For Odette Williams, when it comes to baking, the simpler the better. The Australian cookbook writer has long found that the baked goods she invariably craves are often those in their simplest form, with few ingredients and limited ruffles.
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Her newest cookbook, “Simple Cake,” is a testament to that, a sweeping look at baking cakes stemming from only a handful of recipes. Her book is filled with just 10 recipes for cakes and 15 toppings, coupled with a number of creative ways to amp up certain recipes or pair bases with toppings
Armed with “Simple Cake,” cakes will become a sweet that isn’t merely reserved for celebrations. “I really incorporated cake into the everyday,” Odette explains. “It wasn’t just birthdays or occasions.” Odette’s cakes sit more along the line of: Hey, I have a friend coming over and I’m going to push a quick cake into the oven.
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“It wasn’t like you were having cake with all these layers and buttercreams sitting around for days,” she says. Instead, you’re baking cakes with the ingredients already found in your house—minus any esoteric arrangements and pastry chef frills. “[Cakes] had gotten kind of ridiculous and comical. To me, the kind of cake I love and actually want to eat are the ones that are still warm, impatiently cut—that’s delicious and that’s what I want in my every day,” she explains.
The best place to start? Odette’s self-care cake. This golden-brown round cake is buoyed by a mixture of honey and milk, finished off with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or a swiping of pillowy honey whipped cream. There’s a simplicity to the flavor profile that makes it homey and a tad old-fashioned, a wonderful combination of nostalgia, comfort, and warm wedges of soft sponge.
“Something about it was so nurturing,” Odette says. “I remember just sitting down and having a cup of tea and thinking this is a cake for yourself. We bake for other people, but this cake is for yourself.”
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Not only does it taste good, but Odette admits that there’s something deeply therapeutic and relaxing about making something with your hands. Baking both forces her to be present and find her happy place: in front of the oven, smelling the sweet aroma of a cake rising.
“When you learn something new, you just feel good. You feel that the stars have turned,” she says. “And then if you live with people, they’ll just love you for it. It’s a win win.”
Ahead, Odette’s recipe for a self-care cake. The recipe is enough for two layers, but Odette maintains that the recipe can be split in half, or the second round can be frozen for a rainy day. It can be served just as is, but you’d be remiss not to paint the cooled top with a pile of honey whipped cream.
Reprinted with permission from “Simple Cake” by Odette Williams, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Nicole Franzen. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.
Milk and Honey Cake Recipe
Very subtle, not overly sweet, slightly tangy, and so delicate. I promise you that peeling the buttery, sweet disk of parchment paper off this cake will be a glorious moment. I’m a sucker for a jar of artisanal honey, so I often play around baking this cake using different flavor- infused honeys such as sage, lavender, thyme, and ginger. Don’t be tempted to bake the whole batter in one pan. This cake shines when it has less time in the oven. That’s why I divide it between pans or bake cupcakes that require less baking time. Because of the honey, make sure you line the bottom and sides of the pans with parchment paper to stop the exterior of the cake from taking on too much color and sticking to the sides, creating crumbly edges.
- To get the cake you truly deserve, sift the flour mixture twice to get the flour as aerated and light as possible, or give it a spin with cake or spelt flour.
- The keys to this cake being moist are not to overpack the measuring cup with flour and not to over bake it.
- To make one cake, halve the ingredients. To divide an egg, simply crack the egg into a small bowl, whisk, and use a tablespoon to measure half.
Milk and Honey Cake
- 2 1⁄4 cups (290g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk, shake carton
- 3⁄4 cup (255g) honey
- 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 12 tablespoons (1 1⁄2 sticks/170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3⁄4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8 by 2-inch round pans with butter, line the bottom and sides of the pans with parchment paper, and grease the paper.
- Place a large sifter or a sieve in a large bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and sift.
- In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together. Set aside.
- In another small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, and vanilla. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer with beaters or a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 30 to 45 seconds on medium speed, then gradually add the sugar. When all the sugar has been added, stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Continue beating on medium speed for another 4 minutes or until light in color and fluffy.
- With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs 1 tablespoon at a time, over 3 minutes. If the batter curdles, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the flour to bind it back together.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the dry and wet ingredients alternately two times, starting and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined and smooth.
- Don’t overbeat. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to make sure it’s well combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven on the same rack for 35 to 38 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cake bounces back when lightly pressed.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and let them stand for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the cakes to gently release. Peel off the parchment paper from the sides. Invert the cakes, peel off the bottom piece of parchment, and cool on a wire rack.
Honey Whipped Cream Recipe
If you have a slice of cake with a dollop of whipped cream on top, it’s a good day. Whipped cream is quick to make, is not overly sweet, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to cake. Dusting a cake with confectioners’ sugar and serving it with whipped cream is often my first choice. I prefer to whip cream by hand, since there’s less chance of over beating, which can happen easily if distractedly using beaters. Whipping cream by hand makes you feel as if you’ve earned your cake and a few cheeky spoonfuls, too! Look for soft, pillowy peaks that plop off the spoon right into your mouth.
Honey Whipped Cream
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 1⁄2 cup (115g) heavy cream, chilled
- 1 tablespoon of sifted confectioners’ sugar
- Pour the cream into a cold large metal bowl. If adding any flavoring (yogurt and confectioners’ sugar), add it now.
- Using a balloon whisk, begin to whisk the cream until it has doubled in volume, has smooth soft peaks, and is light and fluffy. Add some finely grated zest for a delicious tang.
Header image courtesy of Nicole Franzen.