waters. Poured over the cake at the time of serving, it was de-licious.

Let's just say, not a crumb was left to bring home!

Come to think of it, a person could probably use just about any flavorings in this cake, lemon, orange peel, ginger, chocolate. I agree that the appeal is in it’s simplicity, but what’s the fun in baking if a person feels they cannot play with the recipe? At least, it’s something to consider.

I’ve yet to try it with the traditional vanilla, but it just so happens I picked some up at the market today, so I too, feel a busy day cake coming on.

As always, thank you for the wonderful recipes and stories! The stories make them extra, extra special. :)

1:10 PM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

Mmm, the cake's in the oven as I type, but I'm too giddy to wait till I try it to say anything! The batter itself was seriously moan-worthy. And moving into more G-rated territory, dunno what it was, but something about it took me back to licking the beaters and bowl every year as my dad made my mom's annual coconut birthday cake!

I first creamed butter by hand a little over a year ago during a cookie emergency, after a macaroon attempt gone awry and with a scant 45-minute window to make new cookies with very cold butter and get out the door. I think I left a comment about that somewhere here. It was a decision born of necessity, but really quite cool. I wanted to pat myself on the back when I was through, hee.

2:46 PM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Lavon said...

I love reading cookbooks an I will be getting this one as well.

I am determined to lose weight so you may think it weird to read a blog like yours but it is truly inspiring to read and figure a way to incorporate your receipes into what I do eat. I count the points do a little more exercise and eat small portion sizes.

I love the way you write it great!

8:39 PM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Sarah Jio said...

Love this post, Molly. And, speaking of cakes, you'd think that today of all days would be the appropriate day for me to indulge the cake-baking urge I've had for weeks, but no, I'm headed down to Le Panier today to pick up a Napoleon for my husband (his fave).

Happy Valentines Day to you and Brandon!


9:46 AM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger City Girl said...

Thank you so much for this post.

I live in Alabama and consider myself a serious student of the Art of Southern Cooking, but I've never heard of Miss Lewis.

I am going over to Amazon right now to purchase The Taste of Country Cooking.

Thanks again for sharing.

10:28 AM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Derrick said...

I often read aloud to Melissa. Not so much at bedtime (though every now and then), and not always about food, but it's a staple of any reasonably long drive we take. I can read aloud in the car for hours, and it's much better than Audiobooks, which pale in comparison to someone right there that you can pause, ask to repeat something, stop and discuss what's going on, etc.

4:13 PM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Still Born said...

Molly, my name is also 'Molly' only spelled completely different.

Please tell Hui Wen about getting a feedburner.

And now, for the relevant part:

I just made this cake and did all the mixing by hand, creaming the butter and sugar with a pastry cutter. I cut the cake in large cubes, poured a small bit of whole milk around, and added fresh berries. I may have to live on beer and cake.

10:03 PM, February 14, 2008  
Anonymous Sea said...

What a wonderful blog post. Thank you so much for sharing it. It made me want to run out and get the book and bake the cake today! You're right, her words are irresistable.

5:57 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Just the Right Size said...

I LOVE old, farmer/journal/cooking type books like that! I have a collection of them, although I've not Lewis' book. It sounds right up my alley!

I swear I was born 100 years too early!

7:28 AM, February 15, 2008  
Anonymous TheBakerGirl said...

Hi Molly, I live in Singapore and have been using Royal Baking Powder since when I first started baking which was when I was 15. (I turn 34 this year.) And it's still just about the most commonly found brand of baking powder found here in Singapore. Want me to ship you some? :)

Btw, love your blog and have been trying to get my hands on the February issue of Bon Appetit which isn't exactly sold in every bookstore or magazine here. Keep on the writing and the cooking. You're great at both!

7:56 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger dean said...


Your photos are so beautiful (and have matured so much in style and grace over the years) -- I hope your publisher is planning on including them in your upcoming feast of a book.

1:31 PM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Geggie said...

Wow! Delicious! And so simple. I'm adding it to my "to bake" list.

3:09 PM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Kate said...

I loved this post, it was funny, sweet, and best of all, involves cake. All the good stuff!

The cake is in my oven now, and I decided to test out whether or not this cake is truly fit for a busy day. Including doing the dishes afterwards, creaming the butter and sugar by hand as suggested by so many commenters, and even setting up a mise en place it took me 14 1/2 minutes! I'm going to have it with some local strawberries that I froze over the summer whirled into a sauce. Seems like a nice way to end the week.

3:59 PM, February 15, 2008  
Anonymous michelle @ Us. vs. Food said...

i think it's a sweet tradition.

i love the way edna lewis talks about food, and i love the names of her dishes. for last night's smackdown, we used a fried chicken recipe from "the gift of southern cooking" that was out of this world. i definitely want to try some of her baked stuff now.

