… as versatile as blue jeans!
Oh, yellow cake. It’s simply iconic and as versatile as blue jeans! It can be paired with every sweet flavor profile on the planet; chocolate, vanilla, fruit, herbs, coffee, and nuts can all go on a hot date with this all-purpose cake flavor.
Only one issue: it seems to be the most frustrating cake flavor to bake―its iconic flavor as we know it is usually based in box cake mixes that litter the shelves of every supermarket. I (kind of) won’t knock box cakes; I love a good box cake on occasion! But, in every amateur baker’s life, there exists the desire to make a good yellow cake from scratch to match our childhood dreams (or adult pleasures) without the added artificial vanilla flavor.
This is my favorite yellow cake recipe; it’s not only easy, but the flavor is intensely buttery and custard-like. It isn’t eggy at all and the sweetness is well balanced. Combine all of this with a delicate crumb, and you have a delicious, fluffy, flavorful yellow cake that can hold its own without the frosting!
it’s not only easy, but the flavor is intensely buttery and custard-like
Whether our decision to tackle the scratch cake comes from the desire to “eat healthier (haha) or to not give all of our money to corporate bakeries, the most common issues we face baking yellow cake from scratch are:
- The cake comes out dry.
- The cake comes out dense.
- The cake just crumbles out like a nasty, flavorless, sponge, and then we feel so miserable about the result that we decide never to bake anything ever again.
There is good news! Baking a decent yellow cake has little to do with a recipe and more to do with the type of ingredients you’re using and whether or not you beat your cake batter to oblivion with an electric mixer. The keys to making a yellow cake from scratch are:
- Do not beat your cake to death. That is one of the things that make it dense (the second being all-purpose flour). Beating your cake to death will make your cake develop gluten, making it chewy and bread-like.
- Do not use all-purpose flour. Using all-purpose flour will make your cake even denser because it contains a higher percentage of protein. This in addition to beating the batter to death with result in a double whammy of dense, chewy, cake destruction. Instead, use cake flour because it has the lowest protein structure, resulting in that delicate crumb we all love in a soft, cloud-like cake. If cake flour is unavailable, pastry flour is acceptable. Some people make their own cake flour by mixing all-purpose flour with cornstarch, but even this will not create the ideal texture you’re looking for in a cake because the protein structure is still too high.
- Brush your cake with simple syrup after baking. When a cake comes out of the oven, it will lose moisture as it begins to cool. Brushing your cake with simple syrup after it comes out of the oven will help restore and maintain its moisture.
Use quality ingredients. Although you’ll still have a delicious cake using conventional dairy and flour, the flavors of your cake will truly shine if you use better ingredients. For example, try European or Amish butter versus an inexpensive brand; many butter companies use “natural flavors”, carrageenan, and other additives to cheapen butter, thus cheapening the taste. Also, use full fat milk with cream over low fat milk. Cake is meant to be decadent, so don’t be afraid to use richer ingredients.
Very Best Yellow Cake
- 4 Large Egg Yolks Save the whites to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream or an omelet
- 2/3 Cups (162g) Whole Milk
- 1 Tsp (6g) Vanilla Extract or seeds of 1 Vanilla Bean Pod
- 1 Stick (113g) Butter room temperature
- 2 Cups (230g) Cake Flour
- 1 Cup (230g) Sugar
- 2 ½ Tsp (13g) Baking Powder
- 1 Tsp (5g) Sea Salt
- Simple Syrup for brushing
Preheat oven to 350ºF/177ºC
In a medium bowl, gently whisk together the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla and set aside.
In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients until combined. Beat in the butter until it is fully incorporated into the flour. Don’t over mix it; it should be just combined and partially dry.
A third at a time, slowly beat in the egg yolk mixture until the mixture begins to incorporate.
Beat the cake for no more than a minute or until cake batter is slightly fluffy.
Generously grease two 8” cake pans with butter, vegetable oil, or cooking spray. You may also line the bottoms with circular cut-outs of parchment paper. Divide batter equally between the two tins and bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake is golden yellow and bounces back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean when probed at the center.
To make Cupcakes, prepare a standard cupcake tray with liners, and fill each cup with no more than 2/3 upward. Bake cupcakes for 30-40 minutes or until cake is golden yellow and bounces back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean at the center.
With a spoon or pastry brush, brush the tops of each cake/cupcake with an even layer of the simple syrup. You do not have to use a lot of the syrup; you just want to use enough to evenly coat the tops of the cakes.
Let cake/cupcakes cool completely before releasing them from the molds and serving and/or frosting.
For the best frosting results, let cake chill overnight in the freezer before cutting into layers.
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