Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel, an interview + a giveaway!

If there’s one thing I learned from adding six cookbooks over Christmas to my makeshift cardboard box “bookshelf,” it’s that there’s a not-so-fine line between the cookbooks that languish as the bookend supports and those that never really find a proper spot because it keeps getting picked up and flipped through.

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

The San Francisco Chef’s Table has been the most recent cookbook to fall into the latter category and it’s one that’s grown on me the longer I’ve had it. Aside from being stuffed to the brim with gorgeous photography and irresistible recipes, it immerses you so deeply into the food scene of my home metropolis through a series of chef-sourced recipes and fascinating backstories on award-winning restaurants that you’ll never want to leave.

Written by Carolyn Jung, an award-winning food and wine writer and blogger, and photographed by Craig Lee, an award-winning photojournalist, the cookbook is like taking a tour through the best of the San Francisco food scene practically for free–with the bonus of being able to re-create those amazing recipes in your own kitchen!

Craig, who worked for the award-winning Food and Wine department of the San Francisco Chronicle for many years and has shot for other cookbooks such as The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook and The Working Cook, also happens to be my uncle. He generously took some time out of his day to talk to us about his latest cookbook project!

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

Does it look just like the picture or what?

There was too much good stuff to fit into one post, so I’m breaking the interview up into two parts: in part one of the interview (today), you can learn about the process of shooting the cookbook, the importance of lighting in food photography and more.

Part two will feature tips for aspiring food photographers, hit recipes from the book and unique recommendations for the SF food scene that you won’t find anywhere else!

An interview with Craig Lee, Part I:


Craig Lee is an award-winning photojournalist based in San Francisco. And he’s also my uncle #holla

How did you get started in food photography?

While I was a staff photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle, assignments for the Food and Wine section were rotated among the photographers. It was different from photographing news and sports events, and I initially wasn’t that interested. After photographing the Pebble Beach Pro Am golf tournament in February 2003 however, I was assigned as the main photographer for the Food and Wine section.

After a couple of months, I found food and wine to be something new and interesting to photograph, but also challenging and not as easy as it looks. Lighting makes all the difference in a photograph and even more so with food and drinks—looking at great food photos on covers of food magazines makes it look deceptively simple. One person might tell me that food photography is just a matter of a soft box and fill card, but it’s not that easy. A lot of it has to do with capturing the texture of the food.

This got me to concentrate my skills in lighting. I would constantly look at images I liked and tried to think how it was photographed. Back in 2003, there wasn’t much information or many classes on food photography, but I would constantly look for general information on lighting. I ended up really enjoying the section because I got to photograph people, portraits and events in the culinary scene as well. I enjoy photographing people and capturing moments.

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

What was the process of shooting the book like?

Getting to work on the San Francisco Chef’s Table was great experience. I was thrilled to receive the offer from Carolyn.

It was a great project featuring the Bay Area—I knew many of the chefs and restaurants from my years at the Chronicle and it was great to see them again. I had photographed one husband and wife chef couple, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Kransinski, nine years earlier for Chronicle’s “Rising Star Chefs” yearly feature. Their current restaurant, State Bird Provisions, was recently awarded best new restaurant in America by Bon Appetit Magazine in 2012 and the same award again in 2013 by the James Beard Foundation.

My years of experience at the Chronicle helped me set up a routine: I spent a few hours at each location photographing the dishes, chefs, interior and exterior of the restaurant, keeping my lighting and photo gear compact in a rolling luggage case for easy travel and setup.

There were many people and places to coordinate within a tight deadline for the book publisher, but we made it and it was exciting to see the finished cookbook when it was released.

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

What’s it like shooting for a cookbook versus shooting for a newspaper?

I think I was in a rare position when I was the dedicated photographer for the Chronicle Food section. It was a great experience to focus on just the Food section and produce the best work possible. This was very similar to working on the book.

I prepared the shot list with Carolyn’s help and visualized how I would photograph each person, dish, and location before I got there. I always let the restaurant know I would arrive early before the actual photo shoot time to give myself time to scout out each location.

