Busy-Day Cake


This cake is so good I made it twice. Edna Lewis called this her Busy-Day Cake and we’ve had lots of busy days around here. Visits from friends and family, events to attend, and work all mean that I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I like. I first made this cake at about 10pm on a Sunday, I was desperate. Before the cake even left the oven I knew I was happy I didn’t wait for a more appropriate time to bake.


The scent of butter and vanilla filled the apartment and out of the oven came a perfect simple little cake. This isn’t fancy or showy, its beauty lies in its simplicity. The moist and airy cake is subtly sweet and flavored with vanilla and freshly grated nutmeg.  Lewis notes that the cake is especially delicious with some fresh-cooked fruit left over from canning—an excellent suggestion. I don’t think it needs anything other than a cold glass of milk. Cut yourself a big wedge and stand over the sink eating it. Perfect.


Because this cake is so simple, ingredients are important. Good butter and eggs, pure vanilla extract and freshly grated nutmeg. They will all make a big difference here. And this cake really is so good that I have made it twice in the past week. I am kind of obsessed with it. It is hard to believe that something so simple can be this satisfying. Just one more reason to be grateful for Edna Lewis.

Busy-Day Cake (adapted from a recipe by Edna Lewis)

  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan, set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the flour in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding next. Add the salt, vanilla, baking powder, and nutmeg and mix until combined.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake until top is golden and tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.


41 comments to “Busy-Day Cake”

  1. Thanks for this… it would be a huge hit in my house!

  2. Looks beautiful Tim. Vanilla cakes have always been my favorite. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. It does sound good… liberating, too, when you don’t have to frost and decorate! Think I’ll make this today!

  4. I agree, Janet. I love things that can be thrown together in the time it would take to go out and buy something.

  5. Ah, busy-day cake…it was a lifesaver for me on Mother’s day. I made dinner for the family, including a sub-par Parisian flan. Not wanting to serve it to everyone, I thought of the one cake that I could whip up in no time, with ingredients I had on hand. This, with some blueberries cooked in a saucepan with some water and sugar, was perfect.

  6. Can’t get any easier than that, huh? Standing over the sink, catching crumbs in your mouth, is a good way to eat it.

  7. I love simple cakes! Especially when I have all of the ingredients in the house. :)

  8. Agreed! Recipes that can easily be made with ingredients you will likely have on hand are excellent. FYI, the original recipe uses whole milk instead of buttermilk so if you only have milk in the fridge, this is still possible- and equally delicious.

  9. I love Edna Lewis! Just flipping through her books makes me happy. The cake seems like the sweet (cakey?) version of my skillet cornbread.

  10. I read this quickly at first, and was like, “Yeah! Work *is* all mean! I need cake!”…sigh. Looks delicious and simple and perfect.

  11. I just made this with fresh rhubarb compote. Hooray for springtime!

  12. Edna Lewis was the best…I bet this would be good with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar, something I just loaded onto an angel food cake.

  13. Both the strawberries and rhubarb sound so good. Great ideas.
    And so glad to hear from other Edna Lewis fans. What a gift she was and continues to be through her writing and recipes.

  14. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Its definitely a keeper!

  15. I bet this would be amazing with some poached rhubarb on top! I made some the other day and I put it over vanilla bean rice pudding, but I think it would happily accompany this busy day cake.

  16. Does this have to be made in the springform, do you think? Or would perhaps a 9 inch aluminum cake pan work as an alternative?

  17. Hi Maureen, the original recipe actually calls for a 10 x 10 square cake pan. It seems like a size that most people would not have, so I substituted the springform. A regular cake pan will work just fine…

  18. Mmmmmm, looks and sounds wonderful. I’m going to keep this in mind….it’s a busy day around here all the time.

  19. Wow, what a totally fantastic blog! Love the design. I keep seeing Edna’s Busy Day Cake, so will finally take it as a sign and just make the damn thing. Thanks!

  20. Thanks, Julie. I had felt the same way about the cake before I tried it, ha.

  21. When I read this recipe the other day I was a goner. Before I made it I just knew I was going to love it…and lo ‘n behold I totally loved it. Delicious. The texture is perfect, the hint of nutmeg is perfect and the taste of vanilla is perfect. I might just rename it “Perfect Cake”.

    Hmmm…maybe I’ll try substituting some almond extract for the vanilla…which then the cake might be re-renamed “OMG Perfect Cake”. Oh my poor hips!

