We love to bake a good old-fashioned layer cake, and needless to say we love to eat one too. But the process of baking and decorating a large cake can be time-consuming, and frankly the week-long struggle against the temptation of leftovers isn't always quite as fun as that initial slice. That's why we love this six-inch cake, so easy to put together that you can do it on a weeknight, and small enough that you aren't left with too much leftover cake to contend with, even if there are only two of you to enjoy it.
The recipe is from Flo Braker, who can always be counted on for a reliable winner. It turns out perfectly every time, and the frosting is super easy to work with. All in all, the process of baking and frosting it takes about an hour and forty minutes: half an hour to put the batter together; half an hour to bake; half an hour to cool while making the frosting (these small layers cool quickly); ten minutes to frost (tops). Chances are you've got everything you need in your pantry already. Take out your butter in the morning before leaving for work, and start preheating your oven right when you get home.
I came across this recipe in the beautiful cookbook Birthday Cakes (Chronicle Books, 2004). My only major note is that I use a coarse-grained organic sugar. The first time I made this cake, I was out of my favorite ultra-fine bakers' sugar, but I had a bag of organic sugar in the pantry, so I (warily) used that instead. It came out with such an interesting crumb—chewy and a little dense, almost like a pound cake, but fluffier—that I've been using it for this cake ever since.
Adapted from Birthday Cakes by Kathryn Kleinman (Chronicle Books, 2004); original recipe from Flo Braker
Yield: One 6-inch 2-layer cake
For the yellow cake:
1 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (I use organic sugar, which has a slightly coarse grain)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the chocolate frosting:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour two 6-inch round cake pans and knock out the excess flour.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. (If you're using the organic sugar, the texture of your mixture will be quite gritty.) Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla. On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended.
Spoon equal amounts of batter into each pan and smooth the tops evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until light golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto wire racks to cool completely.
For the frosting: In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the butter and the chocolate over low heat. In a medium bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar with the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth. Add the chocolate mixture. Set the bowl over another another bowl half-filled with ice water. With a rubber spatula, beat just until the frosting is thick enough to spread.
Spread one cake layer with about one-fourth of the frosting. Set the second layer on top and spread the remaining frosting on the sides and top of the cake, swirling with your spatula.
This cake keeps beautifully, covered at room temperature for several days, so there's no need to tackle the leftovers right away!