James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

About Buttermilk plus A Food Processor Snackin’ Cake Recipe

Greg Patent the baking wizard
Light-textured buttermilk spice cake is delicious any time of day.

Buttermilk is a classic dairy product that has been used for hundreds of years in American recipes, both in baking and as a marinade. There really is no substitute for buttermilk’s flavor and texture. Cultured buttermilk, the kind we buy today, is thick and tangy and readily available. Please do not substitute regular milk mixed with a little lemon juice or vinegar. The harshness of the acid will dominate, and the texture of the cake is apt to be gummy instead of light and fluffy. Stella Parks has written about buttermilk and buttermilk substitutes in detail here. It’s a great read. The only substitute she found that works is plain kefir. Keep in mind that buttermilk keeps a long time in the fridge, often way past the expiration date. Be sure to shake the container well before measuring. Of course, there will be bubbles, so to be sure you’re getting 1 cup of buttermilk, it’s best to weigh it. One cup buttermilk = 240 grams.

My recipe calls for cake flour, and there is no substitute for it. Softasilk and Swans Down are two dependable national brands. Please do not mix all-purpose flour with cornstarch and use that instead of cake flour. It simply won’t work. Cake flour, low in protein, is always bleached. It’s treated with a small amount of chlorine gas that changes the structure of the flour and changes the gas itself. Again, please read Stella Parks on this subject. She packs in a lot of easily-understood science.

About this cake. I developed the recipe  35 years ago for my food processor cookbook, Patently Easy Food Processor Cooking, published in 1985 by the Cuisinart Cooking Club, Inc. The food processor method for making cakes seems counter intuitive. Instead of the traditional mixer method of “creaming” the butter with the sugar and then beating in the eggs and flavoring, followed by alternating additions of the buttermilk and dry ingredients, the food processor way asks you to process the sugar with the eggs first, followed by whizzing in the flavoring, butter, and buttermilk and finally pulsing in the dry ingredients. This method of making a cake batter takes just 2 to 3 minutes, and you’ll wind up with a sensational light-textured cake with a fine crumb. The late Abby Mandel came up with this method, and it works like a charm.

Greg Patent the baking wizard

Buttermilk Spice Cake

A snacking cake to nibble on when the impulse strikes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8 portions



  • 1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (7 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Zest 1 orange, finely grated with a rasper
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed (7 ounces)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces), cut into 6 pieces at room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Confectioners' sugar, if desired



  • Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or coat with cooking spray a 9 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan and dust lightly with all-purpose flour; knock out excess and set the pan aside.
  • Insert the metal blade into the work bowl of a food processor (standard-size or larger). Put the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the work bowl and process 5 seconds to combine. Transfer to a piece of waxed paper and set aside.
  • With the metal blade in the work bowl, add the orange zest and brown sugar. Process 15 seconds. Add the egg and vanilla and process for 1 full minute, stopping once to scrape the work bowl.
  • Add the butter pieces and process about 1 minute, stopping once or twice to scrape the work bowl. The batter should be smooth and fluffy. With the machine running, add the buttermilk through the feed tube and process for 10 seconds. Scrape the work bowl.
  • Spoon the dry ingredients in a circle on top of the batter. Pulse rapidly 4 times (less than 1 second each), scrape the work bowl gently, and pulse one more time, just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Do not overprocess; if necessary, stir with the plastic spatula to complete the mixing. The batter may not look completely smooth.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread level. Bake until the top is well browned and springs back when gently pressed in the center, and the cake pulls slightly away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.
  • Cool the cake in its pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out on a cooling rack. Remove the pan, cover the cake with another rack and invert again to let cake cool completely right side up. Before serving, sprinkle top lightly with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating