Salt-kissed Buttermilk Cake

Salt-kissed Buttermilk Cake Recipe

As most of you know by now, I'm not one for pretentious, fussy cakes. A buttermilk base, kiss of lemon and just enough salt to keep things sophisticated make this unpretentious beauty my go-to seasonal cake recipe. It's the kind of cake you can throw together on the fly using whatever berries or fruit are in season - in this case raspberries. I love the way smashed berries bleed into the sugar-crusted top of this cake, but there is no reason you couldn't do something like brown-sugared, sauteed apples later in the year. The whole wheat pastry flour I use delivers a pretty cake with delicate crumb. And the buttermilk lends plenty of richness and flavor allowing me to use a fraction of the butter and sugar you'll find in many cakes.

Buttermilk Cake Recipe

One of the hallmarks of this cake is the big sugar crystals that are strewn across the top just before baking - along with big salt crystals. The cake bakes at a high temperature and the sugar and salt get nice and crusty. The cake itself isn't particularly sweet, so getting a kick of salty sweetness from the crust is key. Now I recognize that not all of you have XXL grain salt and sugar on hand - it's not the end of the world, you can use regular table sugar, though you'll miss out on the craggy texture. I'd skip the finishing salt altogether if you only have a fine-grain table salt - it's still good.

Buttermilk Cake Recipe

For those of you interested in the particulars, the finishing sugar I used was Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Turbinado Raw Cane Sugar. The finishing salt was the Pangasinan Star sea salt my friend (and favorite salt geek) Mark Bitterman gave me. In short he calls it, "an exaggerated version of the classic fleur de sel Brittany sea salt widely used in fine cooking, with lush almost billowy crystals that provide a sensuous crunch." He can go on for hours about its other merits (as well as those of other salts) - I've witnessed it :). The next time around I want to try a version using Big Tree Farms' Coconut Palm Sugar in the cake and pair it with their Balinese Sea Salt on top of the cake - not sure what sort of fruit I'd do yet though...

Salt-kissed Buttermilk Cake Recipe

I melt the butter for this cake, so sometimes while I'm at it I just keep going and brown it - this adds an entirely different deep buttery flavor. If you go this route, strain out any solids and let the butter cool a bit before stirring it into the egg-buttermilk mixture. As I mentioned up above - feel free to experiment with other types of seasonal berries and fruit. The coup de grace is a floppy dollop of sweet, freshly whipped cream on the side.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup fine-grain natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup of raspberries (more if you like)
3 tablespoons large grain raw sugar
1 teaspoon large grain salt

Preheat oven to 400F degrees, racks in the middle. Grease and flour (or line bottom with parchment paper) one 11-inch tart/quiche pan. Alternately, I've done this cake in a 9x13-inch rectangular baking dish - just keep a close eye on it after it has been baking for 20 minutes.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and sugar and salt in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk, whisk in the melted butter, and the lemon zest. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until just combined - try not to over mix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing out toward the edges. Now drop the berries across top. I like to smush them a bit between my fingers before letting them fall to the cake - no so perfect looking and the juices meld with the sugar. Sprinkle with the large grain sugar and then the salt. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until cake is set (or a toothpick in the center comes out clean), and a touch golden on top.

Serves about 12.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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I hate fussing with dessert, this is just my style and I love the versatility. I also love a dessert that isn't going to give you the feeling that diabetes is descending upon you.


I love crunchy salt on my desserts. It makes the sugar taste sweeter and cuts the sweetness so that it's not cloying. Sometimes I even sprinkle my ice cream with fleur de sel :)

I've also got some fancy vanilla finishing sugar that would be great on this. Thanks!


Your photos are always so delectable. Thanks for this good "on the fly" recipe.


Raw sugar is awesome. Reminds me of rock candy I used to eat as a child.


I like the salty-sweet idea. Any idea how this might work with rhubarb? If you dropped chunks of chopped 'barb onto the top, would it come out to sour, or might that be a nice complement to the other tastes?

