Once you consider the usual suspects like chocolate and pecans and cream cheese, one of my favorite baking components is browned butter. I am relatively new to baking with browned butter, and I admit that I am deeply saddened at all the time I missed baking with it. But, I seem to be making up for lost time with plenty of browned butter treats.
So, a few days ago when I was trying to think of a quick dessert we could enjoy this week, my mind went directly to browned butter. I also had a hankering for cake, so here we are.
The cake itself is a version of a sour cream cake that I use as a starting point for a lot of cake recipes. I bumped up the vanilla for a bigger flavor in a simple cake. Then, I topped it all of with a basic icing that I plied with browned butter and even more vanilla. The total package is a delicious cake whose flavors are somehow both understated and complex.
As delicious as this cake is, and believe me it is fabulous, I may be most taken with the appearance of the icing. Look at all those specks! Straining browned butter is a preference thing. I usually don’t strain it, but rather control how much of the browned specks stay with the butter as I pour it out of the saucepan. In addition to those lovely specks, there are vanilla bean specks, too. All of that makes for one beautiful icing.
I have a great love for simple, one-layer cakes. They’re essentially fail-proof. Plus, they’re a good option for a cake to serve a smaller number of people. If you’d like a big, tall cake, this recipe can easily be doubled to make a two-layer cake.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
For the cake:
- 1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sour cream
For the icing:
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
- 1/3 to 1/2 of the seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla beans.
- Reduce mixer speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 portions, alternating with sour cream. Begin and end with flour mixture. Mix just until combined.
- Transfer to prepared pan and smooth evenly.
- Bake 30-35 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, remove cake from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing:
- Place butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook butter until melted.
- Continue cooking, whisking often to prevent burning. Butter will begin to foam. Brown specks will begin to form at the bottom of the pan, and the butter will have a nutty aroma.
- Remove from heat. Transfer butter to a large heatproof bowl to cool to room temperature.
- Add 2 tablespoons of milk and vanilla beans to cooled butter. Add about 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar. Beat mixture until blended. Gradually add remaining confectioners’ sugar and mix until blended and smooth.
- If necessary, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until icing is desired consistency.
- Spread icing over the top of cooled cake. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. If refrigerating, allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.