The steady rhythm of bucket drumming, the smell of smoky barbecued meats, tables heaped with brightly colored produce and flowers, and people—people everywhere. This is what I was greeted with last week when I arrived at the Thursday Night Market in downtown Chico. I have been frequenting the Thursday market since my college days; back then it was with a friend or two, with the intent to pop into La Salles and have a pint (or two) and then cruise the market for some serious people-watching and loud chit-chat with friends. Now, it’s with my baby strapped snugly in the baby carrier and with my husband by my side, sorting through the bountiful produce to pick what looks and smells best to take home with us, and grabbing dinner from the food stalls. The experience is a little bit different (do they allow babies in La Salles?) but the outcome is more or less the same—a lively outing where I get to bump elbows with the community and bring home some beautiful, local foods.
There is so much to choose from right now at the market—little green baskets of juicy berries, sweet peaches, crisp apples, gorgeous flowers, honey, nuts, okra, kale, scallions, and olive oil—all local and just the tip of the iceberg, really. Half the fun is meandering up and down the street, seeing what looks good and then using that as inspiration to create a meal. The berries looked so juicy that berry-focused recipes started racing through my mind—plain Greek yogurt topped with sliced strawberries, sprinkled with granola and drizzled with honey; spinach salad with strawberries and almonds; blackberries swimming in coconut milk; strawberry buttermilk cake. Berries taste just like summer to me, and as the season winds down with shorter days and cooler nights, I want to eat as much of summer as I can fit on my fork.
This cake is more of a method than a recipe, and if you stick with this column, you will see that so many of my recipes are just that—a method. I like to try a new recipe, following it as written, and then the next time I make it I mix it up by adding or subtracting whatever suits my palate that day. You don’t like strawberries? Use blueberries instead. You don’t like berries at all? (Who ARE you?) Use thinly sliced apples/peaches/ plums instead. Make this buttermilk cake once and I swear you will turn to it again and again. It comes out delicious and impressive-looking, and no one needs to know just how dead simple it was to prepare.
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt. Set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup (146 grams) sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla (and zest, if using). Add egg and beat well. (I added the egg at the same time as the butter and sugar, just ‘cuz I am impatient that way.)
At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches (beginning and ending with flour, alternating with buttermilk) and mix until just combined. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter berries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) sugar.
Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.
Thursday Night Market only runs for one more Thursday (the last one of the year is on September 26th), so get yourself there and pick up some local food while you can!
Strawberry Buttermilk Cake
by Smitten Kitchen
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (56 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (146 grams) plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon or orange zest (optional)
1 large (57 grams) egg
1/2 cup (118 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup (5 ounces or 140 grams) fresh fruit: (raspberries/strawberries/blueberries/blackberries/cherries/apricots/peaches)