HS: Not sure Jenny, if you give it a go - report back!


Simply stunning.


Can I use a smattering of kosher salt for the topping? I also use sea salt in all cooking but haven't yet bought fancy salts.

HS: Sure give it a go - maybe go with about half the amount called for.


Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! This is such a straight-forward recipe the possibilities are endless! I'm thinking about banana/pineapple/coconut...or even (call me crazy) basil/tomato subbing 1/2 cup ww flour with cornmeal!


Oh my goodness. I must make this!


How does this cake freeze?
Hmmm the rhubarb idea sounds nice too!

HS: Not sure, if you try it - report back!


I have been on a clafouti binge, testing myriad recipes to find one I liked, just because its look and the rustic, not-too-sweet concept appealed to me. But this is what I have been searching for: same rustic look but not the confused am-I-cake-or-am-I-custard texture. Can't wait to try it!


I have been on a clafouti binge, testing myriad recipes to find one I liked, just because its look and the rustic, not-too-sweet concept appealed to me. But this is what I have been searching for: same rustic look but not the confused am-I-cake-or-am-I-custard texture. Can't wait to try it!


Any tips on how to make this (or anything calling for buttermilk, for that matter) vegan?


Thanks for yet another Heidi addition to my kitchen.


ou are so right on the money, if we had the technology or smellovision and tasteovision, I would be enjoy this right with my ice cold glass of milk. Ms. Hedi you are FABULOUS!!


I love when I get your recipes and have just about everything to make it! Except for the buttermilk,(a quick detour to the store after work will solve that!) I have everything on hand and I think my family is going to enjoy this tonight! Thanks for the recipe!


I’ve never posted a comment here before, even though I’ve read your entire archives (!). Today, though, I just had to.

I was shocked to see the picture when I pulled up your page today, and even more shocked when I read your description and recipe. This LOOKS identical to, and sounds incredibly similar to, a cake I’ve been making for several years now. The recipe was given to my mom from a neighbor, who had gotten it from her grandmother. It’s the simplest, one-bowl cake ever, and I’ve made it with every type of berry I’ve gotten my hands on (blackberry remains my favorite, though!).

My recipe is different than yours, but I swear, the picture is a spitting image. I’d love to taste-test them side-by-side and see how they differ! It only sounds like mine is sweeter, eggless, and omits the salt topping. Here’s my old recipe:

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 cup berries

Sift dry ingredients and then lightly mix in wet ones. Pour in pie plate and top with berries. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes. How simple is that?!

That’s the original, but I alter it by replacing half the flour with whole-wheat, and often using vanilla soymilk mixed with 1T lemon juice in place of buttermilk. I also often reduce the sugar to 3/4 of a cup, and it’s still great. It’s so customizable.

Sorry for the long-winded comment, but the resemblance of your cake to mine is simply uncanny. If you ever want to try my mom’s recipe, I’d love to hear how they compare!


I live in Brazil and we don't have whole wheat pastry flour down here..any suggestions?


Hi, Jennifer - just an fyi it is really easy to make faux-buttermilk with 1 cup of dairy milk and 1 tsp of acid ( white or cider vinegar or lemon juice) and let it sit 10 minutes. This saves a trip to the store and a carton of rotten buttermilk if you don't use the rest.


I love the concept of this dessert. Simple, fruit laden, and not stuffed full of sugar. So many of us don't think it's a dessert unless there is a high amount of sweetener in it. But I have found that desserts can have up to half the amount of sugar as called for, and still be very sweet and satisfying. This recipe looks like it would be the perfect combo of fruit, sweetener and whole grain goodness.

Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

My daughter's first birthday is tomorrow, and my apricot tree is having an extraordinary season...what perfect timing for a wholesome cake recipe!!


I love the combination of salty, sweet, and tangy, and can't wait to try this. As others have said, your photos are gorgeous.

