An Epic Tale of Vanilla Cake {and my 1st Blogiversary}

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

Update (June 2012)! You can find a video tutorial for this frosting technique here.

It’s true–it’s been one year since I started this blog. When I think back about how it all came to be, I recall waking up one day last summer and realizing that my poor husband was never going to survive a lifetime of listening to my frequent baking tales, no matter how hard he tried–it was that simple, at first. I wish I was kidding, but, truly, this poor man has put in some serious time listening to my occasionally wordy-yet-passionate descriptions and raves about baked goods! I also felt that something was missing from my creative life, so, I figured I better share all of my baking love in some other way. When the idea of a baking blog entered my mind, I knew it would be a perfect outlet to express myself, but honestly, I had no idea if anyone would actually read it, and I didn’t realize what an amazing outlet and lifeline it would become for me. This blog is so much a part of me now, that I don’t know what I would become without it, so thank you all so much for your visits, sincere comments, and enthusiasm–it astounds me daily, and it means more to me than you could ever know. You can read my first post (kind of embarrassing) here. Yikes–okay, okay, go easy on me!

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

As I looked back on the recipes I’ve shared over the past year, I came to realize that I may have a slight thing for vanilla cake. And, well, seeing as I counted a total of 30 cakes in my recipe index so far, well, I may need to accept that my cake addiction may be an actual condition for which I may want to seek medical attention. Call me a hopeless romantic, if you will (or maybe just a girl who really loves cake), but I figure if you’re going to love something, you better love it with every fiber of your being. That being said, I realize it must be a bit overwhelming to visit my recipe index and find so many vanilla cake options, so I’ve given a little description of each below to help those who were curious about what differentiates them. So many of them are similar, but the recipes are varied slightly, by ingredients and method. I’m forever epicurious and can’t help but attempt any yummy-looking vanilla cake recipe in search of the the perfect vanilla cake.

For my taste, perfect is a light, moist, and borderline cake mixish (gasp) vanilla butter cake that I use for both buttercream covered and fondant covered cakes. I recently came across a recipe that was as close to this as I’d ever seen (that being said, I still love the others!). This was an amazing discovery for me, because since I’ve been baking scratch cakes, I tend to prefer serving chocolate cake–mostly because of its fabulous ability to stay moist and fresh for days. But, in my heart I’m a vanilla cake with pastel vanilla frosting and sprinkles girl. I just am.

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

So, I’ve been making the fabulous Fluffy Vanilla Cake recipe now for weeks, and I make it every chance I get. I love it. It changed my life! I loved seeing your enthusiasm for this cake, and I’ve received more emails about making that cake than anything else I’ve made–so many of you are enjoying vanilla cake success and bliss, but I noticed that some of you are having some issues with the batter “curdling,” once you add the liquid, which then likely caused your cakes to sink in the middle and be more dense. I know how frustrating cake fails can be, so I really wanted to try to make that better so you too could enjoy this incredible cake.

The points of difference in this recipe versus a typical vanilla butter cake, from what I can see, would be the large number of egg whites and the reverse creaming method, created and encouraged by famed baker Rose Levy Beranbaum and her book (one of my all-time favourites) The Cake Bible. The thing is, with so many egg whites and a cup of milk, if there’s even a tad too much liquid, the batter becomes unstable. There is a version of this cake in Rose’s book called White Velvet Butter Cake, which is almost exactly the same, but calls for more cake flour, less egg white, and less sugar. Both of these recipes using the reverse creaming method, although the directions are slightly different. I found that the White Velvet Butter Cake is perfectly stable, easy to make, and delicious. I would say that it may be just a bit less light and fluffy, but incredible.

So, long story short, I’ve modified the Fluffy White Cake recipe we’ve been using, to have just a bit less egg milk and egg white, in hopes that it will be more reliable to make, and the results tasted and looked great to me. Depending on how you measure your ingredients, it’s easy to have too much liquid, so I definitely recommend weighing your egg whites, to be sure. Well, for me it’s so important to weigh all of the ingredients to ensure a successful cake–I find too much or too little flour, in particular, can throw an entire cake’s texture off, which is too bad because it’s easy to have that happen if you don’t weigh it, but then think it’s the recipe’s fault, so to speak. Lastly, when I make this cake, I use Rose’s exact reverse creaming method from her book, although the method was a bit different (very slight) on the original Baking Bites recipe. You can try both methods and see what works for you, if you’re really determined. Confused yet?

That being said, here are the images of me making the fluffy vanilla cake recipe in hope that it answers some of the questions you’ve been asking about making the batter:

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

So, the first step is mixing the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment for 30 seconds…

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

Then you add the butter and the remaining milk (1/4 cup is added to the egg whites and vanilla to be added next), and mix on low speed just until the ingredients are moistened. Then mix on medium speed (I use #4 on my Kitchen Aid) for exactly 90 seconds–this is really important, so that you don’t overmix the batter. Rose (the creator of this reverse creaming method) explains this is “to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.”

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

This is how my batter looks after the 90 seconds of mixing on medium speed.

