After last week's discussion of cooking compromises, we felt honor-bound to share the recipe that makes us choose baking cakes from scratch over using a mix.
This one-bowl recipe can be mixed up in under 10 minutes, and it turns out a reliably light golden cake with a moist crumb. It's solid with flavor and the taste of butter, unlike the over-heightened, additive-ridden cake mix products, which usually taste overwhelmingly of sugar and not much else.
It's a plain, fast cake, and ideal when slathered with thick fudgy frosting. I also like to layer it with warmed jam and powder the top with confectioners sugar.
The most time-consuming part is preparing the cake pans, and you are going to have to do that whether you use a boxed mix or not. It really does come together in a few minutes, and in spite of the quick one-bowl method it has always given me reliable and consistent results. Cakes have a reputation for trickiness, but this recipe simply doesn't support that.
The recipe is pretty much straight out of the old reliable Betty Crocker. I use whole milk, since I think it adds just a little more richness, and I do not make the original recipe's allowance for margarine in place of butter. For a cake, only real butter will do!
Quick Yellow Cakemakes one 9x13 or two 9-inch cakes
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Take the butter out of the fridge to soften and preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare one 9x13-inch pan or two 9-inch round pans by greasing them thoroughly with butter or baking spray. You can also flour them, if you want, although this isn't strictly necessary. Sprinkle a little flour over them, tilt and shake to distribute evenly, then tap out the excess over the sink.
Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the softened butter and sugar together until fluffy and light, then add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated and light. Beat in the flour, salt, baking powder, and finally the milk and vanilla. Beat everything together on low for 30 seconds, then high for 3 minutes.
Immediately pour into the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops spring back slightly when pressed.
Let cool on wire racks for at least 15 minutes, then flip each pan over onto the rack and tap gently all over. Lift the pan slightly. If the cake doesn't feel like it's falling out smoothly, lay a slightly damp kitchen towel over the pan and tap again. If necessary, let the cakes cool more. If they have been baked thoroughly, however, they should fall right out of the pans once they've cooled a little and the sides of the cake have shrunk back from the pan.
Cool completely then frost and eat!
(Image: Faith Durand)