After last week's discussion of cooking compromises, I felt honor-bound to share the recipe that makes me 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 and golden cake with a moist crumb. It's solid in 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.
This is a plain, fast cake — the perfect canvas for creamy swirls of buttercream and drips of fudge. It makes a fantastic and impressive birthday cake, but it's also perfect just layered with warm jam and some whipped cream for a simple dessert.
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!
I do not say this lightly: I truly believe this is the best cake I've ever had the pleasure of making or eating. It has an almost velvety texture, simultaneously tender but sturdy. It tastes of vanilla and butter in the best possible way. The cake also layers well — I was never worried it would crack or crumble as I stacked the layers and piled on buttercream.
And yes, the recipe is a dream to make. I say this as a nervous cake-baker. I was really amazed at how quickly and easily the batter came together and how well it baked up in the pan. Everything went exactly as expected, and I never had cause to worry about anything.
I hope this is your experience as well! I really think this is a recipe worthy of your collection.
- Emma, October 2015
Yellow Butter Cake
Makes one 9x13 or two 9-inch cakes
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups whole 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. Sprinkle a little flour over the pan, then tilt and shake to distribute evenly, then tap out the excess over the sink. You can also line the bottom with parchment for extra insurance, if you'd like.
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 the mixture looks creamy and very pale yellow. Beat in the flour, salt, and baking powder at low speed, followed by the milk and vanilla. Beat everything together on low for 30 seconds, and then on high for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Immediately divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops spring back slightly when pressed and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.
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, decorate as you'd like, and eat! The unfrosted cake will keep, wrapped in plastic and at room temperature, for about a week; the baked cakes can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
- If you're planning on frosting our cake, here is my favorite recipe: How To Make Basic Buttercream.
- For more on wrapping and storing leftover cake, see this article: Expert Advice: How to Wrap, Store, and Keep Cake Fresh
This recipe has been updated — first published May 2012.