I flew back to New Zealand a few days ago, after nine months of living in Australia. Mostly I was living places where it was impossible, or almost impossible, to bake (which shouldn't lead you to assume that Australia is without ovens, just that I was living a bit rough). Starting this blog was like paying attention to an itch I couldn't scratch, so when I got to Hamilton I asked Martha and Norman if I could bake a cake at their house.
I wanted to try making the Devil's Food Cake with the controversial substitution of buttermilk for sour milk, and mum suggested I make cup cakes to make the result easier to freeze or give away. Given the general lack of enthusiasm for cake eating among most of the people around me in Hamilton (Norman made a face like I was forcing him to eat worms), combined with the chocolate alternatives available everywhere I go (chocolate mousse, chocolate macaroons, chocolate bars etc etc) this seemed like a smart move.
I was very excited to use the big enamel bowl in which the batter is always mixed in Martha's kitchen. It has a groovy '60's sunflower pattern and really high sides so the batter doesn't slop even after you pour in the hot water at the end. As a child I learned to bake using that bowl (which was also our big salad bowl for years and years). It was a wedding present to Martha and Norman in 1965 and is still going as strong as their marriage, if a little chipped and scratched- the bowl, not the marriage!
I can't say I was very impressed with the buttermilk version of the cake, which seems to me a less moist than the sour milk version, possibly with a finer crumb. Also the colour wasn't the rich reddish almost-black brown I remember. So, these buttermilk ones were a bit bland in colour, texture and taste. I'm going back to sour milk for sure next time.
A few years ago, I learned that using less sugar will stop the top of the cake from cracking in the oven, so I always use 1 1/2 cups instead of the 2 called for in the recipe. So these cupcakes have lovely smooth tops.
If you haven't checked back on my original Devil's Food recipe post, Martha added a detailed historical caption to the photo of grandma Ada and there's been a lively debate in the comments section. Worth a look if you are interested.