The Basics: Classic Vanilla Butter Cake

Baking Essentials By Rebecca Gordon Editor-In-Chief Buttermilk Lipstick Work Bowl & Whip AttachmentCooking & Baking Essentials

The Technique

Classic Vanilla Butter Cake

Our backyard magically became a carnival one July afternoon in about 4th grade or so when I planned my younger sister’s birthday party complete with a themed layer cake. My siblings & a few of the neighborhood kids manned face painting & go-fishing prize booths but what the little ladies loved the very most were the fortune tellers dressed as gypsies. A dark, mysterious spot housed in the broom closet under the stairwell lit only by flashlight was led by the older kids. A fitted bed sheet draped over a suitcase stand topped with a Monopoly game board served as the table for palm reading & Magic 8 Ball advice. The small, stubby door would boldly swing open with a rhythmic clanking of my mother’s borrowed costume jewelry. These sweet faces would emerge wearing big, bright eyes & quiet smiles. The older kids made the younger kids feel so special & important, complementing the charming celebration in perfect time.

How To Bake A Classic Vanilla Butter Cake

A layer cake sets the tone for any celebration. Standing tall, they represent the delightful gathering for which we have all come together. Light & airy vanilla cake stacked & bound with rich, buttery frosting is a glorious time-honored combination when presenting a loved one with, quite literally, beautiful tiers of joy. The confection is a blank canvas that can be decorated any number of ways & a bonafide crowd pleaser. When simple, traditional flavors are at the forefront, it’s important to pay particular attention to the details making them the finest they can be. Cake texture plays a huge role in creating this All-American favorite therefore, look no further than the mixing method in which to prepare the batter to achieve a tender, delicate crumb. Follow my tips & get ready to bake the very best layer cake of your life.

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rebecca gordon buttermilk lipstick Southern Recipes & How To's Easy Tailgate Recipes RebeccaGordon ButtermilkLipstickClassic Vanilla Butter Cake
makes 16 servings

Egg whites & yolks play different roles in cake batter. Although the yolks provide structure & richness, one less yolk will result in a cleaner, less eggy flavor.

1 cup whole milk
3 whole eggs plus 1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 {8-inch} cake pans with shortening & lightly dust with flour. Line the cake pan bottoms with a round of parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper with cooking spray. Set aside. Stir together the milk, the eggs, the vanilla & the almond extract in a medium bowl. Set aside. Whisk together the flour, the sugar, the baking powder & the salt in the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer fit with the whip attachment. Add the softened & the melted butter. Blend on Low speed for 30 seconds. Increase the mixer to Medium speed & blend for 1 1/2 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally & scrape down the bowl sides with a rubber spatula. With the mixer running on Low speed, slowly add the milk mixture. Increase the speed to Medium & beat for 45 seconds. Increase the speed to High & beat an additional 20 seconds or until the batter is smooth & silky in appearance, holding soft peaks when the whip attachment is lifted. Once the blending is complete, use the spatula to fold in any butter or sugar from the bottom of the work bowl for a completely smooth batter. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Drop them a few inches from the countertop surface several times to settle the air bubbles for an even rise. Place the filled cake pans on the center rack in the oven. 

Bake 26 to 30 minutes or until the cake is lightly browned on the surface & the center is just set. The cakes will slightly pull away from the pan sides. Remove the cakes from the oven. Run a small palate knife between the cake layers & the pans to gently loosen. Let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans. Cool completely on wire racks with the cake tops facing upward, about 2 hours.

Southern Recipes RebeccaGordon ButtermilkLipstickFROM THE KITCHEN OF BUTTERMILK LIPSTICK 
{testing notes}

Baking Tutorials. Classic Vanilla Butter Cake By Rebecca Gordon Editor-In-Chief Buttermilk Lipstick Culinary & Entertaining Brand Baking & Cooking Tutorials Practical Culinary Techniques For Everyday Cooks Editorial Director Digital Culinary Photo Journalist Pastry Chef Writer Food Stylist TV Cooking Personality Game Day Entertaining Modern Southern SocialsHow To Make Moist & Tender Basic Vanilla Cake Layers

A beautifully handcrafted celebration cake can be created in your very own kitchen. The blending method yields a tender cake crumb desired by many because of its supreme velvety texture on the tongue. For this method, the dry ingredients generally consisting of flour, sugar, leavening, spices & salt are combined in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. They are blended with the fat before the eggs & the remaining ingredients are added. This process is extremely important to achieving the desired texture as it allows the fat to coat the flour preventing the development of gluten once the liquid ingredients are combined. Gluten is the protein present in flour that creates structure & elasticity which is highly desirable for building excellent quality yeast breads but not so great for making a bakery-style birthday cake where tenderness is sought after in the cake layers.

It should also be noted that when preparing a cake using the blending method, the mixer is fit with the whisk attachment & not the traditional paddle attachment often times used when preparing a classic pound cake. You’ll get that delicate mouth feel desired for classic butter cake layers as it will help to disperse the ingredients better and in a shorter amount of time compared to the creaming method. 

