Several years ago, I found the perfect white cake recipe on Pinterest and like most people on Pinterest, I found it, pinned it and then didn’t look at it again for at least a year.
My Husband, Gannon, has some pretty amazing family in Tennessee. They make you feel welcomed and loved, no matter who you are, with a warmth like you’ve been in the family for years. I quickly considered them my own, and settled in for all the birthdays, baby snuggles, garden planting and coffee over dessert in the evenings.
My own family is very Southern in a few key ways (outside of also being from Tennessee). I was born and raised a Floridian, but our tables were often garnished with homemade biscuits, buttermilk, pecan pie, and homemade butter beans that had simmered on the stove all day.
My Mother, Grandmother and Aunt (who swears she can’t cook, but makes an amazing sweet potato casserole that I’ve been copying for more than 10 years) all had immaculate tables with an abundance of food, ready to invite anyone who needed a good meal. In our family, and in the South, we show affection with food. And we show it a lot.
We needed a cake for a birthday. I asked to make it because I love, no, I adore, cake. There was a catch though. I needed a really good cake. Our Tennessee family is full of good cooks. And when I say good cooks, I mean a solid few generations of classically trained French chef wizardry and Southern Family cookbooks. You know, the kind where you find little cursive words in pencil and small notes tucked in between pages. I learned to cook with my Mother, but this was the first cake I’d be making from scratch, by myself.
Enter the best white cake recipe ever by Robyn at Add a Pinch.
No seriously, save this. You won’t regret it.
Photo (totally stolen) from addapinch.com. All credit and copyright belong to Robyn.
At first glance, it’s your typical pinterest worthy, beautifully staged cake. But take a second look at that sugar, egg and butter content. Think it’s rich? You’d be right! And you can bet your buttered biscuit that it’s delicious. But there’s a little magic in this cake. I’m not sure if Robyn shared with this intention, or just wanted to share a cake that her family loves, but this is my favorite cake for many reasons.
My first cake was a disaster. The batter is thick. It smells and tastes like sugar cookie dough. I made a 13 x 9 inch, 2 layer cake and it broke in the center because I pulled it out of the pan too soon. Robyn has a lovely butter cream recipe you can use as well (it’s linked on her cake page) and it make’s excellent cement to put your cake back together if you have the same impatience I do.
But here’s the thing. We served that cake. In the South, when someone puts care into something, you eat it, no matter how ugly, broken or messy it looks. I sheepishly served my giant, messy cake on a turkey platter – three munchkins and 6 adults patiently waiting. And you know what? It was GREAT! I got actual “Wow!”s and “Where did you find this recipe?” from my crumbly mess. In case you’re wondering, it tastes like cake on the inside, and a sugar cookie on the outside.
So that brings us to the magic. Sure, the cake tastes great. But the magic is that it tastes like home. I can’t remember ever having made a cake specifically with my Grandmother, but somewhere in the alternating flour and milk, there she was – a soft hand on my shoulder, a giggle as she tasted the batter, and a smile saying “Mmm that’s good!” She was 700 miles away and it took me back to sitting around her kitchen table chatting over dessert.
The magic of family is being able to be hundreds of miles away and still feel their presence in the little daily things. Last weekend was my birthday. We’re a little further away now, but in their own way, they were there. As I sifted my flour, guided by my Mother’s hand, with her vintage kitchenware and love of perfection, she was there. As I nibbled on the edges of the cake, sneaking pieces before it was ready, my Grandmother was there. And as I smiled at the Ooohs and Aaaahs while excitedly sharing the recipe with the people around me, my Aunt Debi was there too.
I’ve come a long way from my beloved crumbly mess. I made this perfect cake a little more my own, with bright colors and even more sugar, but at it’s heart, it’s Robyn’s recipe – and I will always be in love with it.
I believe that cooking for someone and sharing a meal is one of the most intimate things you can do. You’re sharing your home, your culture, your pride, and your experiences openly and with abundance.
For me, there will always be magic in cake.