a short thought about butter & baking a cake

Walnut cake with coffee buttercream

If you think there is even a remote possibility that you might bake a cake on any given day this is my advice: take a pound of butter out of the fridge as soon as you wake up and put it on the counter. You should also take out the other cold ingredients, like eggs, sour cream or milk. (Although I must say that if I even think I might bake a cake, the odds are more or less 85% that I will and this may not be true for everyone.)

The butter and eggs emerge from the refrigerator dense, fatty and cold.  You won’t be able to beat any air into a batter composed of cold ingredients. If you have had the forethought to take the butter out of the fridge in the morning and it is perfectly soft, watching it beaten into a pale fluffy mass with the sugar is very satisfying. The eggs too, at room temperature, will balloon when beaten, doubling in volume, becoming ethereal and nearly white. Light batter makes a light cake.  The butter and eggs provide moisture and structure.

I baked cakes for a really really long time before I became a believer in properly softened butter and understood the value of warming up the cold ingredients. The little extra effort of pulling them out of the fridge in the morning makes all the difference.

I’ve been thinking about cake daily because the season of birthdays for our family starts on February 7th and doesn’t end until May 3rd.  I have to bake a birthday cake about every 3 weeks (and those are in addition to any cake I might just make on a whim) and several batches of cupcakes besides.  I don’t like to make the same cake twice. That adds up to a lot of cakes.

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9 responses to “a short thought about butter & baking a cake

  1. Amy J. Bennett

    Sarah,
    That cake is lovely. May I make a small correction though? I believe that cake season starts on December 28th and doesn’t end until May 3rd. If I may, I would point out that cake season usually starts with a moist classic vanilla cake with lemon and coconut and perhaps some raspberry.

  2. I stand corrected!

  3. Maureen Byrne

    A fabulous looking cake! I wonder, are cold ingredents the reason why my batter curdles after I add the eggs to the butter & sugar, but is corrected after I add the flour? I always soften the butter in the microwave, but eggs are always cold!!
    My favorate vanilla cake at the moment, is Nigella Lawson-How to Eat, The Cake, p502. Her chocolate cake (by just adding 2 tbsp cocoa powder paste) is very dissapointing. However, I now want walnut cake with coffee buttercream 😉

  4. I have such a hard time remembering to get the butter and eggs out in time – and milk, too! And it’s been my downfall when making challah or brioche, because when the eggs and/or milk are too cold, the yeast can’t do its thing. I always realize this just as I’m pouring the too-cold egg yolks or milk into the dough….

  5. I must make that beautiful gorgeous cake! But where is the recipe? And what do you recommend for halibut? I wish to make a meal centered around the fish and serve a delicious dessert. But I am afraid to make buttercream.

  6. Susan – you can have both recipes tomorrow!

  7. Maureen Byrne

    Can I have the recipe too? please 🙂

  8. Of course! I am SO behind on what I want to write about right now. Are you (is anyone?!) up for buttercream?! It’s actually really fun to make, provided you know what you are getting into (i.e. read the recipe all the way through first!). I’m sure you do that anyway. That coffee frosting is seriously decadent.

  9. Maureen Byrne

    I’m always up for buttercream! bring it on 🙂

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