I’m a chocolate girl at heart, so I have no idea why I was suddenly possessed by thoughts of vanilla cake. My last trip to the library looked something like this.
After reading through several recipes, I finally settled on one from this book. Although I almost always make my chocolate cakes from scratch, I usually defer to a doctored cake mix for vanilla cakes. Over the years, I’ve had several vanilla cake fails, from dry cakes to fallen cakes to burnt, crusty cakes, so I tend to shy away from making them. But then again, it’s only recently that I’ve started using a scale when baking.
If you want to make cakes from scratch and don’t own a kitchen scale, I highly recommend that you make the investment. It will not only improve the consistency of you cakes, but you’ll have less cleanup since you can weigh several ingredients in one bowl. Weighing recipes is always more accurate, since a cup may be slightly different every time you measure it. Another thing to keep in mind is that sifted flour weighs less than unsifted flour. The ratio of dry ingredients to liquid ingredients is important to the overall texture of cakes, and If you don’t own a kitchen scale, I found this link to be helpful. A scale can also help you divide the batter between multiple pans when you are making a cake that has several layers.
I only made a few changes to the original recipe. First, I added some extra vanilla (because I was really craving vanilla), and I substituted vanilla bean paste for vanilla extract. If you look closely, you can see the specs of vanilla bean in the cake. Maybe it’s a psychological thing, but I can always taste the vanilla more when I see flecks of vanilla bean.
The original recipe also called for 2 9-inch round pans, and I divided my cake batter between 3 8-inch pans.
For those of you who are looking to make your first vanilla cake from scratch, I would highly recommend this one. It’s simple and straight forward, with a texture that’s light but still moist.
Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake
adapted from The Cake Book
makes 2 9-inch or 3 8-inch cake layers
For the cake:
3 1/2 cups (325 grams) sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks/227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 (300 grams) cups granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 1/3 cups (320 ml) whole milk, at room temperature
For the frosting:
1 pound (4 sticks)(454 g) unsalted butter
4 cups confectioners sugar (500 g), sifted
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-4 tablespoons (45 ml) heavy cream or milk
1-2 drops food coloring (I used Americolor Soft Pink)
To make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Grease and line the cake pans with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. With an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and continue beating. After the sugar has been incorporated, beat on high until the butter becomes pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
4. Reduce the speed to low and beat the egg whites in one at a time. Add the vanilla bean paste and beat until incorporated. With the mixer still on low, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the milk. Start and end with the dry ingredients, beating until the flour mixture is just incorporated on the last addition. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth out the tops. (I used a scale to make sure that they were evenly divided).
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake should be lightly browned around the edges. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes on wire racks before removing from the pans. Gently run a palette knife around the edges and invert the cakes onto racks. Turn the cakes over so that the tops are up to finish cooling completely.
To make the frosting:
1. In a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium until it becomes pale and creamy (2-3 minutes).
2. Add the powdered sugar and salt and beat on low until combined. Add the vanilla and beat on medium, about 3 minutes. Add the cream 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Add the food coloring, one drop at a time until you reach the desired color. Beat until the food coloring is fully incorporated.
To Assemble the Cake:
1. Place one layer of the cake on an 8-inch cake board. Place 1 cup of the frosting on top, and spread evenly with a palette knife. Place the second layer on top of the first, followed by another cup of frosting, and spread evenly.
2. Place the third cake layer on top (face down), and crumb coat the cake. Place a generous scoop of frosting on the top of the cake, and spread evenly across the top of the cake. Work your way around the sides until the entire cake is covered with a thin layer of frosting. I find that a turntable is helpful when frosting a layer cake. Let the crumb coat set in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
3. Once the crumb coat has set, spread a thicker layer of frosting on the top and sides of the crumb coat to create a smooth finish. Use the leftover frosting to pipe onto the cake and top with sprinkles.
Notes: You can replace the egg whites with liquid egg whites from a carton. I large egg white = 2 tablespoons=1 oz.
I used a Wilton 1M tip to pipe the frosting border at the bottom of the cake.