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

Thanks Uncle Craig! If you happen to be in San Francisco this weekend, the award-winning duo will be holding a book signing at Duende! You should check it out!

[Update: read part II of the interview here.]

Now, to cake.

My initial reservation about the book was the fact that the recipes were all contributed by the chefs themselves, and industrial recipes are notoriously hard to properly scale down for the home cook. I figured at worst, if the recipes didn’t work, the cookbook would make for really pretty reading.


Luckily, my apprehension proved to be for naught–these buttermilk cakes turned out gorgeously, even though I scaled down the recipe to just ¼ of the original. As soon as I sliced the first perfect, structurally sound, beautifully-crumbed dome off of the first cake and popped a piece of the plush cake in my mouth, I thought: I have to make a layer cake out of this. But then I realized that these are best made as they are photographed in the book: as dainty cakes adorned with something fresh and sweet—fruit, whipped cream, ice cream—and accompanied with a (generous) drizzle of honey caramel.

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

I omitted the hazelnut gelato that’s also listed in the book in favor of a dollop of whipped cream (Greek yogurt on another day), but these were still some of the best cakes I’ve ever made. The recipe as written makes an awkward three mini cakes (or mondo cupcakes), but I mean, that’s kind of perfect. One for you, one for a friend, and a leftover for tomorrow 😉

And now for the giveaway! I love this book so much, I’m giving away a copy! One lucky reader will win a copy of San Francisco Chef’s Table.

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel // The Pancake Princess

To enter:

Leave a comment below about…

anything, really. But I’d love it if you tell me about your favorite spot (or desired spot) to eat in San Francisco!

You can earn additional entries by:

The giveaway will end next Friday, April 11. I will notify a random winner by email. Good luck!

Congratulations to Margot C.!

Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel

Yield: 3 mini cakes

Serving Size: 1 cake, without caramel

Calories per serving: 320

Fat per serving: 11.4g

These plush little cakes (or large cupcakes) are some of the best cake to come out of my kitchen. The honey caramel was quite runny, so expect to use it more as a sauce--an extraordinarily delicious one.


  • For the buttermilk cakes:
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tablespoon table salt (yes, TABLESPOON)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature

  • For the honey caramel:
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
  • 6 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 tablespoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • berries, whipped cream, Greek yogurt, or gelato, for serving


To make the buttermilk cakes:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease three 7-oz. ramekins.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix until the batter looks smooth.

Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in alternating additions, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just smooth, but do not overbeat.

Divide batter evenly between the three ramekins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake springs back under your finger and/or a tester comes out clean. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from a pan.

To make the honey caramel:

In a microwave-safe bowl or measuring glass, whisk together 1 tablespoon heavy cream, honey and corn syrup. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Microwave for another 20 seconds and repeat until mixture is slightly thickened. Whisk in the butter, vanilla and salt until the butter is melted. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of heavy cream until you reach the desired amount of runniness. You can also cook this on the stovetop instead of the microwave and add a little bit of cornstarch mixed with water to thicken up the sauce if you like.

Level the cakes if desired and serve with a dollop of whipped cream, Greek yogurt or gelato and berries. Spoon honey caramel over the top or smear it--you know, artistically--along the plate.


Adapted from San Francisco Chef's Table.


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71 thoughts on “Buttermilk Cakes with Honey Caramel, an interview + a giveaway!

  1. Nora (A Clean Bake)

    I love this interview almost as much as I love your photos. Now I know where you got your incredible photography talent – it’s in your blood! I’m so bummed that I missed the giveaway but just for fun, my favorite place to eat in SF used to be La Boulange (until Sbux bought it) and now it would have to be….The Juice Shop. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of restaurants in SF, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal there, but The Juice Shop has the best freakin green juice I have ever had. http://juiceshopsf.com/

  2. Pingback: Practice makes perfect | A Thousand Threads

    1. Helen Zhang

      BTW, just read that your boyfriend is from Wisconsin. GO WISCONSIN!!! Home to the cheese and the dairy cows. 😉

  3. Meryl

    Thanks for the giveaway! I haven’t been in SF for decades, but I remember eating in some great restaurants.