One little nitpicky point about your intro to the recipe: a "coup de grâce" is a death blow, usually merciful, traditionally by sword. I don't think this is what you meant! If I'm not mistaken, the French term you were aiming for is "pièce de résistance": the highlight, the best part.


I just whipped this up for tonight's dinner, and have already snuck two (albeit small) pieces. This cake is positively delicious--easy, not too sweet, but sweet enough. And crunchy on top. Thank you so much for sharing--this will definitely be added into my regular rotation!

HS: Glad you like it Christine. Thanks for the comment. I like to hear how things turn out in kitchens other than my own.


Hmm, Fritinancy. Not sure "piece de resistance" would be what she meant to say, either, given the dollop of whipped cream is optional, and certainly not the best part of this recipe--the cake is.


Hi Heidi,
Perfect timing as always, I just went berry picking and have a ton of blackberries begging to be used. Do you think that I could subsitute white whole wheat flour for the whole wheat pastry flour? It's all I have on hand.

HS: Sophie - I've done a version with 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 white whole wheat flour - it just wasn't as good - not as tender, and came across as more bready.

Sophie L

Heidi - you totally hit my sweet spot with this recipe! Can't wait to bake this with some fresh peaches this summer.


"Floppy dollop" - LOVE IT!


I am moved to suggest a finishing fruit topping for the combination you mention at the end of the text...

I think mangoes, crushed/lightly roasted pecans and a hint of sautéed fennel would make a marvelous finish to the coconut and sea salt combination... maybe sautéed together in butter first?

As this is my first post...
I must thank you, given this opportunity, for your innovation and the friendly way you have of conveying your successes. Your blog and passion for cooking has helped me to make space for myself to try new things with much less fear of not succeeding. Thank you so much for that.

HS: Great idea Aimee, glad you're finding a little jolt of inspiration here. Thanks for adding your ideas to the mix :)



Vegan buttermilk works the same as d.i.y. dairy buttermilk: 1 tsp. vinegar in the bottom of a 1 c. measuring cup, then fill to the brim with soymilk. Silk brand has always worked best for me for cooking because of its thicker texture and it also won't separate/curdle as easily as other brands. Hope this helps!


This cake looks great! I'll be making it this weekend.

@Fritnancy -

coup de grâce
(kū' də gräs') pronunciation

n., pl. coups de grâce (kū').

1. A deathblow delivered to end the misery of a mortally wounded victim.
2. A finishing stroke or decisive event.

The second meaning is used quite often in English, though it might not have a positive meaning in French.


I use buttermilk quite often and can't stand to pay so much for the 16 oz carton so I buy the big bottle and freeze left overs in ziplock freezer bags. I've never had a problem with it. The recipe I use most often calls for 1C 2T and that is the amt I freeze in each bag.


this is the first recipe I've tried - I could barely wait to get to home & into my kitchen. I have one cooling & the 2nd in the oven for my co-workers. I have no doubt it will be a huge hit! Simple beautiful recipes like this make my heart beat a little fast!


I was just wondering what to do with the leftover buttermilk in my fridge! perfect! i have some organic berries i picked up and peaches too!
what would be better to use? redmonds real salt (very course and pink) or celtic sea salt (softer and gray)?

HS: I would go with the biggest, lightest, flakiest salt.


update....just took a bite of the first cake...heaven...pure, flippin' heaven...the texture is perfect.

I couldn't find whole wheat pastry flour so I subbed half cake flour & half whole wheat flour - worked perfectly. Can't WAIT to try it with peaches.


Hi Heidi -

Long time reader, first time post-er! :)

I wanted to share with you a tip that I heard regarding buttermilk. Usually when you buy it for a recipe, there is some left over, which goes bad before the next time that you need it. Just take what is left and freeze it in ice cube trays, then put the buttermilk cubes into a plastic bag to pull out as you need them.

This recipe looks great!