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

Next I add gradually add the milk mixture (1/4 cup milk that’s been gently mixed with the vanilla and egg whites) starting with 1/3, and mix on medium for 20 seconds–no more, no less.

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

Here it is after 2 of the 3 additions of the egg white mixture have been added and each mixed for 20 seconds. It shouldn’t look curdled, but nice and smooth.

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

Finally, here it is after the final third of the liquid mixture has been added. Again, it should be smooth, but not curdled. If it’s curdled, in my experience that means there’s too much liquid, and the cake will sink in the middle when you bake it.

Vanilla Cake via Sweetapolita

And, finally here are the cakes baked and cooling, and this method really works for me, so I really hope it helps you along in some way! I should also mention that using the two 9-inch pans or two 8-inch pans tends to yield the best result for this recipe, and, typically, I find it’s best to stick to the cake pan size that any recipe recommends. It’s not to say you can’t play around with cake pan sizes/shapes, but, especially when you make a certain cake recipe for the first time, it’s likely the best way to get an accurate result.

As I mentioned, my vanilla cake recipe list is growing, and it must be a bit confusing to know which one is what you’re looking for, so I’ve done my best to include a quick description of each one:

Classic Vanilla Butter Cake: One of the first vanilla cakes I made for the blog. It’s a traditional vanilla cake using whole eggs and whipped egg whites and cake flour to lighten batter: moist, delicious, slightly dense. Straight-forward method and tastes great.

Fluffy Vanilla Cake with Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting (the one we just made): The lightest, fluffiest vanilla cake, and one of my favourites. Uses only egg whites (not yolks) and cake flour for light crumb and reverse creaming method. Can be unstable if too much liquid is added.

Love, Cake & Sprinkles: A delicious vanilla bean cake made with buttermilk, egg whites, and all-purpose flour using the traditional butter cake method of creaming, adding eggs, and alternating dry & wet ingredients. It has gorgeous flavour, is very moist, but not as light and fluffy as above. I love this cake.

My Baker’s Crush: BAKED (and The Whiteout Cake): A delicious butter cake from the famous BAKED bakery in NYC. Some ingredients are butter and shortening, cake flour and all-purpose flour, ice cold water, and egg whites. It’s made by creaming fats, alternating wet & dry, and folding in whipped egg whties. It’s heavier than the Fluffy Vanilla Cake, but delicious and unique.

Rainbow Doodle Birthday Cake: This vanilla cake recipe was originally from Whisk Kid, and I find it perfect for the rainbow cake. It’s also very close to Rose’s White Velvet Butter Cake in that it has egg whites, cake flour, butter, but it is made with the tradtional creaming method. It’s light and stable.

Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake with Vanilla Bean Glaze: A very vanilla traditional bundt cake that bakes up beautifully, but has a heavier texture than vanilla layer cake.

Vanilla Bean Latte Layer Cake: This is another version of an egg-white vanilla butter cake, that I really love. It uses the creaming method and some key ingredients are buttermilk, egg whites, and all-purpose flour. It’s not the lightest, but tastes incredible and is very stable.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting This recipe comes from the book Sky High, and it’s a gorgeous vanilla butter cake made with buttermilk and whole eggs. It’s also a very straight-forward cake to bake and it tastes great. It has a golden finish due to the whole eggs.

I hope this helps! Here’s the modified cake recipe that I find to be a little more consistent in results:

*Notes: If you have made the Fluffy Vanilla Cake prior to my modifying it, and had success, you can keep the recipe the same as it was, which was 1 cup of milk and 6 egg whites (the recipe I use).

Fluffy Vanilla Cake {modified}          {click to print}

Yield: One 2-layer, 8-inch round cake or 9-inch round cake

*Very fluffy and light, but can be a bit more challenging if even a fraction too much liquid is added.

Ingredients

5 large egg whites (5 ounces/150 grams) at room temperature

3/4 cup whole milk (180 mL/6 liquid ounces), at room temperature

2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (12.5 mL) — I use Nielsen-Massey Vanillas 8-oz. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (10 ounces/285 grams–weighed after sifting)

1 3/4 cups sugar (12 ounces/350 grams)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder (19.5 grams)

3/4 teaspoon salt (5 grams)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 ounces/170 grams), at room temperature and cut into cubes

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 8-inch pans.

2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.

4. Add the butter and remaining 1/2 cup of milk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 90 seconds.

5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

6. Divide the batter in two, spreading it evenly with a small offset palette knife. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh to ensure 2 even layers.

7. Bake 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes clean when inserted into the center. Be so careful to not overbake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and once you feel it’s almost ready, set the timer for 2 minute intervals. Let cool on racks for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small metal spatula, and invert onto greased wire racks. Gently turn cakes back up, so the tops are up and cool completely.

8. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. Best eaten the same day as baked.

*Slightly adapted from Classic White Cake recipe on Baking Bites

Frost with the Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting for the ultimate vanilla cake experience.

You may enjoy my 50 Tips for Baking Better Cakes post.

Good luck & enjoy!

Love, Rosie xo

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