  4. Cristina

    Your cakes are beautiful! Just saw them on TasteSpotting and reading your blog for the first time. It’s wonderful! This book looks amazing, too. I definitely have my fair share of cookbooks that just gather dust on the shelf, and the same two or three that get picked up over and over again. I especially love cookbooks that are full of gorgeous photos – and it looks like this one is one of those :) I would LOVE to go to San Francisco at some point. I’ve only briefly been to the L.A./southern California area. In the meantime I really need to make those chocolate mudslide cookies on the other post. They look way too good.

  5. Alexandra @ Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker

    I’m actually going to SF this weekend (yay!) so I’ve been stalking your comments for the last 5 minutes jotting down all the food places I need to look into. That’s really like half the point of taking a trip, right?? To eat tons of good food? :) Off the top of my head, The Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain has delish ice cream and is pretty cool, and Kara’s Cupcakes is amaaaazing. Both dessert-y things, but really, what else can you expect?
    And the cakes sound lovely!

  6. Janice

    I love this recipe! and the interview, great job! I haven’t been to San Francisco in so long, I can’t recommend my favorite place to eat…
    My son has a food blog w/ a professional photographer friend of his…
    http://cooking.brianstaffield.com/ and this post reminded me of his in look and the easy flow of narration! i’m going to be checking back to your site often :)
    I am definitely making these cakes, I like the honey caramel too!

  7. pizzarossa

    I’ve never been to San Francisco but have heard so many tales about what a gastronomical heaven it is! I’d love to visit one day.
    Those little cakes look wonderful! :)

  8. Rebekah P.

    Wow, I just happened by your website from a Pinterest photo today, and so glad I did!
    Loved reading through the interview and seeing the exquisite photography, very well done!
    I have never been to San Francisco unfortunately, but I would love to be able to try any recommended restaurants that really reveal the culture and taste of the city when I go there someday!
    I have followed you on Pinterest now and Facebook too, it’s about all the social media I participate in.
    Thanks again for your lovely blog and I cannot wait to make these mini cakes!

  9. Janine

    These little cakes look amazing. And it makes 3? Perfect! Just hubby & I. One each, one to share later. Thanx for the great recipe.

  10. Lisa Gonzalez

    I heard a radio story about a place that serves toast and coconut. It was such a sweet story. I can’t remember what it was called. I think it was called Trouble.

    1. Lisa Gonzalez

      I followed on facebook lisa denise gonzalez, on twitter @mamajamadodie, instagram @wickeddodie, pinterest @ldgonza

  11. Paul Mansfield

    Hello Erika,

    I enjoyed your photos and treatment of the recipes. So colorful and an enjoyable read! Cool, too, that Craig Lee is your uncle. He is a friend and colleague of mine, and I quite respect his work as well. Anyway, good luck with you ongoing culinary adventures. I look forward to reading more..

    Paul Mansfield
    Photographer & Teacher

  12. brendalynn

    These sound great! And I love the Davis Farmers Market cookbook imagery, so cool to know more about the photographers too. I’d love to get this cookbook too :)

  13. Sara @ Cake Over Steak

    How lucky for you that your uncle is a talented food photographer! The talent must run in the family, because your photos on this post are GORGEOUS. I want to make these cakes ASAP. I’m not sure how you’re working this, but I also liked your FB page, and I follow you on all the other platforms. Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

  14. Pingback: Chocolate Mudslide Cookies + part II of the Craig Lee interview! | The Pancake Princess

  15. Diane

    Just came across your blog! I’m following you for sure! And this book would be a terrific addition! Cheers!

  16. Maryann

    Congratulations on your accomplishments, however you are blessed with sharing delicious food to the world. I’ve only been to San Francisco twice but the city and ocean breeze were absolutely wonderful, I could enjoy any kind of picnic meal in the summer weather, love it.

  17. Allyson S

    I just moved to the Bay Area last year and with a small child in-tow, it’s been SO hard to get up to the city for food, but you should see my mile-long list of places I WANT to eat. Top of the list: Mission Chinese. I did have Farmer Brown at Outside Lands Festival and WHOA, that was good. Thanks!

