Magic cakes are a one-pan wonder for folks who love lots of different textures in their desserts. The top is crisped and golden-brown; airy as a gossamer angel food cake. The center is custardy, flan-like, and creamy. The bottom is a dense layer — not quite a cake and not quite a custard and altogether delicious.
With a few cartons of eggs, a few gallons of milk, and some pans, I started the journey to creating a magic cake recipe that works every time. After a few tests, how to make a vanilla magic cake became clear. There are five little technical tricks that will help make magic cake work. Follow them and watch the magic happen every time.
5 Tips for Perfect Magic Cake Every Time
1. Use the right size pan.
This might seem obvious, but in this recipe it's critical. The volume of ingredients in this recipe reliably bakes into a magic cake if you use an 8-inch-square pan that is two inches deep. A pan that is too big will be too shallow for the custard to form.
2. Whip those egg yolks.
The mixture of egg yolks, granulated sugar, and water needs to be whisked by hand, with a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, or with a handheld mixer until the the sugar is dissolved. The egg yolk-sugar-water mixture needs to be very fluffy, very foamy, and a very pale yellow — almost white — and will take about five minutes. You need this unusual base to do its job so the cake's top layers work.
3. Stir, don't fold, the whipped egg whites.
This is critical to this recipe. The egg whites, whipped to stiff peaks, are stirred gently into the batter with plenty of small, fluffy, clumps left behind. You don't want the whipped egg white to dissolve completely or give the whole batter any sort of traditional leavening or even a lightening up. Different goals require different techniques, so set aside what you may know about folding in egg whites and give it a try.
4. Bake at a low temperature.
Most cakes are baked at 350°F and a rare few at 325°F. This is one of the rare ones that is best baked at 325°F. The center is a custard and needs slow baking to cook into creamy yumminess. Make sure you have an oven thermometer to ensure you're baking this at the correct temp.
5. With magic cake, it's hard to tell if it's done, so look for signs.
Magic cake is done baking when the sides are set, the center wobbles a little, and the top is a warm brown. You will not be able to use a traditional cake tester or the tip of a sharp knife, since it will always come out a bit wet.
6. Magic cake needs time to rest and develop.
Like a good custard or cheesecake, magic cake needs time to come to room temperature and time to sit in the refrigerator (covered lightly) to really turn out best. Refrigerate for at least four hours and up to 12 before serving. (It can be served at room temperature or slightly chilled.) It can even be stored in the refrigerator for a few days (again, covered lightly). Unlike most cakes, it will not get stale in the refrigerator.
See our seasonal version: Pumpkin Magic Cake
How To Make Vanilla Magic Cake
What You Need
4 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
2 cups whole milk, half-and-half, or light cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
8-inch square pan (2 inches deep)
2 large bowls
Handheld electric mixer
- Prepare the pan: Coat an 8-inch square pan that is 2 inches deep with cooking spray. Cut 2 (8- by 12- to 16-inch) sheets of parchment paper. Lay one sheet in the pan, leaving an overhang of at least 2 inches on each side. Lay the second piece on top, across the first, leaving an overhang on the other sides. These will be your "handles" when you take the cake out of the pan; set aside.
- Heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 325°F.
- Mix the yolk, sugar, and water until pale and fluffy: In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer or a whisk (and plenty of arm power), mix the egg yolks, sugar, and water and mix until the sugar is dissolved, very fluffy, light in texture, and the mixture is a very pale yellow, 5 to 6 minutes. Do not undermix.
- Drizzle in the melted butter: While continuing to mix, drizzle the melted butter into the egg yolk mixture, and mix until it is well-incorporated. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Stir in the flour and salt: Add in the flour and salt and mix until fully combined, scraping down the bottom and side of the bowl as needed. Add the milk or cream and vanilla and mix them in gently and on a slow to medium speed until fully incorporated.
- Whisk the egg whites: If you are using a handheld mixer or whisk, pour the egg whites into a large, clean, dry mixing bowl. If you are using a stand mixer, wash and dry the bowl and whisk attachment and pour the whites into it. Whisk on high speed until the egg whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.
- Add the egg whites to the yolk mixture: Add the whipped egg whites to the egg yolk and flour mixture and mix gently with a large spoon or a whisk only, about a dozen stirs, making sure to leave a distinct layer of fluffy lumps and clumps remaining at the top. Do not overstir or overmix.
- Bake: Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the edges are set, the top is a warm to deep brown, and the center still wobbles and wiggles when the pan is jiggled, 50 to 55 minutes.
- Cool, then chill the cake: Let the cake sit in the pan at room temperature until completely cooled. Loosely cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours before serving.
- Storage: This cake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.