4:49 PM, February 15, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog. every time I read, I think, I need to print this recipe. My god, every day cake - i'm so on board! But you know, I'm a busy mom with three kids. I think -you just need to write the cook book. I promise, I will buy it because I need all of your recipes in one nice place :)

9:14 PM, February 15, 2008  
OpenID vegeyum said...

I am so in love with your ritual.

2:57 AM, February 16, 2008  
Blogger Katelyn said...

I made this cake late on Thursday night, and loved it plain. Then I loved it plain all day Friday. Today, I obtained some huckleberry preserves from the farmers market and LOVED IT with huckleberry preserves... Dayum. My new favorite cake! It's very low-key but still has an excellent aroma and crumb. mmmMMM.

12:27 PM, February 16, 2008  
Anonymous Lore said...

Sounds like a great cake! I will try it with some homemade cranberry syrup.

2:26 AM, February 17, 2008  
Anonymous laura h. said...

i, too, have been enjoying miss lewis' cookbooks recently. i read a bit at night before bed sometimes. i especially enjoyed her essay published in gourmet about what Southern is...

1:55 PM, February 17, 2008  
Blogger amisha said...

your reading ritual is wonderful. and i can just imagine the 2 of you sitting reading, surrounded by spaghetti and cake and beer :)
and loved, loved reading your thoughts on edna lewis! xo

2:59 PM, February 17, 2008  
Anonymous Minnesota Kathi said...

Dear Molly,

My eyes are not rolling, but sparkling with delight...what a beautiful love story you and your husband have.

Thank you for your wonderful blog and sharing Edna Lewis.

Kathi :)

6:02 PM, February 17, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

There's just one (pretty wee) slice left. Think I'll have to eat it during tonight's installment of The Wire.

So good. Mine collapsed in the center too, even with less baking powder! Who among us can fully grasp the calculus at work here? Didn't affect the deliciousness one whit. I especially enjoyed having a slice of it for breakfast this morning, with a mug of tea, outside on the deck, watching the world wake up, whilst the fella slept.

6:58 PM, February 17, 2008  
Anonymous kat said...

I think that it is perfectly normal to do stuff like that. My husband and I have a game we play where we give each other a cooking scenario and the other has to come up with a solution. For example: 'casual meal for six - seasonal ingredients, you have to buy everything in a 5 mile radius' or ' meal for two, has to include beef and chocolate'. Okay, I sound quite weird now - but it's a great way to make up after a row. !!?!!

6:31 AM, February 18, 2008  
OpenID curiousfoodie said...

I find this VERY romantic. ;)


6:35 AM, February 18, 2008  
Blogger Musiq Mayneack said...


i've been checking out your blog for a while now and i must say. it has a real down home - down to earth feel. i really like that!

you've inspired me to start my own blog. let me know what you think about it please! i'm must a newbie!

your fan,
Rusty J

11:32 AM, February 18, 2008  
Blogger Title said...

I just made the cake using your suggestion of 2 to 1 cream of tartar and baking soda instead of baking powder. Then I did a light lemon glaze. The cake turned out great!!! My husband was so surprised that I wanted to bake a cake on Monday night, usually our laziest in term of home cooking... much less home baking projects. But it was so easy and quick. Thank you for a great post. Really delicious! Btw, do you think this will freeze well?

5:45 PM, February 18, 2008  
Blogger Tea said...

The cake looks lovely, but I am most excited by the idea that the two of you have decided it's offically time for spring! Three cheers to that:-)

9:51 PM, February 18, 2008  
Blogger Jenna Lee said...

This is, arguably, the cutest post I've ever read.

And to think, my boyfriend always gives me strange looks when I bring cookbooks to bed... :D

7:31 AM, February 19, 2008  
Blogger Meredith said...

Well after 75 comments this won't be very exciting, but how cool is Edna??? I can't wait to check out her books, and that recipe, yum!!! Great blog, thank you :)

4:18 PM, February 19, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would buttermilk work in the recipe instead of whole milk? I have some in the fridge and would love to use it.
Thank you

1:10 AM, February 22, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Sorry to have not gotten back to you sooner, guys. Brandon has the flu, so it's been a little hectic around here lately. Blehhh.

Anyway, Title, I'm so glad you liked it! And yes, I do think this cake would freeze just fine. Most cakes do, in my experience.

And Anonymous, hmm, that's tricky. I'm a little afraid that the acidity of the buttermilk would mess with the leavening here. My inclination is that you would need to adjust for it. Say, reduce the amount of baking powder a bit, and add some baking soda (which is an alkali and will help balance the acidity of the buttermilk). Or, if you make your own baking powder with cream of tartar and baking soda, as I mention in the headnotes, gosh, I have no idea. Maybe try Googling it?

11:21 AM, February 22, 2008  
Blogger lil songbird mama said...