  18. Carroll

    What a beautiful blog you have here! Bookmarked for sure and I’ll be eager to peruse the archives while waiting for the next post about your wonderful uncle to appear. I’ve been reading Carolyn’s blog for many years & am always happy to find a new way to feed my addiction to enticing food photography and recipes.

    We don’t get up to San Francisco very often (from alllll the way down in Cupertino — I know — it’s ridiculous!) but when we do make the pilgrimage for an annual medical visit, we love to lunch at BStar Bar (http://bstarbar.com/) Happily, that appointment is coming up pretty soon now; I am already drooling in anticipation of enjoying their incredible tea leaf salad!

    Thank you for the opportunity to enter your drawing for Carolyn’s book, and thank you to your uncle for sharing his interesting perspective on the process of bringing that volume to fruition.

  19. Margot C

    And! I follow you on instagram as well now; where I am @margotcore
    I tried to follow you on Twitter where I am @AnnaZed – but the link to ‘@eykwee’ says that you don’t exist.

    1. erika Post author

      Oh, sorry about that Margot! I recently changed my Twitter handle–duh, Erika. The link is now changed if you want to follow. You’re AWESOME!!!!!

  20. Margot C

    I follow you on Facebook where I am Margot Core.

    Plus, I must say that this is some of the best food photography that I have ever seen!

  21. The Wimpy Vegetarian

    What a great interview. I’m looking forward now to Part 2! And what a great cookbook – I’ve seen it out there, but haven’t bought it yet. I’m actually having dinner for the first time at State Bird Provisions this weekend. I’ve heard that it’s amazing, so I’m really looking forward to it. These little cakes look really wonderful – perfect for spring. Oh, and I followed you on FB and Pinterest, but I’m not yet doing anything with Instagram. The twitter link didn’t work – what’s your handle?

  22. Carolyn Jung

    It was a true pleasure working with your uncle on this book. I see you take after him, too, what with your GORGEOUS food photography. Thanks for doing a giveaway of my cookbook and for the wonderful review. Hope the book brings you many happy days of cooking and baking.

  23. ann saunderson

    Recently took a trip to SF. Visiting old haunts from our time in the Haight in the 60’s.
    Had amazing pizza at the Arizmendi Bakery on 9th St. just up from Irving.
    I’m good with pizza but it’s not my fave…however, wow!
    This is a really special place.

  24. Katie (The Muffin Myth)

    I assume you’re not going to send a copy of this book all the way to Sweden, but I thought I’d comment anyways because these little cakes are gorgeous and the interview is so great. Lucky you to have a photographer uncle to get tips from! Good photography clearly runs in the family. It’s been a few years since I was last in San Fran, but when I was there I ate at a fabulous Mexican restaurant called Maya. Yum! And I do follow on twitter, instagram, pinterest, and I’ve liked your FB page!

  25. Orsi

    I never was in San Francisco, so there’s no place I can recommend…
    but this cookbook is really awesome, and it’s so cool to have chef in the family!:)

  26. The Vegan 8

    Oh girl, what awesome pics and a such a wonderful interview with your uncle! How cool is that?!! And these mini cakes looks so tender and divine. Seriously, I love them with the whipped cream on top too….I love light frostings like that. I also really love how you explained the signifigance of 3 awkward mini cakes….”One for you, one for a friend, and a leftover for tomorrow! haha, that was funny but a very valid point. I freaking guarantee though, I would eat all 3 in the first 10 minutes, shamelessly :)

  27. Pingback: Blueberry Lemon Mini Crêpe Cake Recipe « i am a food blog

  28. laurasmess

    You are so freaking lucky to have a food photographer/photojournalist as an uncle! Wow. All of my uncles are either accountants, business managers or mechanics (actually, my dad’s brother owns a nightclub in England but that’s kinda… well, still not useful for me!). I LOVE everything about this post. I’ve never been to San Fran so I can’t really comment on the food culture there, but I’d love to grab a copy of that book to learn more about the food that blesses the ‘city by the bay’. Thanks for sharing the buttermilk cake recipe. I’m drooling over your photos here Erika, they’re wonderful. You’ve totally sold those sweet little bites and their honey caramel to me! xx

  29. Kashinka

    I’ve never been to San Francisco :( so I can’t name a restaurant. I discovered this post by clicking through a Pinterest pin–I looked at it and thought, this is just perfect for afternoon tea. Not too sweet, and it “dresses up” beautifully with whipped cream/yogurt and fruit. Thanks for posting!

