Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Vanilla Cake That Looks Like Cake



My fellow Chow-ians…I give you a vanilla cake. It is not a “white cake”, because it involves egg yolks…so it’s yellow. But it’s tall! And fluffy! And it looks like a cake. My father will laugh when he hears this, but I spent all weekend trying to recreate, from scratch, what would take me $.99 with a box. My father’s grandmother was brilliant, both in the classroom and in the kitchen. Her husband was a scientist. They both appreciated a good cake…and knew that the easiest way to get one was to take advantage of all the science and work that went into the boxed mixes. They drilled that fact into their grandson, who in turn passed the wisdom on to me – Use The Box.


And, can I vent for a moment? Indulge me. Last weekend, I baked four white cakes. Why? Because the second one didn’t turn out how I wanted it to…neither did the third. Or the fourth. The first one was for us, and I used Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe. It makes the most amazing cupcakes – tiny crumb, moist, tender. However, my cake? Didn’t rise more than 1/2”. Not acceptable, but it was just for us, so…what are you going to do, right? (After some research, it turns out that great cupcake recipes don’t often translate to great cake recipes. However, great cakes can usually be made into great cupcakes. Weird, right? It’s sad, too, since Dorie’s cake was intended to be baked as a cake! However, she knows all about the issues with the cake, going so far as to nickname it “The Cake that Won’t Rise.” She has no idea why her cakes work and ours don’t.) The second cake was an “order” from a friend, for her mother’s birthday. It was the same recipe, baked in a 9x13 pan. It hardly rose. I tried again, to make a second layer for the cake (since the first cake couldn’t very well be split). I followed the directions exactly…and got the same results.


The next day, after hours of research the night before, I tried another recipe…just to see what would happen. It was the Cook’s Illustrated White Cake. Not only was the rise as sad as Dorie’s cake when baked in a 9x13 pan, but the texture of the cake was something like sweet, butter-laden cornbread. It was great with strawberries and whipped cream…but it wasn’t the white cake I was looking for. (It was at this point that I started to get just a little bit Mad at The Universe. Seriously, folks – if a white cake should be WHITE, why does it rely on temperamental YELLOW butter??!) (I realize now, after some more research, but I probably could have solved a lot of my problems by just substituting in shortening for the butter. And my cake would have been white.)


Finally, I came across King Arthur Flour’s Golden Vanilla Cake. Not only did it use ingredients I commonly kept in the cupboard (who keeps cake flour around??!), it came with a KAF guarantee, oodles of great reviews, and a handful of horrible reviews…followed by responses from the KAF team with suggestions for the bakers, or offers of telephone assistance, or both. When I found the recipe (in the middle of the night), I very nearly jumped out of bed and baked it right then and there. However, I decided that the quest for a Great Vanilla Cake wasn’t worth a 2 am bed time, so I held off.


Kids? I’ve found My Vanilla Cake recipe. Huge thanks to King Arthur Flour for another great recipe!


To find the recipe go here. And please, if you can, use a kitchen scale and the “weight” option to get the recipe in ounces instead of cups.