Thanks Heidi, I am going to make this on the weekend. This is an elegant and easy dessert that I find absolutely irresistable. I'll be trying it with the apples. Now if you could only do the same for me with some almost perfect persimmons life would be bliss!

e tuohey

Thanks Heidi, I am going to make this on the weekend. This is an elegant and easy dessert that I find absolutely irresistable. I'll be trying it with the apples. Now if you could only do the same for me with some almost perfect persimmons life would be bliss!


@Interloper: Yes, it's a finishing stroke--but a finishing stroke that brings about death or another tragic ending (for example, the end of a business). Perhaps the best choice in the present case would be an English phrase: "grace note."

This discussion has given me an excellent topic for my own blog, which is all about names, brands, and words. Come over and visit!


any thoughts on how to make this gluten free? just use a all purpose gluten free flour?


Yum! The name of this cake reminded me of sitting with my Grandpa drinking glasses of buttermilk sprinkled with salt.

I've go everything but lemons on hand to try the recipe, though I do have a couple of limes. Hmm, maybe I'll give that a try!


Our family just ate our first helping. Of course, we didn't have all of the ingredients, but it was still delicious. I used yogurt watered down with a little milk instead of buttermilk, and I only zested one lemon. Oh, and I used frozen wild blueberries our family picked ourselves here in Alaska, since raspberries are still a month off at least. We really enjoyed the flavor. We used the 9x13 and it was ready in exactly 20 minutes. Thank you for an easy, wholesome go-to recipe- I really enjoy your blog.

HS: Thanks for the feedback Meggan, glad your version turned out! I love cooking with yogurt, so I'm glad to hear you had some success.


Heidi, I don't know how you do it. This looks amazing, and I can't wait to go try it!


Mm, sounds delicious! Will definitely have to try this one...

young c-m

This does sound splendid, and my blackberries are just starting to ripen up. If I were to make it with rhubarb, I'd macerate the chunks of rhubarb first in some regular granulated sugar, or brown sugar, just enough to draw some of the moisture out and sweeten them up. I recently made the mistake of trying a strawberry-rhubarb combination in a new-favorite not-too-sweet crumble recipe without increasing the sugar, and the rhubarb was just too sour.


You've just described my perfect cake: NO chocolate ... just a not too sweet buttermilk batter, sugary and salty crust, seasonal fruit. Dollop of cream. Luscious and perfect. I have a container of tey berries, which I just tried for the first time and are like raspberries, and fresh mountain raspberries as well, so I'm making this soon! Bravo Summer Cakes!


Mmmm...this looks very yummy. I guess I'll have to try making it sometime for my family.

Do you have nutritional facts about this food?


What a yummy looking cake! Love it!

My Sweet & Saucy

Liz said:

Just take what is left and freeze it in ice cube trays, then put the buttermilk cubes into a plastic bag to pull out as you need them.

Does this work for heavy cream? Usually, I use only about half by the date on the carton.

@Fritinancy -

The link doesn't appear to be a blog. Can you direct me to it? Thanks.


Liz said:

Just take what is left and freeze it in ice cube trays, then put the buttermilk cubes into a plastic bag to pull out as you need them.

Does this work for heavy cream? Usually, I use only about half by the date on the carton.

@Fritinancy -

The link doesn't appear to be a blog. Can you direct me to it? Thanks.


I'm going to try this cake! It looks absolutely amazing! I've got buttermilk in the fridge and three mullberry trees that are fruiting like crazy.

I'm wheat-free, but not gluten-free, so planning on using whole spelt flour. However, it comes in a course grind most of the time. Can I pulse it in my food processor to turn it into pastry flour?


This cake is perfect! Just what I've been looking for to serve to a crowd. I'll let you know how it turns out.


please can someone offer a celiac friendly whole wheat alternative for this yummy recipe?

i must have this dessert, i gotta!!


Oh, my heart is just thumping away over this one. It sounds crazy-good.

Sarah Beam

umm its looks yummy shud i try it now? :) hee may be later


I'm throwing myself a going away party this weekend and I can't wait to make this cake and serve it then!


