8640 minutes, 144 hours, 25 loads of dishes, 7 recipes, 8 pounds of butter, a few tears, a couple of happy children, and 1 relieved husband later, I have finally found it: a new favourite classic vanilla cake recipe! The perfect fluffy vanilla cake and creamy vanilla frosting–sounds simple, right? Well, yes and no. Or no and yes. Or not at all. As a matter of fact, I think I need a hug. I must confess: I baked and frosted a delightful vanilla cake last Tuesday with every intention on blogging about it that night. I think I even promised a few people it was coming, when they asked if I had the ultimate vanilla cake recipe. But then something happened. Something sort of frustrating, really. And then it happened again. And again. And again. And, while I’m being honest–again! Oh, and one more time after that. All with different vanilla cake recipes every day over the course of the past week.
After I baked, frosted, and then ate some (it’s been known to happen) of each cake, I thought I’d succeeded in finding a really light and fluffy cake, but, then upon second taste, I was a bit disappointed with them and I wasn’t inspired to share them with you for that reason. See, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for the lightest, fluffiest, and yummiest white scratch cake I can find. True, I have shared several vanilla cakes with you so far over the months, and I stand behind those cakes completely–they are all classic recipes that yield moist and flavourful vanilla cakes.
The thing is, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a recipe out there that yields a fluffy vanilla cake, you know, one that is as close as can be to the boxed white cake we all love so much (yep, I said it!). You know I love to bake, and, if you’ve been visiting me here, you likely know that I bake everything I can from scratch. The truth is, though, that boxed white cake tastes so good! The bad news, is that they are filled with whiteners and chemicals that make them super white, super light, and super moist. The same thing goes for the canned frostings, but man, do they taste good. So creamy and rich, but not too thick. The good (or even great) news is that, this morning I baked one last vanilla cake. Alas, it was the best of all, and officially my new go-to vanilla cake recipe when I want something fluffy and moist. It definitely still has the homemade taste, and will never be as pure white or airy as a boxed cake, but for my taste, it’s pretty delicious. And . . . the frosting. Oh, the frosting!
Here’s what’s kind of interesting about both the frosting and the cake recipes, even though they aren’t adapted from the same source: What makes them particularly amazing is in the method, even though the ingredients and ratios are all very standard. The cake recipe has all of the typical ingredients in a vanilla cake: cake flour, butter, milk, egg whites, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. The difference, though, is rather than creaming the butter and sugar together and alternating the wet and dry ingredients, the dry ingredients are combined, followed by the addition of the butter and partial milk for a few moments, and finally the gradual addition of the remaining milk/vanilla/egg white mixture in 3 even batches. This method is known as the two-stage method of cake mixing. It’s considered a “high-ratio cake” due to the high ratio of sugar to flour. This type of cake also has more liquid than traditional creamed-method cake recipes, making the batter more more liquidy.
This method is found in many of the cakes in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book entitled The Cake Bible, and it really does yield an incredibly fluffy cake. This was the first official baking book I bought after it was recommended to me by the pastry chef teaching the first baking course I took. If you like to bake, and something tells me you do, this is an absolute must. It is a huge book, filled with every cake recipe you can imagine, along with helpful background, method, and tricks. Now, I did make Rose’s White Velvet Butter Cake from that book, and it was incredible, but I then discovered a version on Baking Bites that had more egg whites and less flour, so I was curious to give that a try. In the end, I loved it the best! I adapted it only slightly by increasing the vanilla and omitting the almond extract the recipe called for. Just be careful to not overbake, or it will dry the cake out. I’m convinced that even fabulous vanilla cake recipes get a bad review for being dry because, in reality, they are over-baked. I should also mention that a recipe such as this one, that features the wonderful flavour of real vanilla, is most delicious when you use a pure vanilla extract.
The frosting I adapted from a Donna Hay recipe, and let me tell you how incredible it is. You’ve probably caught on that I do love the wonderful and not-so-sweet Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but sometimes the world (and my husband) just needs a creamy, sweet vanilla frosting and fluffy vanilla cake. It’s also great for kids’ cakes, and for days when you want to just whip up a quick frosting/filling. Again, the ingredients are those of a very standard frosting: butter, icing sugar, milk, and vanilla (I used vanilla bean too). But . . . it’s a whipping frenzy! It’s fabulous. The first step is the whipping of the butter, and right then and there I was in love. When butter is whipped for several minutes (in this case, 8), it becomes very pale and fluffy, which is a gorgeous base for a frosting. Once the remaining ingredients are whipped up for another 6 minutes, it turns into the most incredibly light and creamy frosting I have ever seen or tasted. For some inexplicable reason, it tastes exactly like homemade vanilla ice cream so, in other words, sweet heaven.
If you have a vanilla cake recipe that you feel is the lightest and fluffiest cake out there, I’d love for you to share a link in the comments section. I’m kind of vanilla-cake-obssessed right now, and although it’s freaking me out a little, I can’t let it go quite yet . . .
