It was Mo’s last day at work, and she asked me to make a cake for her farewell party. I took a chance and altered Martha’s recipe just a bit for fun. I don’t think Martha actually would approve, and to be honest, I nearly ruined the entire cake.

Not like the time I accidentally confused the sugar with the salt and dumped two cups of sodium chloride into my batter and ended up on the ledge of my apartment building, having to be talked down by the jumper squad. By the way, one of them, some tubby joker, yelled up through the megaphone, “You confused salt with sugar? Eh, go ahead and jump. Cake eaters everywhere will celebrate.”

What I did here was drop the Kosher salt into the frosting after I had beat all the rest of the ingredients (cocoa, water, sugar and butter) together. The idea was to give the chocolate frosting a slightly salted aftertaste.

Why did I decide to experiment on a cake I had to take to work the next morning for Mo’s last day?

I’d like to say it’s because I live on the wild side, but the truth is it wasn’t intentional, and everything I’ve been telling you up to this point is a lie.

I actually forgot to put the salt in when I was supposed to, and without much thought to the consequences, tossed it in at the last second, thinking some serious time with the beaters would effectively weave the flavor in. This did not happen, and the frosting tasted like beach sand.

So what do I do? I can’t let Mo down. I can’t let my co-workers down. I can’t embarrass myself with a foolish salt mishap a second time in life. That would be letting my mom down. Not reading the recipe carefully would be letting Martha Stewart down. And I can’t let the tubby joker from the jumper squad get the last laugh.

First, I had to overpower the sting of the salt. That was accomplished with an entire extra stick of butter and an extra cup of confectioners sugar. That’s letting my general practitioner and dentist down, but I hate both of them anyway. Then to counter that crunchy sensation Kosher salt brings to the recipe traditional salt doesn’t (at least when you don’t mix it in at the right time), I added some crunchy little Nonpareils to the top of the cake, to confuse the eater.

I still beat the frosting together like crazy, and let it sit in the bowl overnight to give it a final test the morning I had to take the cake to work. The hint of salt was definitely present, but had subdued enough that I could pass it off as intentional. And the cake was a hit.

So you see, I’m not the smartest baker, but I’m not the dumbest either. I’m somewhere in the middle, which to be honest, is where I generally enjoy being in life overall. Absent-minded enough to screw up, clever enough to fix it, and finally vain enough to brag about it on my blog, giving up the entire jig for the sake of a couple extra unique hits.

But I didn’t let Mo down!

Buttermilk Cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 3 cups AP flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line with parchment rounds, and butter parchment. Dust with flour, tapping out excess. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar; continue beating until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, about 5 minutes.

Reduce speed to low. Slowly add flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just incorporated. Beat in vanilla.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake, rotating half-way through, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon warn water
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/4 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, melted and cooled
  • Nonpareils, for decorating (optional)

Whisk together cocoa and the warm water in a bowl until cocoa dissolves. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually beat in melted chocolate and then cocoa mixture until combined. Frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed before using.

Place bottom cake layer on a cake stand or platter, and spread evenly with about 1 cup chocolate frosting. Place remaining layer, top side down, on top of first; press down slightly. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake, using an offset spatula to create large swirls. Sprinkle with nonpareils, if desired. Refrigerate cake until frosting sets, about 10 minutes (or up to 3 days), before serving.