Disclaimer: I am no absolute expert, I only play one on the internet. These are observations and techniques I use in my kitchen that work for me, my climate, my humidity, and my area. Your individual results may be different.
Alert the presses. I’m finally posting Part 3 of my very popular White Cake series.
I wrote large chunks of this months ago, but didn’t want to post without pictures. Then a few things got in the way – mainly my big pregnant belly. At the time, all I wanted was to finish my orders so I could get the hell out of a hot kitchen and sit down and sleep. Despite my plans to bake until the very end, I ended up shutting down the kitchen the last 7 weeks or so of my purgatory pregnancy. See, I had complications. Really annoying ones like gestational diabetes making me have to poke myself bleeding a billion times a day, ankles size of tree trunks, an aching back and glass in my hips, hands that seemed to loose all coordination, the attention span and comprehension of a gnat… and a demeanor that would make the Devil cower at my fat-assed feet. Just to name a few. But that’s all over with now, and I’m happy to report I have a very happy, very healthy bouncing baby girl. Literally. We can’t stop bouncing her. She won’t let us. She screams really loud. My arms are really tired.
But I digress.
10 weeks have gone by since she was born and I’m back to work, which means I have ½ of a brain to get this out in the world since I have gotten a LOT of email asking for part 3, which is way cool. What I still haven’t done is take pictures. I suck. So I’m winging it.
In my 1st post I tried to mimic a boxed cake mix by trying to use oil instead of butter or shortening. It didn’t work, and I don’t think it can work to get the results we want. What this did for me was solidify the argument that those box mixes have way too many chemicals in them, so I hope I shined more of a light on that.
I received approximately 164 emails (164!) asking for my white cake recipe, and I’m really sorry I didn’t share it with you at the time. Why not post my own? Because it’s finicky and not that I don’t trust you or think you can’t handle it, but I decided I’d rather post something that is a lot more foolproof for the home cook – because that’s what we all want. So I tested a few recipes and found one that is easy, moist, tasty, and is a billion times better then any stupid fake box cake. I then gave this to my sister (who is NOT a baker). And, well, if she can make this, ANYONE can.
But I’m going to take this one step further – see, there are lots and lots of recipes out there for white cake, but very few step by step instructions on how to actually make one or why you use the ingredients you are using. Let’s face it, if you landed here, chances are you are tired of trying recipes that fail and you don’t know why. So, I wrote a freakishly long explanation on how to make this one, breakin this bad girl down to take it one bit at a time, all in the hopes of a 100% success rate for all my readers (fingers crossed!). So, without further ado….
A Better Vanilla Cake, adapted from a Betty Crocker Cookbook circa 1950, posted on Cake Central,
With final changes and adjustments made by me
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees for cupcakes, 325 degrees for a cake (UPDATE: Everyone’s home oven is different – use your best guess for what temperature cakes bake the best in YOUR oven – you may need to bake at a higher temperature)
Should make 1 x 2 layer 8” cake with batter to spare and OR at least 2 dozen cupcakes. Position your oven rack in the center or slightly below center.
5 oz. egg whites OR 6 oz. egg yolks (UPDATE: Readers have reported success using 3 WHOLE eggs. I have not tested but it seems about right).
8.75 oz cake flour
11.5 oz. sugar
3 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. baking SODA
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup whole milk OR buttermilk
3.5 oz. shortening OR unsalted butter
8 oz. sour cream
2 tsp. (or more) extract
First, you’ll notice most of the measurements are in ounces. Well, ya’all asked for a foolproof cake, and I firmly believe if you want a foolproof cake you need foolproof measurements. You can’t get that by measuring in volume (or cups). Invest in a digital food scale. You’ll end up using it more then you think you will and they are pretty cheep now. It also helps with troubleshooting if your recipe does not work. If you carefully weigh then you know your ratios are spot on and it must be something else that has gone awry.
Next, you’ll notice you have options with your ingredients because this recipe bends like a reed in the wind, meaning it’s a great base recipe that you can modify to suite your tastes and to change the flavor.
- Egg whites or egg yolks: Use at room temperature. Technically, a “white” cake is made with all egg whites. A “yellow” cake is made with all egg yolks. The color difference between the two finished cakes is marginal, call it egg shell to ecru. The main difference is texture and taste. A true white cake has a slightly dryer, fluffier texture and has an “eggy” taste. It also makes your extracts really pronounced – meaning if you add vanilla extract it’ll taste more like extract. OTOH, a yellow cake has a richer texture and a flavor that marries well with other flavors. When you add extracts to it, the extra fat in the yolks enhances your flavorings and makes them bright. My default cake is yellow. But what to do with the leftover parts of the egg you don’t use? I use all my whites in my Swiss meringue buttercream. If you have left over yolks make them into lemon curd (or make more cake!). Freeze either in an ice cube tray then pop the cubes into a zip lock freezer bag and they keep for months. Bottom line, there’s no need to throw any part away because they store just fine and there is always a use. (Update: Again, I have not tested, but 3 whole eggs seems to work if you want to use whole eggs).
- Cake flour: Yes, you need cake flour, NOT all-purpose flour. They are two different types of flour made with two different types of wheat. I have successfully converted a recipe that calls for all purpose flour to cake flour, but not the other way around. So for success, make sure you get cake flour. Also, I don’t use unbleached cake flour, I can’t get the texture quite right, so stick with regular white.