Before I go, I wanted to talk a little bit about transporting your baked masterpieces. I’ve had several people ask me what is the best way to get cakes and cupcakes from A to B, and so I thought it may be helpful to share what I do. As with anything, everyone has their preferences, so this is just what I do. There may be even better ways out there, but this seems to work for me:
1. When I know I have to bring a cake somewhere, I always build the cake on a thin silver cake board (3/16″ thin boards, not the 1/4″ cake drums) the same diameter as my cake, such as PME Sugarcraft Round Cake Board – 8″. I find that the cardboard rounds, tend to get soggy and greasy, so I stick to the silver boards. When your cake is on a board, you can move it all around to and from the refrigerator during the frosting process, as well as on and off a cake pedestal or plate once you get to your destination. These are also the boards that cake tiers are built on when doing a multi-tiered cake, so that the tiers can be stacked. You can also buy these at your local baker’s supply shop, or online.
2. If my cake is only 1 tier and standard height, I will take it with me in a bakery-style cake box that I buy from my local cake supply. They are relatively inexpensive and come in many sizes and even fun bakery colours, such as pink and turquoise. Kind of fun when bringing a cake to a dinner party and small events.
2. If my cake doesn’t fit in a cake box (which is often the case with my frequent sky-high cakes), I use my Wilton Cake Caddy, which is great because then once I get to the cottage, or other destination, the cake stays fresh over the course of the weekend, since the caddy is airtight. To ensure the cake doesn’t move around in the caddy, I always use a small square of rubber grip between the bottom of the cake board and the caddy base. I couldn’t survive without these bits of rubber mesh, and I use them for everything cake-related. These are the rubber grip mats you buy for under your rugs. I buy them at our HomeSense for a good price, and then cut squares and bits as I need it. I find about 4″ squares work well for under pretty much any standard cake board.
3. To get my cakes from the cake plate to the box or caddy (or from any plate, turntable, etc.), I always use this handy tool: Wilton Cake and Cookie Lifter. Please don’t make me imagine a world without it.
4. Once my cake is safely in the box or caddy, I then clear a flat space on the car floor or trunk, with a big square of the same rubber mesh between the floor and box/caddy. If you give it a little test move with your hands, you’ll feel that it’s pretty solid. Incidentally, this is the same way I transport wedding cakes on the cake drum (thick board) – in the back of my truck on the rubber mat with a layer of the rubber mesh on top, then the cake. It’s amazing how secure this method really is. Someday, when we know each other even better, and you care to hear about some of the crazy stories I have up my sleeve, I’ll tell you all about our 6-tiered wedding cake that didn’t quite make it to our wedding in one piece. Ouch! But, yes, believe it or not, even I know that a cake is just a cake, and we lived to tell the story!
That being said, it would be ideal to get your cake, whether it’s big or small, fancy or homespun, to its destination in one piece…
1. If I’m transporting more than 3 dozen, I will use designated cupcake bakery boxes and always with the insert (such as Goldas Kitchen Cupcake Insert – Standard – Holds 12 – 10 pack) and place them in the trunk in the same manner I do the cakes — with the rubber mesh under the boxes. I will tie 3 stacked cupcake boxes together using baker’s twine or string and transport them that way.
2. If I’m transporting 3 dozen or less, I use my cupcake courier Cupcake Courier 36-Cupcake Plastic Storage Container, Petal Pink, which again is great because when I get to my destination, it keeps them fresh for us while we snack on them over the course of a few days.
A Final Note About Transporting Cakes & Cupcakes: In the warmer weather, I always run the air conditioning in our vehicle as cool as we (my husband) can tolerate. If I’m transporting a smaller cake that needs refrigeration (such as a whip cream covered cake, or other delicate frosting), I usually place it on the front passenger’s side floor and have the a/c blow straight on it. If the sun is shining onto the floor, I will cover the box/caddy with a black garbage bag.
I hope this helps!
05/08/13 EDIT — I have updated this recipe for an even *better* version of the same cake, and to ensure more consistent results among readers/bakers.
- 5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature
- 1 whole egg
- 1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
- 2-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
- 2 cups (400 g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces
- 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
- 3 cups sifted (475 g) confectioners' sugar (icing, powdered)
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 8-inch pans.
- In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.
- 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.
- Add the butter one piece at a time, about every 10 seconds, ensuring it's cold (you can keep some in refrigerator while you're adding pieces). Continue to mix on low until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture. Add milk, and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (You want to ensure that the batter is homogenous.) Fold once or twice to ensure the batter at bottom of bowl is incorporated.
- 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.
- Bake until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center, about 30 minutes. Be so careful to not over-bake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and then set the timer for 5 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.
- 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.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use "4" on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy and fluffy.
- Best used right away.
- You can eliminate the vanilla bean and use a total of 1-1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.
- Place bottom cake layer on cake plate or 8" round thin cake board and spread 1 cup of frosting on top with a small offset spatula.
- Gently place 2nd cake layer face down on top. Place a generous scoop of frosting on top, spreading evenly with a small offset spatula and working your way down the sides until you have a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake. Chill until set, about 30 minutes.
- Remove from refrigerator and apply a final "coat" of frosting.
- Store in a cake keeper at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in refrigerator for up to 5 days. Best eaten day 1.
[cake layer recipe adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum]
[frosting recipe adapted from Donna Hay]
Good luck & enjoy! Now, excuse me while I go make something chocolate . . .