Heidi--You've done it again! I think this cake would be good with a variety of fruits during any season--plums or cherries might be good, too! Your recipes are always so innovative.


Salty and sweet - so hot right now.

Aaron Kagan

Heidi, i can't even begin to tell you just how amazing this looks. I'll have to give this a go very soon. As I'm not huge fan of cakes with frosting and whatnot, this is completely up my alley. Out of curiosity -- if I wanted to make this sans dairy, would you think that a soy yogurt might work okay? Or it's not liquid enough? Or fermented enough? What do you think?


Interloper - not sure if the freezing method works for heavy cream, but I can't see why not? I somehow end up using up the whole finds its way into my tea, or my pasta sauce, somehow!

I was at the Ferry Plaza FM yesterday, and the stone fruits from Frog Hollow Farms are amazing right now! I think this recipe would be amazing with nectarines and/or blueberries as well.


this just looks absolutely delish. i am definitely trying this out after my next farmer's market shop!


Oh my! that Buttermilk Cake looks devine. I want to take a bite out of my computer screen!


What a change with buttermilk !


Heidi, oh yum!! That cake looks amazing. Anything with "buttermilk" and "cake" in the title immediately draw in my attention, but you really had me with the craggily textured top and promise of only a touch of sweetness. I'm excited to try this with the ripe strawberries in my fridge.


Heidi -
What a beautiful cake! I love baking with buttermilk - it keep the cake moist and flavourful.


This just inspired me to make a quick and tasty breakfast: butter a slice of whole wheat bread, sprinkle with raw sugar, squish some raspberries on top, toast in toaster oven, dab on some greek yogurt. I do intend to make the cake later too - but this was the perfect quick fix! Thanks for all the wholesome, delicious recipes and ingenious ideas.


This looks incredible - it makes me want to run to the Farmer's Market and get some berries.

S for Kitchen Confit

ooh I made it and it was lovely! nothing like baking in the middle of a heat wave, but I got a bottle of Riesling at the store and knew this would be perfect with it.

Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

I am not a good cook at all, but I enjoy reading your recipes and would like to give this a try. The problem is I live in Argentina and buttermilk is not readily available as far as I know. Any ideas how it can be replaced?
Thanks very much!


Hello Heidi! I've been a relatively silent reader for awhile (I'm stuck at work making myself hungry reading all of your posts). I LOVE the way this cake looks...and it sounds SO good. there any way to make this recipe without eggs? We don't use eggs in our home because we are strict vegetarians, but I would love love love to try out this cake.


In my opinion, buttermilk is the unsung hero of the kitchen -- I love it and use it a LOT!

To Andrea who can't find buttermilk, you can 1) add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk to get the sourness, or 2) make your own!! -- take a pint of heavy cream and shake shake shake it until butter forms -- the leftover liquid is buttermilk!

Jen (Modern Beet)

I keep a box of buttermilk powder in my pantry. The box has several individual packets in it. You just add water to make buttermilk or you can add it to the dry ingredients. It is very inexpensive and handy to have on hand. Most stores have it by the regular powdered and canned milk.


Hello Heidi,

After almost a year of perusing your website, checking out your book at the
SF Public Library, and cooking several times some recipes, I finally got my very own copy of SNF.
I congratulate you for sharing healthy recipes that don't belong in the "nuts and twigs" category ( a category reserved for healthy vegetarian recipes according to my teenage son and my husband).
I prepared this cake with plums from my CSA box instead of raspberries. It's a keeper. The boys can't wait to have the pear and apple version this winter.

Thanks for all the wonderful recipes that have made my dinners a snap to prepare.


I made it tonight and brought it to a picnic on the beach. I added a teaspoon of vanilla and some unsweetened organic coconut flakes to the batter and sprinkled some on top the last five minutes of cooking. I thought it was great, not too sweet, super tender and moist. Think I'll try it next time with blackberries and blueberries, or mangoes and raspberries....

Thanks again Heidi.


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