Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snowy-Day Cake

Edna Lewis, the wonderful Southern cook (also known as the Grande Dame of Southern Cooking) created a recipe called "Busy-Day Cake." I've had this recipe in my file for awhile now, squirreled way for the right time to try it. I believe Miss Lewis (as she is called by all who revere her years of incredible cooking experience) developed this cake as something you could put together on a "busy day."  

Well, I certainly didn't have a busy day today - I had a "snowy day," and hence the title of this post. We had a snowstorm (again) in New Jersey today - this is getting really tiresome. But it did present me with an official snow day off from work and the opportunity to bake something (and for that I am thankful). 

Back to Edna Lewis. She was born in Freetown, Virginia in 1916; in a town founded by three freed slaves (one of whom was her grandfather). She was taught to cook over a wood-fired stove by the women in her life. When she was 16, she moved to Washington, DC, and eventually to New York City. In 1948, she opened her own restaurant in New York (think how rare this was: a woman - an African-American woman - owning a restaurant in NYC in 1948) called Cafe Nicholson. Her cooking was legendary and her restaurant hosted famous celebrities of the day like Truman Capote, Marlene Dietrich, and Gloria Vanderbilt. After she sold Cafe Nicholson, she worked as the chef for many years at Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn. In the late sixties, she started to write down many of her recipes which resulted in the Edna Lewis Cookbook and later The Taste of Country Cooking (which is where Busy-Day Cake comes from). In addition to cooking and writing, she founded the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food. Edna Lewis died in 2006. If you'd like to read more about the fascinating life of Edna Lewis, the New York Times wrote a wonderful piece on her when she died.

Sorry for the digression, but I thought you would want to know this cake's heritage. The cake has very simple ingredients - eggs, butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, freshly grated nutmeg, some milk, and baking powder - nothing fancy here. But I noticed when I was in the final mixing, that the batter was almost sponge-like and it had a marvelous scent from the fresh nutmeg. As a baker, you really notice when a batter or a dough is different. This batter looked so smooth and inviting that I just knew the cake was going to be good. It bakes in a springform pan for about 30-35 minutes. The recipe says to serve it warm and who am I not follow the instructions of a legend? So I cut a sliver and savored it. It is moist, with a nice crumb, and a delicious, almost silk-like texture. You can just transport yourself to the South with this recipe. And on a snowy, cold day in New Jersey I can't think of a better place to be, even it is just in my mind.

Edna Lewis' Busy-Day Cake

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/3 C granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 t vanilla extract
2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
2-1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 good pinch freshly grated nutmeg, or more
1/2 C whole milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 1 9" springform pan with butter or cooking spray (I used butter).

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 1/4 o 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 big 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 30-35 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. It is delicious plain but you could serve it with a little creme fraiche or some warm, crushed berries.


  1. You might want to give credit to Molly from Orangette for using her adapted recipe...

  2. Dear Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. Please know, above all, that I am a huge fan of Molly Wizenberg and would never not give her (or any other cook, baker, blogger) credit for a recipe. However, on the copy I have of this particular recipe, there is no mention of any author (adapted or otherwise), other than Edna Lewis. So, if this recipe did in fact come from Molly, then my wholehearted thanks. Molly Wizenberg is the gold standard in food writing and what I aspire to. Again, thanks for reading and commenting.


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