This Vintage Silver Cake Is Perfectly Tender and Light

updated Dec 12, 2019
Silver Cake with Pink Frosting

This early to mid-twentieth-century white cake, made with copious amounts of stiffly peaked egg whites, is perfectly tender and light.


Prep30 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 25 minutes

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Credit: Alice Gao

This early- to mid-20th-century white cake, one of my favorite recipes from my cookbook The Vintage Baker, is made with nary an egg yolk but with copious amounts of stiffly peaked egg whites. When researching the book, I encountered many recipes for this cake in my collection of vintage recipe booklets, often with slight variations on the name: Silver Sea Foam Loaf, Penny-Wise Silver Cake, and Silver White Cake. I could hardly wait to take a stab at developing my own — I’m a sucker for a recipe with a following, and particularly one with a whimsical name.

I ended up revamping a recipe for White Moon Cake from my 1931 booklet entitled “Home Baked Delicacies.” I renamed it “Silver Cake” and substituted ice water for the milk, as ice water makes for the most perfect of cake crumbs. I had picked up the ice water trick over a decade prior, while working at a neighborhood bakery that specialized in creating old-school American desserts. The bakery’s white cake was known for its off-the-charts tenderness, and ice water was its secret ingredient. 

I also amped up the vanilla and added a bit of salt, then iced the whole thing in my favorite old-fashioned frosting, American buttercream, and in my favorite color, pink. The frosting is wonderfully light and fluffy, due to an extremely long mixing time at a very low speed. A generous sprinkling of pink sparkling sugar on the top and sides makes for a festive and pretty cake. But if pink is not your jam, the cake would be lovely with white frosting decorated with green and red sugars for the winter holidays, or tinted a pastel color and sprinkled with sugars in complementary hues in the spring.

This Silver Cake is a wonderful blank canvas, no matter the time of year or occasion, and if it doesn’t make for the best birthday cake ever, I’m not sure what does.

Silver Cake with Pink Frosting

This early to mid-twentieth-century white cake, made with copious amounts of stiffly peaked egg whites, is perfectly tender and light.

Prep time 30 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Serves 16

Nutritional Info


For the cake:

  • Cooking spray or softened butter

  • 2 1/4 cups

    cake flour, sifted

  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon

    table salt

  • 1/2 cup

    vegetable shortening

  • 1/4 cup

    unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    ice water

  • 4

    large egg whites, stiffly beaten

For the pink buttercream:

  • 1 1/2 cups

    unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    table salt

  • 6 cups

    powdered sugar, sifted, divided

  • 2/3 cup

    whole milk or heavy cream

  • 4 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • Red food coloring, optional (but so pretty)

  • Pink sanding sugar for decorating


  1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 2 (9x2-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray or softened butter. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper and grease the parchment.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the shortening, butter, and vanilla on medium to medium-high speed until fluffy and light, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the granulated sugar and continue beating for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture doubles in volume.

  3. Decrease the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with two additions of the water, scraping down the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Stop the mixer when there are still streaks of flour in the batter. Finish mixing by hand, adding the egg whites in three stages, and folding them in with a rubber spatula.

  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating at the halfway point. The cakes are ready when a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the cake has just started to come away from the sides of the pan. Let cool for about 20 minutes, and invert the cakes right-side up onto cooling racks. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

  5. Make the buttercream: In the cleaned bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and soft. On low speed, slowly add the salt and 2 cups of the powdered sugar, scraping the bowl periodically with a rubber spatula. Add one-fourth of the milk and mix until incorporated. Continue mixing in this manner, adding the remaining powdered sugar and milk, until the frosting is fluffy and spreadable.

  6. Add the vanilla and a few drops of food coloring, if using, and continue mixing on medium-low to medium speed for at least 5 minutes, until fluffy and stable. A longer mixing time results in exceptionally light frosting.

  7. Generously frost the cooled cake layers with the buttercream, using an offset spatula or butter knife. If you do not want a thickly frosted cake, you will have leftover frosting. Sprinkle sanding sugar on top of the first frosted layer, before placing the second on top of it, and on the top and sides of the frosted cake once you are done. Slice the cake using a long serrated knife.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cakes can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored on the counter for up to 1 day. The frosting will keep on the counter in an airtight container for up to 1 day, but may need to be re-whipped in a stand mixer before using.

Storage: The cake will keep, lightly covered in plastic wrap, on the counter for up to 3 days.

Reprinted with permission from The Vintage Baker © 2018 by Jessie Sheehan, Chronicle Books.