“So, how much liquid do I need to add to the dough?”
“As much as it will take.”
This was how Ziporah, my husband’s late grandma, used to respond when my mother in law would ask her how to make one of her famous recipes (such as her soft, fragrant onion rolls). Needless to say, this is not how most of us make recipes these days- modern cookbooks and food blogs have spoiled us with exact measurements, detailed instructions and step-by-step photographs.
When I asked my own grandma (oma, in Dutch) for her boterkoek (Dutch butter cake) recipe, I was pleasantly surprised when she started with exact measurements: “Take 300 grams flour, 250 grams butter and 250 grams sugar.” Of course, it all went downhill from there – the rest of the instructions went something like “make a smooth dough out of these ingredients; transfer to pan (what size??); brush with egg white; bake 5 minutes at a very high temperature (how high, grandma??), then lower temperature and bake until done.”
But it was important to me to bake this cake. Boterkoek is a dense, extremely rich cake. It’s made of three ingredients, all in equal parts more or less: flour, butter and sugar. No baking powder – so it’s more like a big giant soft butter cookie than a tall cake.
Oma’s baked goods, in general, are one of my strongest childhood food memories. They were always so rich and buttery, and stood in stark contrast to the margarine-containing baked goods that most Israelis made back then (margarine was cheaper; it was considered healthier; and it kept foods Pareve for those eating Kosher).
So I did as best as I could under the circumstances, using a food processor to blend the dough, adding one egg (I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it will all bind together without an egg); and baking at a preheated 400 degrees F oven for 30 minutes. It came out amazing – just as I remember from my childhood. I was tempted to try a slice while the cake was still warm, but it is much, much better when cooled down to room temperature, because then it’s set and all the flavors blend in.
Needless to say, this is one of those cakes where a little goes a long way – as much as my Israeli/American habits tempted me to get myself a BIG slice, in this case you really should have just a small slice – the cake is so rich, you’ll be very satisfied.
Makes 12 servings.
300 grams (2.5 cups) all-purpose flour
250 grams (1.25 cups) sugar
250 grams (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)
1 egg white, lightly beaten with a TBS of sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a round 8-inch cake pan.
2. In a food processor, blend flour and sugar.
3. Add butter cubes on top and pulse until a crumbly dough forms.
4. Add egg and pulse a few more times. You will need to use a spatula to scrape dough from the sides and push it back into the center.
5. Transfer to a large bowl and knead into a ball.
6. Press dough into pan until flat and even. Brush egg white on top. Mark top with a crisscross design using a fork.
7. Bake 30 minutes, until golden brown and firm on top, and edges are brown. Cake will be crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.
8. Invert onto a plate, place plate on a wire rack, and allow to cool to room temperature (at least 30 minutes) before slicing and serving.
9. Do not refrigerate leftovers – the cake contains a lot of butter and will harden in the fridge. Wrap any leftovers in foil, then in a plastic wrap. It will keep a few days at room temperature.
A small slice (1/12) of this cake contains about 300 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat and 20 grams of sugar, so this is definitely a once-in-a-while treat. Enjoy!