Four Layers of Vanilla Cake

I thought I would share with you the one recipe that I make most often now. Vanilla is by far the most commonly requested flavour of cake. The oil-based cake I used at first stopped working for me; it just didn’t bake through anymore. So I went back to that old faithful Craftsy class, took that original recipe, doubled it, and tweaked it a bit for me. I’ll share it here, with instructions in my own words. I also do highly recommend the Craftsy class “Startup Library: Cake Decorating.”

This is not a cooking blog, so I don’t have any handy “jump to recipe” button. Instead I will just put the recipe at the top here, and if you want to read all my notes – including northern-specific notes – keep reading. Chances are, if you are at all interested in cake decorating, you are already a better baker than me. So do share your insights and tricks in the comments!

Plain Vanilla Butter Cake

Makes 4 x 8″ round cake layers, OR 2 x 10″ round cake layers, OR 2 x 13×9″ sheet cake layers, OR 8 x 6″ round cake layers. Recipe can be halved.

Ingredients:

  • 720 g (6 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 460 g (1 lb) unsalted butter, softened*
  • Pan release of choice
  • 700 g (3 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature**
  • 10 large eggs, at room temperature**
  • Preferred pan release***
  1. The night before, put your butter out to soften.* Several hours before baking, take out eggs and buttermilk to come to room temperature.**

2. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Prepare cake pans with preferred pan release.***

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

4. Add your softened butter to your mixing bowl, and beat it on medium speed until smooth and lightened in color.

5. Turn mixer to low. Sprinkle the sugar into the bowl slowly. When the sugar is incorporated, turn the beater up to medium speed, and beat until completely creamed together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix for one more minute.

6. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix for one more minute.

7. Measure the buttermilk and vanilla into a measuring cup.

8. Turn the mixer to low. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and mix until just incorporated. Add 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, and mix until just incorporated. Repeat, with 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the buttermilk mixture, then the rest of the flour mixture, each time mixing until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium just until you can see some ribboning in the batter.****

9. Divide the batter evenly between your prepared baking pans. Smooth them a little if necessary.

10. Place the pans in the oven and bake them for 40-60 minutes, rotating them carefully after 20 minutes, and checking frequently after 40 minutes. Length of time needed will depend on the size of the pans. Cakes will be done when the tops are domed and lightly golden brown, and when the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pans.*****

11. Remove the cakes from the oven. Let them rest for 10 minutes. Use a plastic knife to free the sides of the cake from the pan, then carefully invert the pans to release the cakes. Flip them right side up, then let them cool completely before frosting.

BONUS: RAINBOW BIT CAKE: To make rainbow bit cake, make as above, but after step 8, fold in 1 cup of rainbow jimmy sprinkles. Don’t mix too much or the dye will run.

* On softening butter: You want your butter so soft that you can easily push your finger into it, but not melted. Doing this changes with the seasons. We always keep our thermostat at the same temperature, but somehow my house knows if it is summer or winter.

If it is the summer, just leaving the butter out for a few hours or overnight will make it completely soft. In the winter, even leaving the butter out overnight, it will still be hard the next day. I use an old trick my mom taught me. Since our butter does not come in sticks, I cut it into sticks and put them on a plate, not touching. I then microwave them at 30% power for one minute.

In winter, this will make butter soft that has been sitting out all night. In summer, this will make butter soft right out of the fridge. In winter, if you forgot to put your butter out to soften, you will probably have to do this twice to get it soft. Don’t do more than one minute at a time, so you don’t melt your butter.

** On room temperature ingredients: You need all your liquid ingredients to be at room temperature. You went to all this trouble to soften your butter, but if you introduce cold back into your creamed butter, it will want to solidify again. This will make your batter curdy-looking. The butter is NOT curdled; it’s just trying to solidify again.

With eggs especially, it is hard to get them to room temperature. You can repeat the trick with the butter, but I like to do just 30 seconds at a time, at 30% power, stirring after each time. 10 cooked eggs is an expensive mistake.

10 eggs cracked into a measuring cup to be warmed in the microwave. This also makes it easier to add them one at a time to the batter.

To be honest, in the winter, my batter always looks a little curdy at the end, even if I have completely warmed my eggs and buttermilk. Maybe the flour is cold! It just means that my cakes have rather large holes in them. They still taste very good.

*** On pan release: Growing up, my mom taught me to butter and flour my pans. Nowadays, I spray my pans with canola spray, put in a parchment round, and spray again. There’s special baking spray you can buy, or you can make the Sugar Geek’s “cake goop,” but I have not tried either of these.

**** What your batter might look like: This is what my batter looks like when I’m done. You can see it came out quite curdy this time. I like it to be smoother, but in winter that is very difficult.

Cake batter “ribboning” even though it looks curdy
What my finished batter looks like. It is not perfectly smooth, but the chunks of butter are very small, and it bakes up well.

***** When is my cake done? This is what my cakes look like when they are done. You can see they have quite a large crumb – comes from the butter being a bit solidified, and using AP flour rather than cake flour. It’s not what you might buy in a bakery down south, but it tastes amazing.

I’ve had enough cakes come out underbaked that I will often “pac man” one of them just to make sure. I just mean that I take the parchment off the bottom of one, make a cut through it from the middle out to one side, and spread it enough to see the inside. I’m especially checking for compacted, unbaked cake near the center bottom. If the cake has collapsed, it probably has this problem. That happens to me sometimes with oil cakes, but I have not had this recipe collapse on me. I push it back together to cool, and it’s not really noticeable in the finished cake that one layer has been cut.

What is your favorite, go-to vanilla cake recipe? Do you have any more tricks on getting a smooth batter?


2 thoughts on “Four Layers of Vanilla Cake

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