Monday, November 10, 2008


I've had this long-running mission to recreate a flavor from my childhood: the "buttermilk crullers" Dad used to bring home from the grocery store on Sundays. I don't know who made them; some local bakery now defunct. But they were tender and sugary-moist, dripping with crusty syrup and tangy with buttermilk. Krispy Kreme's cake donutholes are similar, but at the same time nothing like--there's too much artificial stuff in the Krispy Kremes, and they don't have the sour note. Also there was an elusive perfume in the buttermilk cruellers--some subtle spice that I couldn't identify.

This week, I got close.

It was kind of an accident. Couple years ago, I was messing around with a Madeleines recipe that was too dry for my taste. In my kitchen, everything baked can be improved with a dollop of sour cream (except pie crust--don't go there). Sadly, when you add sour cream to Madeleines they are no longer Madeleines--they don't get that nice crumbly edge, or the spongy quality.

What I ended up with was something more interesting. And Saturday night I was jonesing for something sweet, so I pulled out this recipe and decided to try it again. I wanted something that could be baked in little cakes, you see--because frying is a nuisance, and because individual cakes can be wrapped up and frozen and I needn't eat them all at once, or let them go stale and wasted.

Here's the recipe. The batter itself is rich, rather than sweet. You could probably reduce the amount of sugar further, to 1-1/4 or 1-1/3, without damage. The glaze will add sweet as needed.

  • 1 cup (1/2 lb) butter (I used salted; if you use unsalted you will need to add a pinch of salt to the dry ingredients)
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 to 2 tsp vanilla extract (preferably the kind made with bourbon)
  • 2-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, plain
  • about 1 tsp ground spices (read on)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  2. Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

  3. In a measuring cup, combine yogurt and sour cream.

  4. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients, including your desired spices. This time, I started with a combination of Penzey's Cake Spice, which is nice, but not quite what I wanted. I think the winning combination here is a touch of cinnamon, nutmeg or mace, and cardamom. I used about 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons total ground spices. This gave the cake a perfumy quality without tasting "spicy." Use a mild cinnamon like Vietnamese.

  5. Alternate adding the dry stuff and the sour cream to the batter in 2-3 stages, blending well after each addition. This batter is fairly thick and fluffy, especially after the baking powder and acids in the dairy go to work on either other.

  6. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, while you generously butter and flour your pans. I have a pan with six mini-bundt wells, which left a bit of batter left over that I put in a mini-springform pan. I'm sure you could also bake this in a loaf or full-sized bundt, but it would take forever.

  7. Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes (mini pans) or 45-60 minutes (full sized pans) or until a knife comes out clean. They will be pale on top, but the cake should be slightly brown at the edges and pulling away from the pan.

  8. Turn off oven, crack door, and let sit inside for another 5 minutes.

  9. Remove from oven, let sit in pans for 5-10 minutes while you mix up a glaze from 1 cup powdered sugar, a dash vanilla, and enough milk (2-4 Tbs) to make it pourable.

  10. Turn out cakes onto cooling rack with foil or parchment underneath. Set Cakes right-side-up and pour glaze lavishly over them. (If you want them super-sugary, you can set them in a jelly-roll pan, pour the glaze over, and let them soak up the excess. This is the way the buttermilk cruellers were glazed, but I am no longer ten and I don't need all that sweet.)

These are good warm, but I think they are best the day after. Wrap them up tightly after they are cool. They should freeze well.

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