Soil &Spice Recipe No.4 : Vanilla and Buttermilk Birthday Cake

A note on birthday cakes.


No one is too old to celebrate their birthday with cake, and there is nothing wrong with baking your own…Just saying.


Sometimes I wonder where it all started, who baked the first Birthday cake? Why cake and not roast meat, which is also delicious? These thoughts haunt my simple mind at least twice a week, anyways, it’s apparently the Germans that first decided to bake birthday cakes. This happened around the 1400s, they were also the first ones to introduce the custom of having candles on top of the cake although this was introduced later in the 1700s, so kudos to the Germans for inventing the birthday cake.

My personal history with birthday cakes is one written in sorrow and endless childhood disappointments. It may have in fact fuelled my adult obsession with anything cake.

Thing is…

My mother, although being a very able cook and baker herself, somehow never found the time to bake a cake for my birthday, since it coincided with her busiest time at work. I’m not saying I had a shitty childhood, but yes, the birthday situation was quite dire. Matters were made worse with my birthday happening to be on the same day as another girl who was in my same class throughout primary school. I will never forget her name, though I will not mention it here. Now this girls’ father baked the most beautiful and delicious cakes, which he always brought to school very ceremoniously and with such understandable pride.

I can still visualize the farm scene cake he brought one year, (how I munched on the pigs’ head!). It was a marble chocolate and vanilla cake, still one of my favourites.

Her cakes were so good and she was always kind enough to let me cut the cake with her, but it was never my cake.

Until I learned to bake my own that is.

I have baked several cakes for a lot of people and myself since, but my favourite recipe is the Vanilla and Buttermilk Cake I seem to bake for the people I love most and don’t feel the need to impress. The recipe belonged ironically in a German cookbook my mother had, the kind of book one was given in the seventies for free when buying a home oven. For some reason my mother always seemed to prefer German appliances. Let’s leave it at that.

It’s a simple and inexpensive cake to make, so there really is no excuse for not baking it, especially for children who dream of a soft chunk of cake to bite into on their birthday. It’s a fool proof recipe which even the most inexperienced of bakers can manage.


The recipe yields for three, 24cm round cakes, which you can stack on top of one another with a good measure of gorgeous butter cream, or chocolate ganache for a more grown up look. I tend to go for buttercream with this one, it just feels more fitting.

Vanilla and Buttermilk Cake.


  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 500g castor sugar.
  • 4 eggs
  • 250ml whole milk with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice added to it
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
  • 1 kg plain flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • 10g bicarbonate of soda
  • 5g salt

How to.

So simple, I don’t even use a mixer for this one, but you could if you wanted to. The most important thing though is to have soft butter, which was left to get to room temperature for a couple of hours on a September morning just like this one.

Before starting with the butter, measure the milk and mix in the lemon juice and let it rest for a couple of minutes. This is how you make buttercream at home, which we never found in Maltese shops, although you can find it in Paris. It is also quite rare and very expensive in Paris, so since it’s so easy to make I don’t see the point of buying it really.

Meanwhile …

In a mixing bowl cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.

Mix in the eggs and vanilla, then the buttermilk mixture.

Don’t panic as at this point the mixture will curdle a bit, this curdling will eventually vanish once you add the flour and raising agents to the whole mix.

Stop mixing once the flour looks fully incorporated in the wet mix.

Divide the mixture between three equal sized cake tins, or if, like me, you only have one tin of the desired dimensions, waste the next four hours of your life baking a cake one at a time.


Let cool completely before frosting,  I do this near an open window; it’s effective enough and attracts birds on the window sill. Who doesn’t want chirping birds near their birthday cakes? I actually do know a few who wouldn’t, so in that case, bake the cakes the night before and let cool on the kitchen counter to frost the next morning.



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