  30. Kaylie @ Skinny Muffin

    Girl. We are totally friends in all of these categories (except maybe Twitter? adding now!) AND friends in person, so I should totally win this giveaway 😉 except that might be a little biased. But, if you don’t believe in biases and just believe in hard-working grad students earning a little prize in the world, then I’m pretty sure I’m top of the list. 😉

    1. erika Post author

      OH MY GOSH it is going to be so hard to choose a winner. Except not. Thank god for randomly generated winners, otherwise I would seriously be pulling out my hair trying to decide because you make a verrry persuasive argument. Hard-working grad students deserve ALL THE THINGS.

  31. steph

    You and Cynthia (Two Red Bowls) are killing me with all your mini cakes! I seriously need to try baking in a ramekin. And three cakes? Not awkward at all…you, me and Cynthia of course! 😉

  32. Choc Chip Uru

    You are so lucky, what an incredible interview opportunity 😀
    And your photos leave me speechless, delicious looking cakes! I could live on that caramel flavour 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  33. Megan

    I’m still “learning” about the area. I wish I could go more often so I could tell you a restaurant favorite. I did go to Woodward Gardens once and it was a great experience. And, no surprise, Tartine Bakery was amazing. I have put State Birds on my “must-go-to” list. Thanks for offering the contest, and thank to your Uncle for the interview! Very interesting!

  34. cynthia

    Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Where do I begin? I’m speechless at these photos — it’s hard for me to finish typing this comment because I just want to pin EVERYTHING and to EVERY BOARD a MILLION TIMES AHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is so so beautiful, seriously, Erika. Seriously. Seriously.

    Okay, deep breaths.

    Second, this interview is too too cool. Photography genius runs in your blood, miss thang! Amazing. Thanks so much for putting this together and sharing it with us, and thanks for all this INSPIRATION. Love!

  35. Nancy @ gottagetbaked

    Gaaaaaaaah! There are so many amazing places in San Francisco that I love eating at!!! I’ve been there four times and plan to visit many more. It’s cliche and very touristy but every time I go, I have to eat a bread bowl-ful of chowder at Boudin’s. Love it. Can I qualify for this giveaway even though I’m in Canada (there are so many amazing giveaways that are only open to US residents. It kills me every time!). I follow you on all social media already because I love you and am obsessed with you 😉 As for this cake – stunning stunning stunning photos, Erika. You get better all the time (and you’re already a kick ass photographer). How incredibly cool that your uncle is Craig Lee! I’d be hitting him up for tips all the time if he was my family member.

  36. Jennifer D.

    My fiancé and I really enjoy Citizen’s Band in SOMA. It is delicious, fresh food with great beers on tap. My favorite dish is the fried chicken and the Mac n Cheese. The Mac n Cheese is topped with onion rings; why have I never thought of that!! Enjoy.

  37. Shikha @ Shikha la mode

    Also, this is a great interview!! I remember you telling me about your uncle during our dinner, and this is super super cool that you chatted with him. I’d love to read more about this – can’t wait!!!

  38. Shikha @ Shikha la mode

    Uh, did you seriously just create a giveaway about San Francisco that is pretty much made for me?!?! I’m dying. DYING. I need this book so bad! I already like you on all social media cus I’m a lurk like that, but I gotta say, I’ve been really feeling Nopalito as one of my favorite places to eat, and it’s right down the street from me.


  39. Michelle @ Hummingbird High

    Great pictures and interview!

    San Francisco is one of my favorite places to eat. Off the top of my head, I love Tartine, Humphrey Slocombe, and Acme Bread for sweets, pastries, and bread. For fancypants dinners, I love Frances and Nopa. For adventurous eating, I love Mission Chinese and all the little hole-in-the-wall Asian places in Inner Sunset.


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