On Friday night, I went to dinner at a little Italian restaurant in the West Village. It’s an old favorite, just a few blocks from a cozy apartment where I used to live. The restaurant is warm and inviting, with worn wood floors and a long mirrored bar. It’s lit with vintage-y lightbulbs that glow amber above the tables.
The menu is filled with the sort of food I imagine real Italians eat. Somewhere in Naples, in a quiet cool kitchen, someone’s nonna is setting out simple dishes like thinly sliced rib-eye, served cold, over lemony arugula and shaved Brussel sprouts studded with salty bits of Castelrosso cheese.
I ate meatballs with pine nuts and raisins, chewy bread dunked in olive oil, and several cocktails (does that count as nourishment?) with honey, clove, gin, and lemon.
Three cocktails later, I’m at home pulling on pajamas and wishing I’d given the dessert menu more than a cursory glance. After scrubbing my face clean of mascara and dark lipstick, I ransack the kitchen.
I am facing the dire choice of a handful of bittersweet chocolate chips or a frozen buttermilk waffle which is looking a bit freeze-dried and awfully suspect, when I spot a wrapped slice of double vanilla cake which I cleverly stashed in the freezer on Friday.
I heat it up slightly. The edges are crunchy with caramelized sugar (instead of buttering and flouring the cake pan, you butter and sugar it. How’s that for smart?), and the interior is dense and moist and flecked with vanilla bean.
It’s a fantastic little cake recipe to have up your sleeve, as I assure you it’s just as nice plain on a Tuesday night as it would be impressive for a dinner party.
Double Vanilla Butter Cake
Adapted from Nielsen-Massey
Recipe note: If you can't find vanilla bean paste, just substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract (so you'll have 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract). If you can find it, it does give the cake gorgeous flecks of real vanilla bean. You can find it in many grocery stores or specialty food shops, or online here and here.
Makes one 8-inch round cake
1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting the pan
3 eggs, warmed slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
14 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment, grease the sides and base, and dust it with granulated sugar. Set aside.
If your eggs are cold, place them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Having your eggs warmed will help with the next step of beating lots of air into them.
In a stand mixer (or large bowl with hand-held electric mixer), beat the eggs with the sugar for 4 to 5 minutes. Don't skimp on this step! The mixture should be pale and almost doubled in size. When you lift up your beater, the mixture should fall in thick ribbons.
Add the vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, and salt and mix gently.
Sift the flour over the egg mixture. Using a spatula, gently fold the flour into the batter until no streaks remain. You want to be careful not to deflate all that air you just spent time beating into the eggs and sugar.
Add the melted butter to the batter and fold gently but thoroughly using a spatula until the batter is well-mixed.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The cake should start to pull away from the sides. It will puff up considerably in the oven, but will deflate a bit once you take it out, which is fine.
Run a knife around the edges of the pan and let the cake cool for 5 minutes. Turn it out into a wire rack to finish cooling.