I have a problem. I'm a pastry chef... who hates decorating cakes.
I know, I know. How can this be? There are people out there who dedicate their whole careers just to cakes. I'm just not one of them.
I love baking all things sweet. And I love decorating sugar cookies. But stacking and decorating layer cakes? Eh. Part of the problem is that decorated layer cakes aren't exactly my strong suit. I, like most pastry chefs I know, consider myself to be a perfectionist. So when I can't get the sides of my cake perfectly smooth, or a rosette perfectly centered, or fondant corners perfectly sharp, it drives me crazy!
Clearly the answer is to practice more. So, in an effort to improve my skills, I've decided to bake and stack at least one cake a week for... the foreseeable future. Sure, I could just use a foam dummy cake instead of baking a new cake every week, but where's the fun in that?
I have an ever-growing list of cake recipes and flavor combinations that I can't wait to tackle. Today marks week 1, and I decided to start with this simple classic. May seem a little boring, but vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are both great bases for later additions, like chocolate chips, pureed fruit, or flavored extracts. And I love, love, love this vanilla cake. It's so light and fluffy and delicious! The perfect vanilla cake, if you ask me.
This icing is a traditional confectioner's icing. To me, it tastes like supermarket frosting. Before you think I'm trash talking my local grocer, let me explain. It's super fluffy and sweet, not too buttery, and always a crowd pleaser. I find it a little hard to work with when doing some piping techniques because it can get a little soft, but for a lot of people (me included) the flavor is preferable over a Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream (Don't worry; we'll get to those soon enough!).
Now I just have to figure out what to do with all this cake.
Classic Vanilla Cake
Yield: One 3-layer 8'' cake
1 1/4 cups (320 grams) milk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
5 (180 grams) egg whites
3 1/2 cups (400 grams) cake flour, sifted
2 cups, plus 6 Tbsp (400 grams) granulated sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (226 grams) butter, soft, cut into cubes
1. Line the bottoms of three 8'' round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour the pans and paper, or grease with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large measuring cup or bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, and egg whites. Whisk lightly with a fork and set aside.
3. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix for one minute on low with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and 1/3 of the milk mixture. Mix on low until the batter is moistened, but thick, like a paste. Increase the speed to medium and mix for about 2 minutes.
4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the rest of the milk mixture in three additions, beating on low after each addition until the liquid is just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Bake for 28-33 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
- To get truly even cake layers, I divided the batter using a scale, pouring about 480g in each pan.
- For a special touch, you could substitute the seeds from one or two vanilla beans instead of the vanilla extract.
Yield: Enough icing to fill and frost one 3-layer 8'' cake
1 lb butter
6 oz shortening
1 lb powdered sugar
1. Cream butter in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until soft.
2. Add the shortening and continue to cream on medium speed until light and fluffy.
3. With the mixer on low, gradually add powdered sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat until icing is light and fluffy.
- This icing can be stored at room temperature for up to a week.