Oh my, u have made me so hungry. Maybe you should have rearranged the writing to the snack before the mouthwatering paragraph about lamb!
thank you

9:25 AM, February 24, 2008  
Blogger cook eat FRET said...

i'm on it as we speak - but with 1% milk... s'all i got today...

1:07 PM, March 09, 2008  
Blogger ejs said...

Hi, I've been enjoying your blog and the recipes. I'm not sure How I got linked here, maybe Jayden's or David's blog, I'm not sure.

Anyway the first time I read your blog I saw this entry about Edna Lewis and on a whim I got her book. What a treasure! A fascinating slice of history as well as a great cookbook. I am giving my copy to my mom who retired in Virgina not too far from where Edna grew up. Thanks for the tip.


4:09 AM, March 18, 2008  
Blogger Jess said...

can't you just hear her voice? sounds to me like a slow southern drawl.
i cannot wait to try this recipe.

7:40 PM, November 18, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly, Molly, Molly

I had 3 eggs and a stick of butter sitting out, ready for my favorite lightning cake/blitztorte from "Joy of Cooking" and I came across your ode to Edna Lewis, one of my all-time favorites. I re-read her regularly. So naturally the cake plans were adjusted and we just finished a warm slice of heaven. Thanks for your wonderful blog, your love of M. Byrne, and please write often. Waiting impatiently for your book.

11:45 AM, January 29, 2009  
Blogger Jess said...

I know I've already commented on this recipe, but I just had to tell you - with no idea what to bake for my birthday, and no one else to do the baking for me, I turned to this recipe.
Just a simple, one layer cake. I rubbed lemon zest into the sugar before combining it with the butter. When it was done baking and cooling, I sliced it in half to make two layers. I smoothed a lemon almond buttercream icing in the middle, topped by a thin layer of homemade blueberry sauce. I iced the top with the buttercream, then right before serving it, I heated up the blueberry sauce and poured it on top.
It was perfect.
And all my guests were so pleased.
Thank you.

7:17 PM, January 29, 2009  
Anonymous Lisa said...

So, I seriously don't know what I would do without you and this site. This morning my mother-in-law got married and we all came back to the farm for lunch afterward. She specifically requested "no hullabaloo" but we had to celebrate, right?!!? I thought this cake might fit the bill perfectly, and it did. We topped it with fresh sliced peaches and freshly whipped cream and everyone was in heaven. Thanks :)

12:14 PM, July 16, 2009  
Anonymous Louise said...

I was led to you and your book and hence to your blog by a friend, only last night. What a delight to find you. The opening of your book sounds as though I might have written it (only you did a better job). The legacy from my late Mother and Grandmother is cherished, as are memories of our dinner table every night at 6 PM.

Re this cake and creaming by hand, my Mother always did it that way. She had a large green glass bowl with a pouring lip on one side and a knob handle on the other (anyone remember seeing those?). Firmly holding the knob, she could tilt the bowl on its side and give the butter a really good beating.

I have a hunch your blog, your book and your recipes will be addictive. Thank you.

10:32 AM, July 27, 2009  
Blogger Abby said...

I'm eating a piece right now, drinking a cup of tea and reading my book. So happy.

4:21 PM, March 25, 2011  
Anonymous P Courtney said...

If you really want to enhance the flavor of your cooking try using aluminum free baking powder.

3:55 AM, October 05, 2011  
Anonymous Kate O. said...

This Edna Lewis cake has been my go-to cake for years on those days when I just need cake. Thank you! And this morning I was thinking about how I love the kid's picture book about Edna Lewis, "Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You A Pie." Just thought I'd pass on the book suggestion now that you've got a little one.

7:18 AM, July 31, 2014  
Anonymous Caroline said...

It might seem weird to comment on something written 7 years ago but since I've read through both of your books I've taken to reading through old blog post as a way to unwind. Anyways this post made me do a little happy squeal the taste of country cooking is one if the first cookbooks I got myself as a teen and it inspired me to cook seasonally and locally.

6:09 PM, February 25, 2015  
Blogger Alexandra said...

Also commenting seven years after the fact, but I hope you might still reply! I'd like to bring a simple cake to work tomorrow as a birthday gift, but am concerned this cake won't be good after sitting for 19 hours. There's little chance you'll reply in the next two hours, of course, but just in case -- do you recomment against serving this cake after it's long cooled?

4:26 PM, August 19, 2015  
Blogger Molly said...

Alexandra, I'm sorry I couldn't reply sooner! But just in case you see this and still have time, yes, I do think this cake is still great after a day or two. Let it cool fully, then wrap it in plastic wrap, and you should be good.

9:55 AM, August 20, 2015  
Blogger Alexandra said...

Thank you so much! I made a different cake instead, but I am going to make this one the next time there's a birthday.

3:47 PM, August 20, 2015  

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