Brown Butter Cake

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Do you have a cake arsenal?

I have one. I didn’t realize that I had one until the day when I suddenly announced that I did. “I have a couple of really good cakes in my arsenal. Wait, hang on, how long have I had a cake arsenal?” Like weight gain, it is the sort of the thing that can creep up on you without your realizing it. Suddenly, you’re five pounds heavier and you’re not sure how that happened. In much the same way, one day you have a cake arsenal that seemed to just appear. (Having a cake arsenal could also have something to do with the five pounds.)

It is the sort of thing that usually develops over years. You have cakes that turn out well and get requested. I think a cake has to get made successfully at least three times before you can claim it as part of the arsenal. This brown butter cake is in the arsenal. I’ve deployed it at least half a dozen times. Unlike the other cakes in there, it is not a centerpiece. It is a simple and versatile cake that can be dressed up in a hundred different ways. Also, it is pretty easy to put together, which is always a plus.

I first encountered this cake on Top Chef. (As a rule, I am a hater of reality television, but I make an exception for Top Chef because it is amazing and it deserves it.) It was served with goat cheese cream and a blackberry sauce. When I first served it, I served it two ways: first with goat cheese ice cream and a blueberry compote, then with roasted banana ice cream and chocolate sauce. It was excellent both ways.

On Top Chef, she made it in a 9×13 pan and then used a cookie cutter to divide it up for serving. That makes for a very pretty presentation. Or it probably does, I don’t know. It did on television. I halve the recipe and make it in an 8 inch cake pan and slice it. Works fine for me.

The cake is light and full of flavor. It is a thin cake so you can really pile on the ice cream or sauce or whipped cream and fruit or whatever you feel adding. In the picture above, I am serving it with burnt cream ice cream and candied pecans. In this picture, with vanilla whipped cream and strawberries:

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But the thing about this cake is that dressings are just that. Extras. I often have the cake by itself with coffee in the morning and it is lovely with nothing dressing it up at all. Now that my friends is an arsenal cake.

Brown Butter Cake
(Adapted from Top Chef)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 oz. milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 inch cake pan and set aside.

In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When melted, reduce the heat to medium-low. Don’t wander off. When the butter starts to foam, use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to stir the butter, keeping any browned bits from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Cook until the butter has turned a nice amber color. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Set bowl in the freezer until butter turns solid. (Five to ten minutes. Use the time to prep the other cake ingredients.)

Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a bowl and set aside. (If you have the patience, sift it a few times for a finer crumb.)

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg white and salt until stiff. Add the browned butter, milk, vanilla bean paste and almond extract along with the flour mixture. Turn the mixer on (low for a few seconds just so the flour does not fly around and then medium speed) for approximately one minute until the batter thickens. The final batter will be tough and sticky. Spread it into the prepared pan as evenly as you can.

Bake until a tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for ten minutes. Then turn out and serve any way you like.

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