- Sugar: Regular white sugar or superfine sugar, either works. You can also use organic sugar, but I highly recommend you pass it through a food processor to break the crystals down since organic sugar has large course crystals which sometimes don’t dissolve all the way in the cake.
- Milk or buttermilk: Use at room temperature. I prefer the flavor of buttermilk. It lends a slight tang that boosts the overall flavor of the cake. Most people think it adds fat and makes cakes more moist, but that’s incorrect. Buttermilk is low or no fat and has less calories then milk, but what it does have is cultures containing acid for flavor and natural emulsifiers to help your cake come together and give it a nicer texture. The more cultured, the more flavor. You can use buttermilk in any recipe calling for milk, but you will always want to add baking soda (if there is none in your recipe) to help counter some of the acid. If all you have in the house is milk, go with it. Whole milk is best, but 2% should be fine also.
- Shortening or Butter: Use 68 degrees or colder butter, room temperature shortening. Well, this goes back to my 1st post about white cake. I use butter, but as I posted about, using butter is tricky. I suggest your 1st time making this to use shortening. If it works and you love the flavor, next time make it with butter and see how it goes. You probably won’t be able to taste the difference.
- Sour cream: Use at room temperature. Any sour cream will do, just make sure you stir your container if there is a puddle of water on the top. I have also heard that you can use plain or Greek yogurt, but I have not personally tried it.
- Extracts – want a nice vanilla cake? Use vanilla bean paste. Want almond cake? Use almond extract. Lemon cake? Use lemon extract with some lemon zest (do not use lemon juice). Coconut? Orange? Lavender? Hazelnut? You get my point. Use any extract – just be careful and add it gradually because each has a different strength. I taste my batter at my own risk with clean spoons despite the raw eggs to make sure my flavor is spot on and have never gotten sick. Taste at your own risk. Keep in mind the alcohol burns off while baking taking some flavor with it so even if your batter tastes strong, it should mellow.
OK, so I know you are going to ask, why no lemon juice? Personally, I don’t bother for several reasons. First, lemons are an acid. Acid causes problems with your leavening agents (baking powder/baking soda). Different regions, where we are in the growing season, organic vs. commercial etc. produce lemons with +/- pH so you could have one cake work by putting lemon juice in it, then the next cake not rise or it’ll deflate. But here’s the thing, pH levels aside, the flavor of lemon juice bakes out of your cake, so you have to add a lot of it just to get any flavor in the first place, which then adds too much moisture… which also kills your cake. You get much more bang for your buck by using lemon zest. That’s where all the oil is, and oil does not bake out. So skip the PIMA factor, pony up for a microplane zester and get some natural lemon oil extract. It bakes into the cake beautifully and tastes like real lemons without throwing off your pH. Stay away from artificial lemon flavor – it tastes like Pledge.
Now, mixing instructions. This is the reverse creaming method using just one mixing bowl – trust me, it works.
Measure out your eggs in a small bowl/cup and your milk in a separate measuring cup. Pour a bit of milk into the eggs and lightly whisk with a fork (a bit is like, a splash. You only want to use a little bit to help break the eggs up so they will mix into your batter quicker when you add it later). Measure all your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt) into a mixing bowl and combine with a wire whisk. No need to sift unless your flour is lumpy (humid areas). Pour in your milk/buttermilk, sour cream and shortening/butter. The only ingredients NOT in your main mixing bowl is your eggs and extracts. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium high for 80 seconds. This builds the structure of your cake. It’s a-ok if you only have a hand mixer, some have paddles, some don’t. Use it if you have it. Your batter should be somewhat light in color, a little thick and should start to slap the sides of the bowl with no chunks of butter remaining. Overmixing is hard to do because you are using cake flour and there are no eggs in your batter yet, but undermixing can be a problem and could cause your cake to fall so mix every bit of 80 seconds. When in doubt, go another 30. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Pour your eggs in 2 batches, mixing about 30 seconds or less between each addition or until combined. Scrape your bowl. Mix another 10 seconds or so. You should have a decently thick batter. Now you can add your flavorings. I add mine then stir with a silicone spatula.
Scoop into lined cupcake tins or into your prepared cake pans. Bake 20 minutes for cupcakes, 40 minutes for a cake or until done. Until done, you say? What the heck does that mean? Well, don’t overbake it.
Yeah, a cliffie. Sorry. But that’s a whole post all on its own, because its not just one thing, its several things to get a perfectly baked, even, moist cake. I promise, in my next post I’ll tell you how I do it.
Strawberry or raspberry cake – replace all the milk/buttermilk and ½ of the sour cream with pureed berries.
Pumpkin: replace all the sour cream with canned pumpkin. Add 1 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to taste.
Coconut: replace the milk/buttermilk and all the sour cream with coconut milk. Add a handful of unsweetened shaved coconut.
Peanut butter: replace ½ of the sour cream with peanut butter.
Marble: Scoop out 1 cup of prepared vanilla batter and pour the remaining into your pans. Add 2 tsp. cocoa powder to the reserved vanilla batter then swirl it on top.
UPDATE 3/6/13… Banana: Sub out sour cream for mashed bananas. Please disregard any comment below with different instructions.
Original posted recipe on Cake Central can be found here, but has problems and makes a ton of batter.
So let me hear it! How did it go? Have more questions? Variation requests? Leave a comment!