Salt-kissed Buttermilk Cake Recipe

A favorite buttermilk cake recipe, I love the way smashed berries bleed into the sugar-crusted top of this cake. Swap in whatever fruit is in season.

Salt-kissed Buttermilk Cake

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...

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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 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

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


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 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!


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!!


Yum! Thanks for yet another Heidi addition to my kitchen.


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


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!


How does this cake freeze? Hmmm the rhubarb idea sounds nice too! HS: Not sure, if you try it - report back!


Oh my goodness. I must make this!


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!


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.


Simply stunning.


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!


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


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


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!


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.


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