  22. Glad to hear you liked it as much as I do, Amanda. If you don’t already know Edna Lewis you should look for more of her recipes. They are all pretty amazing.

  23. Makes lovely cupcakes. 25 minutes or so in standard size cupcake tins.

  24. Thanks, Scott! So good to know.

  25. Erin in Sacramento says:

    August 5th, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Oh.My.God. Oh, I have already eaten a piece of this divine cake, warm, over the sink before I have made dinner! Hiding it from my kids! Soooo good. I was 1/2 t short of vanilla so I split a vanilla bean and put half the seeds in the cake. And really, there is something magical about freshly grated nutmeg, isn’t there? Thanks Edna and Tim!

  26. Erin: Glad you liked it as much as I do. Seriously can’t get enough of that cake.

  27. Sarah in Ballston Spa NY says:

    August 20th, 2009 at 7:03 am

    This is my son’s favorite recipe, his Kindergarten teacher would make it for their birthdays….he’s 11 now and still asks for it.. Imagine… even with oreo’s, 50,000 flavors of ice cream and candies… this is his favorite! Thanks for posting Tim!

  28. Sarah, your son sounds like a pretty smart boy! It is one of my favorites too. So satisfying. Thanks!

  29. so i’m a little late to the party, but i just made this cake. and it is perfect!

  30. Ambika Kumar says:

    October 28th, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Superb cake! I made this last week… just added some lemon zest and a bit of juice to the batter and scatterd some frozen blueberries on the top before baking…yummmyyyy
    And the vanilla and lemon flavours deepened the second day!
    Thanks for this awesome recipe:)

  31. i’ve got this baking in the oven right now. while i love the warmth of nutmeg, i ended up using cardamom instead because i’ve been in a cardamom state of mind lately and i used the seeds from two vanilla beans instead of extract. i love how the batter was thick and creamy and super yummy too – we all tasted it; me more than the others which is a privilege of being the cook.

    think i’ll sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. can’t wait to taste it!

  32. love love love the denseness of this cake. cutting into it was like cutting into a thick velvety brownie. we ate it over the sink. at least the first piece. as i type this i’m having a slice with fresh pairs. i topped it off with a generous slug of heavy whipping cream, unwhipped. the density of the cake is keeping it from becoming soggy in the cream. divine.

  33. This has been a favourite of my family since I was a kid! It’s one of our classic birthday cakes.
    I’ve always liked it best when you use almond extract instead of vanilla.
    Top with whipped cream & strawberries it’s the best.

  34. If you use whole milk instead of buttermilk, do you use the same quantity – 1/2 cup?

    Thanks much.

  35. Hi Michelle,
    Yes, you can use the same amount of milk, though I have never tried it. Is there a reason you don’t want to use buttermilk? The tang from it is quite nice. If you don’t have any on hand, the DIY method is to mix 1 cup of milk with 1 tablespoon of acid (lemon juice, white vinegar) and let sit for 5 minutes. You could do a half version with 1/2 cup milk and 2 teaspoons of vinegar. Happy baking!

  36. This cake looks delicious, though I wonder what might be a good substitute for nutmeg? I’m allergic and even handling it can make me react very badly. It looks wonderful and I’d like to try it, but I don’t want to exclude the nutmeg and be left was a cake that feels like it’s missing something.

  37. Hi Kay,
    This cake is kind of all about the nutmeg for me. You could try something like cardamom, cloves or cinnamon but I can’t imagine any of them being better. Maybe just pick a different cake? Let me know if you experiment!

  38. Is this the Edna Lewis recipe that calls for creaming the cold butter by hand with a wooden spoon?
    Beautiful books to read and reference. What a loving and resourceful family. When I become overwhelmed in the kitchen during special occasions I try to remember Edna’s mother and all she was able to do with a smile on her face, especially Sunday Revival Dinners!

  39. Made this last night…I admit that at first I scoffed at your comment about how it is all about the nutmeg for you. I thought – really? It would still be good without it, right? YOU ARE TOTALLY RIGHT!!! Good freshly grated nutmeg makes this cake so so so delicious! I am in love, and so glad to have such a straightforward recipe to add to my mental list of easy desserts.

  40. Hello, I remember when I was young My Mother Shirley and Miss Edna worked together at Middleton Place Plantation along with Miss Audrey. She was a wonderful cook and I love eating the cooking. She is truly missed by many.

  41. I just had to follow up post, I posted in 2009 and my son is turning 16 tomorrow, still asking for busy day cake! I loved rereading my original post as he turned 11. Classic recipe!

What do you think?