I have a real thing for the 70’s. I mean, heck, I was born smack dab in the middle of them, into a family of much older siblings ready and eager to love, spoil and torment an unsuspecting baby sister, so overall I’d say it was a pretty fabulous era. When I think back to my first memories of cake, they come along with my first memories of life at all: sitting around the dining room table with siblings who, at that time, would have been about 15, 14 and 8. I have particularly fond memories of the family birthday dinners gathered around that same table, eating the birthday kid’s meal of choice: my mom’s lasagna, my dad’s famous barbeque steak dinners, or, any other favourite of the time. There was, though, one thing that didn’t vary: the cake.
Throughout the 70’s (and possibly the 60’s), I remember my mom serving yellow birthday cakes with chocolate fudgy icing. I was so young, but I can envision these cakes in rectangular glass baking dishes smothered with the icing, sprinkles, and colourful birthday candles. I’m fascinated by this, and I’ve asked around: it seems that many others have these same yellow & brown cakey memories of the 1970s. Perhaps it was the combinations of signature colours-of-the-era: golden yellow cake (or, should we say, Harvest Gold) and warm chocolate brown (or Rust Brown) frosting that drew them to this type of cake. The memories overtook me the moment I spotted this classic cake in one of my beloved baking books: Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, and I knew I had to try it. I also love the traditional layer-cake structure, the homespun feel of it, and the decadent-but-uncomplicated flavour combination of vanilla buttermilk & fudgy chocolate.
With a total of 4 whole eggs + 2 additional egg yolks, as well as buttermilk, butter, and a generous amount of sugar, this cake has a gorgeous texture and is a beautiful golden yellow. The process was different than I’m used to, with a mixing of the egg, a portion of the buttermilk, and vanilla to begin; followed by a whisking of the dry ingredients with the sugar; the addition & mixing of the butter and partial buttermilk; and then adding the initial egg & milk mixture into the batter. Confused yet? It wasn’t any more difficult than the classic butter cake technique, but just different. The switch in technique was a welcome change and resulted in a lofty and moist cake.
The frosting is made in the food processor, which was pretty exciting for me since I am in love with my new food processor and am always looking for a reason to use it. As the title suggests, it was made in an “instant,” since you just put all of the frosting ingredients into the food processor and, well, process. Was really simple and fun to make, and the result was fluffy, satiny and rich. As I always do, I used my favourite Belgian bittersweet chocolate, Callebaut, which makes it even more decadent and flavourful.
I find that in these kinds of recipes where the main flavour of the frosting or cake is classic chocolate or vanilla, that it’s truly worth using the best chocolate or vanilla that you can get, as the flavours really come through and really are the main attraction. With such a yummy and classic frosting base, though, you can even get a little adventurous and add a few drops of almond extract, or say 1/4 teaspoon (or so) of instant espresso for a mocha version. Those are just ideas, but you can use your imagination and add anything you like, or, of course, leave it traditional & simple.
So, here’s the family in our yellow-cake-with-chocolate-frosting days, or well, 1975. I found this while digging through old photo albums the other day, and I love it. My brother Andy, my mom, me (the baby who seemingly was the only one experiencing gale force winds that day . . . what was up, and I mean up, with my bangs?), my sister Michele, my sister Linda and my dad. This was actually taken in California, where we were visiting our relatives. It wasn’t until I had 2 kids, that I really began to appreciate, and become in awe of, what my mom’s life must have been like with 4 kids, and this trip is no exception: they drove all of us, including 1-year-old me, in a station wagon (yes with wood panel sides, I believe) the 2,700+miles from Ontario, Canada to California in the peak of the summer months. What I’d give to go back in time and watch that go down.
Here I am a few years later, in my favourite red checkered dress, eagerly awaiting birthday hot dogs and, I would bet, yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It was only a few short years after this party that the 80’s were in full swing, and that I discovered frilly white heart-shaped cakes with pink icing flowers from the bakery, where I insisted my mom buy my birthday cakes each year for pretty much the rest of my pre-adult life. Hey, is that a Harvest Gold refrigerator I see? Of course it is! Were you a Harvest Gold household? Avocado Green? Rust Brown?
Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting
For the Cake:
- 4 whole eggs room temperature
- 2 egg yolks room temperature
- 1-1/4 cups 297 ml buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons 10 ml pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups 360 g cake flour, sifted
- 2 cups 400 g sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon 17 g baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon 4 g salt
- 1 cup 2 sticks(227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Frosting:
- 6 oz. 180 g quality unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 4-1/2 cups 563 g confectioners' sugar (no need to sift)
- 1-1/2 cups 3 sticks(340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons 90 ml half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon 15 ml pure vanilla extract
For the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, butter the rounds and dust with flour.
Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Whisk to blend well.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the side of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated.
Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pan (use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers). Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.
For the Frosting:
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Then process until the frosting is smooth.
Assembly of the Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting:
Place one layer, face-up on a cake stand or plate. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the layer right to the edge using a small offset palette knife. Repeat with the next layer.
Place the last layer on top and use all but 3/4 cup of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. With an offset palette knife or spatula, smooth out the frosting all over. Place the remaining 3/4 cup frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tube and pipe a shell border around the top and bottom edges of the cake.
[slightly adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes]
- For the ultimate version of this frosting, I used my favourite Belgian bittersweet chocolate: Callebaut Chocolate – Pure – Bittersweet – 1 kg
- For a mocha frosting, you can add 1/4 teaspoon (or more, to taste) instant espresso powder.
- If you don’t have a food processor, you can make this frosting in your mixer by beating the butter and confectioners’ sugar with the paddle attachment for about a minute on low speed, followed by another minute on medium-high speed. Add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy.
- Frosting is best used immediately, but holds up nicely on the cake once frosted.
- Finished cake keeps best in a cake-saver at room temperature for up to 3 days.
- You may enjoy the previous post 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes.