Great Grandma Sophia’s Butter Cake

All butter pound cake from Sri Lanka

Growing up in Sri Lanka, my mother had the pleasure of running through coconut groves while monkeys ran among the branches above her. She sang in the sunshine of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And most fondly in her memories, she got to spend her childhood with her cheeky grandmother and even cheekier mother! She watched them cook, sneaking peeks of their secret ingredients and recipe tricks from hidden corridors. She soaked it all in and learned how to cook like a true champion. In fact, she is known among her friends as the Michael Jordan of Flan! While my mother is a big fan of Flan and Michel Jordan, her heart belongs to butter cake!

While my mother stayed with us over the holidays, she decided to finally begin sharing the family’s secret recipes with me and thus, all of you. I held my breath and waited to hear what the first recipe would be. I was almost bursting with both laughter and glee when she uttered, “The only true cake is a good butter cake.”! So there it is. Today, you get to be privy to a recipe that hails even farther than my Great Grandmother Sophia to the generations before her. And once you bite into the cloud of buttery bliss that is this cake, you may just agree with my mother.

I’ve actually never been a fan of butter cake. Every butter cake I have had is too dense, too greasy, too sweet, just too much. When I told my Mother this she just ignored me and went about bustling through the ingredients, letting me know that we needed a “pinch” of this, and a “squirt” of that. Yes, that really happened. Imagine, I’m trying to write down every word of this sacred recipe with those measurements. The cheekiness continues on! It took a bit of deciphering, and maybe some kind of guidance from Great Grandma Sophia, but the squirts, pinches, dashes, and handfuls all converted to real measurements!

And here we were, three generations making the family butter cake. Three generations of Sri Lankan Americans

Let’s bake!

The Prep:

To start, make sure all of your ingredients are room temperature.

Ingredients for a butter cake

Before they sold buttermilk, it was homemade. And that is how this recipe is done, the old fashioned way, by curdling whole milk with lemon juice. It needs some time, so prepare your milk and squirt of lemon juice, which will actually be a measurement in the recipe section!

turning milk into buttermilk

See how it curdles after about five minutes.

milk and lemon juice make buttermilk

With the paddle attachment of your stand mixer you will begin creaming your butter and sugar.Paddle attachment of kitchenaid stand mixer

The butter and sugar will cream until pale, about 10 minutes.

Cream butter and sugar until pale

Meanwhile, you will start preparing the rest of your ingredients. Separate your eggs. Your yolks will be incorporated one by one into your creamed mixture. Mix after each yolk is added. Then add your vanilla extract.


Take a 3 minute break so you can let that mixture get fluffy while you give the ones you love the most adorable looks!

Now get back to work! Sift your flour, salt, and baking powder. You will yield 2 cups of the sifted mixture.


In a separate bowl containing your egg whites, whip these with a hand mixer until glossy and peaks have formed. Set aside for the last step.


Alternating between the milk and the flour, gently mix in by hand.


Alternative between flour and milk

Then very gently, fold in your egg whites, being careful not to overwork the batter.

Adding egg whites to batter

One of the best tools I use for folding egg whites in various batters is a spatula with a sturdy wooden spoon. This helps you give the folding some muscle while still being gentle and in control of not overmixing. My favorite is linked here- Cake Boss 2-Piece Silicone Spatula and Spoonula Set.

folding in egg whites

In a parchment paper lined loaf pan thoroughly coated with butter, spoon in batter then smooth.

Smooth out batter

The Baking:

Bake for an hour or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. It will be the most gorgeous golden brown.

All butter pound cake

An exciting component of this butter cake is that you don’t have to let it cool completely. In fact, butter cake is even better when it is still warm. So for those who hate waiting…

Sri Lankan butter cake

And then you slice into it. Take in the light scent of butter, vanilla, and childhood memories.


The moment I bit into the crisp edges of this cake I sighed with joy, for beneath the crispness was the most delicate, fluffiest, airiest butter cake I ever imagined. I realized then that she was right about the “good” butter cake. And this was good. Really, really good. Not even a hint of density or any of the other characteristics I had believed a butter cake possessed. This was a “real” butter cake and it has spoiled me!

So we ate.


And we ate.

Slices of butter cake

And let’s be honest, we ate some more!


This is the most special post I have put on this blog so far. This post is dedicated to my mother with so much love, laughter, and friendship. Mom, I love you bunches.


Great Grandma Sophia’s Butter Cake Recipe

This cake was used in my Banana Split Trifle! Watch the video demonstration here – RECIPE DEMONSTRATION VIDEO!


  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and butter thoroughly.
  • Sour milk by adding lemon juice. Let stand for 10 minutes
  • Cream butter and granulated sugar until pale, about 10 minutes.
  • Gradually add in yolks, beating after each addition.
  • Add vanilla then beat until fluffy, about 3 more minutes.
  • Sift flour, salt, and baking powder. Yield 2 cups of mixture.
  • Alternate between milk and flour in 3 additions, gently mixing by hand after each addition.
  • Beat egg whites with a hand mixer until glossy and peaked. Fold into the batter.
  • Spoon and spread into prepared loaf pan.
  • Bake for one hour.
  • Let cool slightly then dig in while warm.

Notes: This butter cake is wonderful on its own or enjoyed with your afternoon tea. Try Ceylon tea for the full Sri Lanka experience! Being so light in flavor, make this your own by using it as a base for frosted or glazed cakes, add in some citrus zest, or eat with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and berries.

If you love Butter Cake then you will love cookies that are reminiscent of this cake. Check out these Madeleines,

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Cardamom Cream Puffs with Rose Water Whipped Cream

Interested in what I used for this post? Mom’s not included!