I’ve made this recipe so often in the past month it’s not even funny.
I was looking for a simple vanilla cake for a friend’s sixth birthday and remembered reading about this cake when I first came across a mean-sounding poppy seed cake on Lottie + Doof. The busy-day cake caught my eye because of the name, and because it came from Edna Lewis, a Southern cook whom I know through the lovely cookbooks she has written. I own one, The Taste of Country Cooking, which I read as I would a collection of short stories. Each recipe recalls a memory, a way of life, a moment in time.
The book is organized by seasons and menus. There were many lovely excerpts to choose from, but I liked this one because of a personal memory – the first time I had shad roe in Portland, Maine. The menu is called A Spring Breakfast When the Shad Were Running. The introduction begins: “Because shad was practically the only fish we ever ate and spring was the only time it was ever seen, we were always much too excited to wait for dinner, so we’d cook it for breakfast whenever it was caught…”
A “busy-day cake” sounded just like Edna Lewis. It is very easy to make and delicious – light and moist, simply scented with vanilla and nutmeg. And it lends itself very well to cupcakes.
Both Leo and Balthasar were born in June, so I made these cupcakes twice, for each of their birthdays. And one more time because a fierce summer storm hit New York and postponed the party. I’ve lost count – it was a lot of baking and (cup)cakes in one month. I have promised to bake a marble cake for a picnic on Saturday but at this point all I really want to do is roast chicken and make rhubarb ice cream.
Barely adapted from the Busy-Day Cake on Lottie + Doof. The recipe is doubled and makes about twenty-eight 2 1/2 inch (6.35 cm) cupcakes.
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (400 g) sugar
4 cups (400 g) flour
1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk*
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
3 tsps pure vanilla extract
4 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
With a wooden spoon beat the butter and sugar thoroughly, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring to incorporate each one before adding the next. Then add, alternately, about a third of the flour, half of the buttermilk, another third of flour, the second half of the buttermilk, and the last part flour, stirring to combine the ingredient every time. Finally add the salt, vanilla extract, baking powder, and nutmeg.
Scoop a large spoonful of batter into each cupcake cup (the batter should barely reach the top of the cup – it will rise.).
Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the batter is just set and as soon as a toothpick comes out clean.
* An easy substitute for buttermilk is to stir 1 Tbsp lemon juice into 1 cup of milk and let sit for 5 minutes
I made mascarpone lemon icing for the cupcakes:
2 cups (500 g) mascarpone
1/2 cup (40 g) icing (confectioner’s) sugar
1 or 2 untreated lemons, depending on the yield of your grater
Mix the mascarpone with the icing sugar, grate one lemon and blend the zest into the mascarpone. Taste, add some zest if you want a stronger lemon flavor. Ice the cupcakes just before serving and add a thin strip of lemon rind or a raspberry for decoration.