The ease of my everyday butter cake (affectionately: ebc), the way readers have taken to it with so much enthusiasm, and mostly the fabulous result you get for so little effort, has had me making this cake on repeat since earlier this year. I’ve made chocolate versions, a strawberry shortcake stack with it, and then while in the midst of making these bb egg yolk cookies the idea popped into my head and I said, that is so obvious, would be so good… it has to be done. So here we are.
From the get go – there is an obvious difference in appearance, in taste and even in texture from the original EBC. In this, the crumb is darker (thanks to the brown sugar) and there are brown bits scattered about (toasted milk solids). Both of those things affect taste; you can really taste the brown butter in this cake, it’s nutty and has notes of caramel.
The other thing is the texture; the crumb on this cake is more ‘moist’. I had at least one person tell me the EBC was dry, while that could have been an error in their flour measuring, the cake itself is ‘tea’ cake like and so it was never meant to be thought of as moist. This brown butter version? Definitely moist, but still very fluffy.
Is one better than the other? Nope, I don’t think so. It’s like comparing apples to oranges in my mind. The original EBC tastes like a very classic vanilla cake and you probably had something like it when you were a kid so it’s nostalgic in that sense. The brown butter version tastes new and interesting and more notes of ‘brown’ from the sugar & butter. You might like one more than the other but again, that’d be a preference of liking oranges more than apples.
You might be wondering – couldn’t you just have browned the butter in the original ebc? If you had some brown butter experience and know that some of the liquid evaporates in the browning process, you might even say – couldn’t you have browned more butter than you need, measuring it after and using it in place of the melted butter?
Yes – but that’s just the first step. We have two other variables in this cake that we now need to adjust for: A. While we have enough butter in volume (because we’re measuring after browning), the composition of the butter is actually different now; not as creamy. We need to compensate for that and we’ll do this by adding more sour cream. And, B. To lean into the caramel & nutty notes we’re using brown sugar which is slightly more acidic, so we have to adjust the leavening (baking soda/powder) as well.
Butter: You’ll start with much more than you need, as you lose volume when it browns – so about 2 and a half sticks of butter (but measure by weight!). And extremely important: measure after browning as well.
Sugar: We need two types of sugar for this, brown (light or dark) and granulated for the topping. For the topping I like an organic granulated or turbinado, it gives it more crunch than fine granulated.
Vanilla: We want to bring out the vanilla flavor along with the brown butter so use a freshly scraped vanilla bean if you have one (you’ll add it to the butter as it’s melting and browning) and add some more paste or extract after. If you don’t have a bean, you’ll use more extract.
Eggs: Eggs may not necessarily be at room temperature but they should be large.
Leavening: Because there is a little bit more acid from the molasses in the brown sugar we’re using a combination of baking soda and powder.
Flour: Cake flour gives us a very tender, fine crumb. If you don’t have it, use all purpose but swap out two tablespoons of the flour for cornstarch.
Sour cream: Full fat. You can also use a vanilla greek yogurt in place of the sour cream.
Brown the butter carefully: If you see some but not a lot of brown milk solids, don’t stop browning. I find a lot of people stop as soon as they see bits of brown butter but if you are stopping too early, you’re retaining a lot of milk solids that haven’t been toasted. This will lead to less flavor, and more ‘oil’ in the batter/cake. Similarly, stop when the butter goes quiet and isn’t foaming much, you don’t want it to burn (if you smell burnt bits and see the brown has turned dark brown or black, it has burned).
Whisk *very* well & add eggs slowly: First you’ll whisk the sugar and butter together, while the butter is still hot it might begin to melt some of the sugar – you want to see a bit of a change happening as you whisk; the mix should begin to become cohesive (not as much separation between the butter and sugar). As you add the eggs – it is important to add them one at a time, and to whisk thoroughly – you’ll see the batter become thicker, shinier and very cohesive.
Stop whisking as soon as flour is mixed in: So as not to over mix the flour and develop the gluten which toughens the cake, whisk until you can’t see any more bits and then stop immediately.
Share & tag me on instagram @buttermilkbysam