This is my belated birthday cake, shot both light and dark, apropos of my 30 years. My birthday was this past Tuesday, and I always imagined it would be an event. It wasn’t, and I didn’t want it to be. I worked all day, cried hysterically at one point (birthday’s are weird like that, I think), and had a wonderful supper with my family at St. John’s (which is where I always go & is still the only place I know of in Chattanooga to get a proper piece of foie gras or something like panna cotta with borage in it…).
I didn’t cry because I was freaked out to be turning 30, it should be noted. I cried because I’m sensitive and in the habit of crying a lot (which if you’ve watched me on Masterchef you may have noticed). I’m cool with that. Quite the contrary, I’m elated to be in my 30’s and have been looking forward to it for two years now. My twenties were a horror show save these past two sweet years.
I associate the past decade with wild self-obsession and a frivolous pursuit of identity through a pair of unbecoming glasses & owning The Wipers on vinyl. I was like that, I admit. While I still love my records & a fine pair of slacks, I am neither a constellation of dusty records nor my accoutrements nor the sum total of men in slim cut pants that want to make out with me in some dive bar besotted on PBR.
So, you can imagine how terribly excited I am for the next decade of my life, far removed from all that nonsense. Though not without it’s bouts (frequent bouts?) of hysterical tears, I have a life I love. Purpose. A career I’m passionate about. A cozy home (that I hope to share corners of with you soon…as I’ve been doing much nesting lately!). And above all, a partner. A real partner that I love through thick & thin and probably the only man equipped to love the likes of me. I’m not all waffle cakes, people. But I do make, apparently, one mean ol’ waffle cake.
I was thinking about these brown butter, buttermilk, and maple waffles I came up with a while back. And then I was wondering Why aren’t there more waffle cakes?! I couldn’t really understand it. In this Pinterest age of crafty mom’s & food bloggers such as myself galore… you’d think there’d be waaaay more waffle cakes. So. I’m hoping to help y’all out with that. & get a waffle cake fever going. Because this cake. It is rad. And aren’t brunch themed weddings a thing now? Well, they should be a thing. And this should be the cake for that thing. Waffle wedding cake? Or just breakfast of champions? Do what you want!
I was going to make maple syrup swiss buttercream, but I didn’t have enough maple syrup to go ’round the waffles & icing. So. I was all Sorghum! My best friend! Thank the lord I’m out of syrup! And then I felt proud and puffy, even if the idea was of necessity. Mother of invention, y’all. My fetish for Southern ingredients is no secret. I’m not in the closet about it. And besides Sequatchie Cove sorghum is unreal. It comes in a mason jar with a handwritten label, and it’s thicker and tangier than anything I’ve ever found at a store. It’s like candy straight out of the jar. Dip some figs in it sometime if you have the chance. Or your finger. That’s good too. Just don’t eat the finger. Sometimes I bite my fingers, like really bite them hard when I’m eating & really hungry. Then I feel shame faced. Like a little ravenous animal.
I’ve always found American buttercream to be, eh, underwhelming. But I foresee a whole, whole lot of meringue buttercream in my future. The reason it appeals to me so very much is a) superior texture and b) because I can pour a boiling 2/3 cup of whatever flavored syrup I want into it, and I’m obsessed with what I like to call “blank slate” recipes. Recipes that are basically canvases on which you can paint with whatever flavors you come up with. This meringue buttercream is one of those. It’s actually kind of similar to making marshmallows, in my experience.
One more brief thing before I give you the goods. I said I was going to talk about Masterchef, that little thing I was up to all winter during my conspicuous absence from this space. So I’ll say this: yep, I did that thing, and I’m quite proud of myself for somehow managing to get that far! It was exceptionally hard, and when the time came for me to go home I was standing up there praying. Not praying that they let me stay. Praying that they send me home. I couldn’t have stood being there another day. My inspiration for cooking comes from family, a land, a place, a time. A table. Real life. I don’t rush, and I’ve never wanted to be a chef on the line. I like to take my time, enjoy company, slow cook, experiment. I’m a recipe developer, not a restaurant chef. And thank God for the latter, because I don’t want to do what they do. But I like eating what they do! I plan to write books full of beautiful recipes to share with you all, not open a restaurant.
