This is my golden vanilla cake 2.0. I've renamed it to "Buttery Vanilla Yellow" because that's exactly how I wanted to taste and feel. My inspiration was really boxed yellow cake. This was the cake I grew up eating and most commonly associate with yellow cake. I wanted to replicate that feathery texture, but give the cake a homemade vanilla taste.
The key to achieving such a tall order was to focus on the mixing method. I went with a combination of two methods. The taste took some tweaking as I didn't want an overly sweet cake but rather a yellow cake with a little more depth of flavor. The resulting cake is feathery when you cut it, has the texture of a soft "squishmallow" (to quote my daughter), and a buttery and vanilla forward flavor enhanced with a bit of acidity from the buttermilk.
Mixing Method: Creaming + whipped egg whites
Cake Texture: Spongy and moist crumb, and medium-high moisture
Flavor Profile: Buttery, tangy, and sweet with floral vanilla
Appearance: medium to dark yellow (depends yolk color), medium air pockets, and medium-sized crumb
Difficulty Level: Medium
Good Frosting Pairings: Classic is a chocolate buttercream, but really anything
Filling ideas: Jams, or curds; fresh berries; ganaches
Best for: Children's birthday cakes, anyone who loves a classic American buttery cake
My buttery vanilla yellow cake uses a combination of the creaming method and folding in whipped egg whites. To get that ultimate moist yet spongy crumb, I tried almost every combination of mixing methods and this combo was the best.
The creaming method is probably the most familiar mixing method for cakes in the US. Although it's commonly used not just for cakes, but also various kinds of cookies and baked treats.
First, the butter (or sometimes shortening) is mixed with sugar for a few minutes. The sugar is in granule form, and when mixed with a solid fat, ends up creating tiny air pockets in that fat. The more fine your granules are, the more pockets you can potentially make. This is important because the leavening agents (baking soda or powder) in a cake recipe don't create any air pockets, they only expand existing ones.
We next add in the egg yolks, which emulsifies the ingredients into a smooth and cohesive batter before alternating the dry (flours, baking soda, salt) and wet (buttermilk) ingredients.
The last step whip the egg whites with sugar (this is known as a meringue) and then fold that into the batter. This is another solid way to add air pockets to the batter. Instead of air being trapped in fat as with the creaming method, with this egg foaming method, we are trapping air in the water of the egg whites, which is then stabilized by the egg white proteins. These too expand in the oven with the additional use of leavening agents.
This cake is a moist with and spongy crumb. The spongy crumb is soft yet study; it's probably one of my most durable cakes and should do well with stacked layers or even carving. This is mainly from the crumb framework that we built by using both the creaming method with a meringue folding method mentioned in the previous section.
This is a cake with medium moisture. It is delightful served as is, but should you need to use a syrup for extra flavoring or just want a super moist cake, it has the structure to withstand extra liquid.
With a yellow cake, you really can't hide anything. Vanilla is already a pretty subtle flavor so to prevent this cake from tasting overly saccharine-sweet and flour-ey, I did a couple things.
First, I increased the butter content from my original vanilla cake. This definitely puts this cake into more of the buttery realm of cakes, much like a pound cake, but without the density of a pound cake.
The second thing I focused on was the acidity of the cake. I know it may sound weird to think about tart or acidic cakes, but it really brings a pleasant flavor profile to the cake. It's not pronounced like the sugar and butter, but it's just an element that helps balance the sweetness of the cake.
In my original (golden vanilla cake) recipe I used sour cream, but that also brings a little bit too much fat with it and not enough acidity, so I went with buttermilk for this cake. The acidity also does a couple other things for the texture of the cake, which I hope I can cover in more detail in another post. But yeah, the lactic acid contained in the buttermilk is magic for this cake.
The resulting cake tastes of butter first, then a sweet floral vanilla with a hint of tanginess and baked nutty flour.
This is a medium difficult cake. The texture of the cake is predominantly reliant on how you bring the batter together, and I use two specific methods to bring air into this cake.
First is the creaming method, which is a pretty common method for baked goods, but be sure to pay attention to the texture of the butter, and the texture when done creaming the fats and sugar.
Second is whipping the egg whites and sugar to create the meringue. It's important to whip the egg whites alone for a bit until it looks like shaving cream to allow the bubbles to form a little, then add in the sugar to stabilize.
Don't worry though! I'm a very visual learner myself and my video shows every single step of both of these processes.
I think it'd be more useful to ask what frosting DOES NOT go with this cake. Classically, this cake goes great with chocolate frosting. Some people like it heavy and go for a ganache based frosting. I went a little lighter with a Swiss meringue buttercream in my vid because I really wanted to highlight the flavor of the cake, and chocolate ganache can be very overpowering.
This is a classic cake so anyone who has a classic palate, including children, would absolutely love this cake. It's strong enough that if you wanted to highlight the cake by just using it with some freshly whipped cream and sliced strawberries (my summertime favorite) you could do that. It would also work well as layers for more complex desserts or layer cakes because it's quite subtle in terms of the flavors.
Here's a yellow cake I made. It's 3 layers of 8 inch rounds. I then filled the cake with caramel Swiss meringue buttercream and did my top coat with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream.
Buttery Vanilla Yellow
For the Frostings: if you want, you can make all your unflavored Swiss meringue first then split the frosting into two bowls and add flavoring. I did that to save time.
Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Bake the cake:
Make the Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Make the Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
*This recipe is best when using cake flour as the crumb is light and velvety when you do. I prefer unbleached flour (I just prefer the taste) and use King Arthur Flour's Cake Flour in my video. I have tested this cake with bleached flours and those work just as well and will yield a cake slighty lighter in color with a slightly more delicate crumb. You will get a slighty coarser crumb when using all-purpose flour.
**Cornstarch (aka corn flour) allows us to add starch and structure to a cake without adding any gluten, which when overworked, can lead to a chewy crumb. I use this technique in my chiffon cake to get a light and airy crumb.
***Be very careful measuring your baking soda; do not over-measure. I like to actually under-measure just a tad because this will add a bit more acidity to you cake. Don't worry, there's still baking powder in this recipe so your cake will still rise if you under measure just a little.
****The biggest factor I've found in ensuring that you get a yellow cake is to use really yellow/orange yolks. If you can find high quality free-range eggs with beautiful orange yolks, this is the recipe to use them in.
*****For volume measurers: I'm working on a converter from TB to cups. For now, here is your conversion. 12 TB = 3/4 cup; 16 TB = 1 cup; 18 TB = 1 cup + 2 TB; 20 TB = 1 + 1/4 cups; 24 TB = 1+1/2 cups