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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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!


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


@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!


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!


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

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!


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.


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.


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 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 cake looks great! I'll be making it this weekend. @Fritnancy - Dictionary: 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.


Jen- 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!


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 :)


"Floppy dollop" - LOVE IT!


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


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. Thanks!! 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

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.


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.


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.


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


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