Simple cake

I’m in New York, surrounded by people and parties, and all I can think of is telling you about this cake I made last week.

Okay, so it’s not all I’m thinking about, but it’s there, this little remembrance of cake that keeps pushing on my brain, taking up mental energy. I’ve been wanting to write about it, but I just haven’t, and then last night I downloaded my pictures and was reminded once again about the beauty of this cake and the need to talk about it became even more pressing.

So now it’s a little after seven in the morning, and I’m sitting at the dining room table, my cup of coffee by my side. The Grand Matriarch is putting away dishes, someone is in the shower, and I hear a little voice (my niece? my daughter?) quietly humming. It’s time to talk about cake.

(Oh, wait. The Grand Matriarch just came out of her bedroom, so it must be one of my nieces clattering about in the kitchen….No, I’m still wrong: it’s The Grand Patriarch, and hey!, it’s his birthday—he shouldn’t be doing dishes… But I digress. I’m here to talk about cake, not dishes.)

This homely little cake delights me to no end. There is nothing spectacular about it, and to all appearances it is downright dowdy. But do not be deceived! This cake is sweet and moist and simple, so very, very simple.

In fact, it reminds me of torta simple, the plain cake that could be found, when we lived in Nicaragua, in any little old venta and was most often consumed alongside a cup of watery, syrupy-sweet coffee. Their version of the cake is dry and mildly sweet (nothing that any of us would be a fan of, I suspect) and when I was crafting a recipe for torta simple so that I could teach it to the community women (they were accustomed to baking with ground corn, not flour), I used a simple shortcake recipe for my springboard. That recipe became their second favorite—banana cake being the first.

This honey-whole wheat cake is the stateside version (ie. richer in cost and taste) of torta simple—a bit sweeter, more moist, and with honey, something that we didn’t have in Nicaragua.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of honey; however, I hate it when a recipe touts a particular ingredient—say sour cream or brown sugar or buttermilk—but you can’t really taste the star ingredient in the final product. In this case, the cake is worthy of its title; the honey stands out in a pleasant, homey way (and I like it!), and the whole wheat gives the cake a slightly nubbly texture without any hint of dryness. The final product is a multi-functional cake—it goes well with coffee or tea, with fruit and whipped cream, or plain, all by itself. It’s that simple.

Honey-Whole Wheat Cake
Slightly adapted from Joy the Baker.

Joy called this cake a pound cake, but since I’m of the persuasion that it’s only a pound cake if the recipe uses a pound of butter, pound of eggs, and a pound each of flour and sugar (I’m old-school like that), I was forced to drop that part of the title.

I contemplated substituting part white flour for the whole wheat, but then I didn’t, and I was so glad—the cake is plenty light even with one hundred percent whole wheat, just be sure to use whole wheat pastry flour.

Joy’s recipe called for buttermilk, but I didn’t have any on hand (or at least in an accessible part of my over-stuffed freezer), so I used a mixture of plain yogurt and milk. A soured milk (put 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar in the bottom of a one-cup measure and then fill it up the rest of the way with milk) would be fine, too, I’m sure.

2 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk or ½ cup plain yogurt mixed with ½ cup milk)

Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl, stir gently, and set aside.

Cream together the butter, sugar, and honey. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat some more.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour milk. Do not over-mix.

Pour the batter into a greased 9 or 10-inch springform pan (or muffin tins or loaf pans or whatever you like). Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

About One Year Ago: Whaddaya know, it’s another kind of cake, Blueberry Coffee Cake.


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