But the competition wasn’t the hard part, the competition wasn’t why I was praying to go home. Everything that you go through off camera, that’s the hard part. The competition part is a little farcical, a theatrical joke (albeit a very, very stressful joke). But isolation and exhaustion are very real. I’m a better cook for having been on Masterchef, that’s certain. But most of my experience there seemed to have little to do with cooking even when we were cooking. I remember kind of thinking it was silly when Stacey (a contestant from the season before me) said that she woke up everyday and told herself she was a warrior. I was all It’s a cooking show! Warrior…hahahah! But now I understand. Boy, do I ever understand. It’s a psychological wringer, guys. You have no idea.
I’m grateful for having done the show, my personal opinions of it notwithstanding. Every opportunity is what you make it, and it was a huge opportunity. But I’m also so glad it’s all over. Because when people say “Well, it’s TV” you know what they mean, and it isn’t really good. “It’s TV” is a euphemism for being sensational to generate ratings. And I’m glad my part with all of that is over. I’m not against television at large, and as a matter of fact I have secret (ok, not so secret) aspiration to be the female Anthony Bourdain. But turns out I like being on network reality television about as much as I like watching it. Which is not very much at all. Also, the “fresh over” thing? Please. Just, please.
Lastly for those of you watching the show that keep googling things like “beth kirby drugs” due to the editing non-sequitur in my final episode where I mention “getting clean”… yeah. Yep. Yes. Did ’em. Lots. It was a problem. Big one. Quit two years ago! Life good now. Much better, kthx….Now I have a life filled with things like waffle cake! So kids, remember: Don’t do drugs. Bake cakes instead. Trust me on this one. Trust me.
For more on that, this post might be illuminating.
brown butter waffle cake with sorghum meringue buttercream
Yield: yields 6 full sized waffles, enough for a 2 layer cake with leftovers or a 3 layer
300 grams (2.4 cups) all-purpose flour
180 grams (1.4 cups) cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
110 grams (2/3 cup) light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
12 tablespoons brown butter, cooled to room temp
1/2 cup maple syrup (real stuff, please!)
480 grams (2 cups) buttermilk, room temp
for buttercream (increase by half for a 3 layer)
2 large egg whites at room temp
scant 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup sorghum syrup
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temp and cut into tablespoon size pieces
Make waffle batter.
Don't know how to brown butter? The Kitchn tells you how here.
Mix all dry ingredients well with a whisk in a large mixing bowl. Make sure all wet ingredients are at room temperature and whisk together to combine in a medium mixing bowl. Stir wet ingredients into dry gently to just combine. Don't overmix or your waffles will be tough. I like to let the batter sit about 30 minutes before cooking.
During this time heat your waffle iron & make your buttercream.
Mix egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Add in the sugar one teaspoon at a time, beating, until they just hold stiff peaks.
Boil the syrup without stirring in a small sauce pan with a candy thermometer attached until it reaches 238°F-242°F on the thermometer. Immediately remove from heat and stream down side of bowl into egg whites, beating constantly on high. Beat until meringue is cool, 6-10 minutes of more depending on how warm your kitchen is.
**This is important. If the meringue is at all warm when you add the butter it will melt and become soupy. You can save it by chilling the bowl before continuing. If you add all the butter and it's too soupy, stick in the freezer for about 5 minutes, whip, then set in the fridge for another 10-20 minutes. Whip again until normal consistency.
Add the butter one tablespoon at a time beating well between additions. If mixture looks curdled, just keep beating, it will come together.
Buttercream can be made up to one week ahead chilled and covered. To revive just bring to room tip and whip back to life with your mixer.
Pour two ladles of batter onto your well oiled waffle iron. Cook for 4 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Cook on a cooling rack. Continue cooking until all waffles are done. I like to then chill them for about 10 minutes in the freezer before proceeding just to make sure the icing doesn't get melty.
Stack two waffles to form one "layer" of your cake. Spread half the frosting on this layer. Top with another two waffles, the rest of the frosting, and garnish with seasonal fruit.
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