soft lemon-buttermilk cookies

sometimes i wonder what i’d lay out behind the glass of a display case, if i ever got lucky enough to run my own bakery. they’d be delicious little things, of course; but more than that – they’d have to be lovely. the kind of thing you’d want to tuck into a pretty paper box and tote home or take away on a plate to the sunniest window seat. i’ve started a little mental project of collecting recipes that would be worthy of a spot in one’s professional repertoire. so far i’ve only come up with a handful – and that’s part of the fun for now – but i can already see these lemon-buttermilk cookies piled up in rows by the bakery counter.


these cookies are charming: delightfully round, soft in the mouth, and with a thin little cap of icing – they’re just bound to disappear if you leave them out for long enough. the lemon is there, as is the faint creaminess of the buttermilk, but it’s the texture especially that makes these addictively fun to eat.

maybe someday i’ll sell these in boxes by the dozen, sheets of crisp parchment gently lining each, but for now i am happy to bring them into the office on a work day and watch them disappear from the conference room table, only crumbs and post-it notes that say “yum” left behind in their wake.


Buttermilk Cookies with Lemon Zest

recipe from Gourmet, January 2008, as adapted by Orangette
Makes about 2 dozen small cookies

For the cookies:
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the glaze:
¾ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 ½ Tbsp. well-shaken buttermilk
¼ tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, zest, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl, if you’re going to use a handheld mixer), beat the butter briefly, until creamy. Add the sugar, and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg, and beat well to mix. Add the vanilla, and beat briefly again. Mix in the flour mixture and the buttermilk in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The finished dough should be smooth and pale yellow.
  4. Drop the dough by level tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 ½ inches between each cookie. (If you have a very small ice cream scoop, one with a capacity of about 1 tablespoon, it’s perfect for this job.) Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are puffed and their edges are golden, about 11 to 15 minutes per batch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1 minute; then transfer them to a wire rack.
  5. To prepare the glaze, whisk together the sifted confectioners sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla. The mixture should be very smooth, with no lumps of sugar visible. Brush or spoon the glaze onto the warm cookies. Allow cookies to sit on the rack until they are fully cooled and the glaze is set.

whoopie pies

there’s no need to grow up just yet.

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Whoopie Pies
adapted from Gourmet, January 2003
Makes 18 individual desserts

For cakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg

For filling
½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff {about half of a 7 oz. jar}
½ teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.
  3. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld; then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.
  4. Drop batter by rounded tablespoon about 2 inches apart onto large baking sheets lined with parchment. {Use a mini ice cream scoop or two spoons.} Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.
  5. Make filling: Beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add marshmallow, and beat until smooth.
  6. Assemble pies: Using a Ziploc bag with one corner snipped off, pipe about a tablespoon of filling on flat sides of half of cakes and top with remaining cakes.

cake for a summer morning

summer is for unadorned pleasures: an evening stroll without a jacket, sweet cherries straight out of the bowl, bare feet in the grass… a single slice of butter cake to go with the morning sunlight.

…perhaps it’s just me that likes to have cake for breakfast, but seeing this peculiarity resurface is fine by me. this is me feeling like myself again.

i have, as i mentioned, been reading – voraciously now, for i think it may become a favorite – atonement. i am also – as is my other little habit – making my way through a second book, the help by kathryn stockett, which is set in the south in the 1960s. at the narrator’s first mention of caramel cake, my mind was swinging towards a recipe i remembered seeing once on the blog smitten kitchen. suddenly i needed to bake a cake. (which, by the way, is just the kind of whim i am apt to indulge in.) so in between chapters about minny and aibileen, i was setting eggs out on the counter, measuring buttermilk into a cup, and twisting up the knob on our old gas oven – also, i think, from the 1960s.

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summer fare is best left simple, though. as much as i love caramel and the idea of the stuff sliding down a cake in curtains of amber sheen, it just isn’t the season to be standing over a bubbling pot with a candy thermometer in hand. so for the golden round that was rising and baking in the oven, i had a vision of sliced strawberries on a small pillow of cream.

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simple as it was, this cake astounded me. its texture was just what i was dreaming of: soft as air and just moist enough to hold its crumb and slice beautifully. perfectly sweet and warmed through with the aroma of butter. i’m not sure i’ll need to try another yellow cake recipe again.

i will find reasons to bake this one again, and dream of different ways to dress it up, and get around to that originally-intended caramel glaze, i’m sure. but for these summer mornings, when i am lucky enough to linger as long as i like at the seat by the window, all i need is this one and an open book.

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Softest Butter Cake
recipe for caramel cake, repurposed, Gourmet, January 2008
found via smitten kitchen
Makes one 9-inch round cake

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper; then butter parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, and then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  3. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, and then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment; then cool completely, about 1 hour.