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rebecca gordon buttermilk lipstick Southern Recipes & How To's Easy Tailgate Recipes RebeccaGordon ButtermilkLipstickThe Technique

There are many ways to blend a cake batter from the creaming method where softened butter & sugar are beaten for several minutes until well aerated before adding the remaining ingredients in a particular order to a combination method of separating the eggs & beating the yolks & the whites independently then folding everything together just before the batter goes into the oven. There’s also the the muffin method, a quick bread approach, in which the eggs, dairy & fat, whether oil or melted butter are blended together & stirred into a the dry ingredients generally consisting of flour, sugar, leavening & salt. The muffin method is probably most identifiable to southerners when preparing good, savory cornbread yielding a coarse grained crumb. The mixing method that you choose plays a large role in the cake texture that you will produce.

The Blending Method

If you’re looking to recreate a cake slice similar to one from your corner bakery, the blending method was more than likely used. This mixing method yields an unbelievably moist cake, a tender crumb & offers a melt-in-your-mouth quality. Because of the delicate nature of the baked cake when using this mixing method, many times I’ll freeze the layers for 30 minutes to prevent tearing during the icing stage. The secret take away that gives you the desired cake texture you’re chasing, one that many professional bakers already know, lies in the how & the why. Once you’re in the know, you’ll be well on your way to preparing celebration cakes straight out of your own kitchen from scratch with confidence & ease. From the role that ingredients play to decorating the cake layers, here’s what you should know.

Baking Tutorials. Vanilla Cake Layers By Rebecca Gordon Buttermilk LipstickNo. 1

The Ingredients

The Dry Ingredients

Since the blending time will be relatively short, it’s important to whisk the dry ingredients together ahead of time. This will aide in evenly dispersing the leavening, in particular, throughout.

The Fat

 I like to begin with one stick of butter that’s very soft– a bit softer than if I were to use the creaming method. You do want the butter to still hold it’s shape. Unwrap the stick & hold it over the mixing bowl allowing it to tumble away from the paper. It should smash into the ingredients in the bowl, resembling a good spreading butter. This will help keep the mixing with the flour to a minimum.

Melt one stick of butter & allow it to cool slightly before using. You could use an equal amount of vegetable oil for this step, however I think the butter flavor makes all the difference.

The Wet Ingredients

Once the wet ingredients are added, the blend time is relatively short. This will help to achieve those moist, tender cake layers. Have these ingredients already combined for quick distribution into the mixture.

The Flavorings

 Pure vanilla extract imparts a high-quality flavor. Almond extract is a secret ingredient bakers sometimes use to add oomph to basic cake & frosting flavors. Without it, you may find the cake to be plain & a touch bland. A little goes a long way so definitely start small.

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The Batter

Expect a velvety-smooth cake batter once blended. Use a rubber spatula to fold the batter from the bottom of the mixing bowl to be sure all of the ingredients are well blended before portioning into the cake pans for baking.

Divide the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. If you want to get technical, place each cake pan on a kitchen scale for accuracy. Once filled, drop the pans on the countertop several times a few inches from the surface. This helps to settle air bubbles for an even rise. There’s nothing better than having baked off level cake layers right out of the gate. No trimming required.

Baking Tutorials. Classic Vanilla Butter Cake By Rebecca Gordon Editor-In-Chief Buttermilk Lipstick Digital Culinary & entertaining Brand Cooking & Baking Tutorials Practical Culinary Techniques For Everyday Cooks Pastry Chef Modern Southern SocialsNo. 3

The Baking & The Cooling 

Position a rack in the center of your oven. Place all of the filled pans on the same rack for even baking. If you notice the tops are browning too quickly, rotate the pans during baking. This really shouldn’t need to done until later in the process. Check through the oven door around the 20 minute mark. The cake should be relatively stable at this point to avoid fallen layers if you need to open the oven door to make an adjustment.

Allow the baked cake layers to stand in the pans at least 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool. The top will be very delicate & moist. It may stick to the wire rack making it difficult to maneuver later on. Invert onto a large flat plate without a lip, then invert again onto the wire rack so the top side faces upward. The layers are extremely tender. If tearing does occur, don’t worry too much. A swoosh of frosting can hide imperfections. 

The Troubleshooting

You may notice a thin skin of delicate cake that can easily be pulled away from the cake layer surface. Many bakers use their fingers to remove & brush this a way for easy frosting. Conversely, that same skin may peel off if it rests directly on a wire rack, cake plate or even plastic wrap. The cake layers will still be breezy to frost if this happens.

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The Freezing & The Frosting

Freezing tender cake layers, even just slightly, will aide in the icing process. It will keep crumbs & tearing at bay. I also find that a crumb coat isn’t necessary when icing them. A crumb coat is a thin bit of frosting used to seal cake crumbs before the main bit of frosting is applied. The finished cake will have a clean, smooth appearance. I’m not a fan of freezing anything for an extended period of time as the quality
deteriorates rapidly. If you must, wrap the cake layers individually in plastic wrap, then in heavy-duty foil to keep odors out. Use within a week.

Start by positioning the bottom cake layer top side up on a flat plate. Many bakers will add a dab of icing between the cake & the plate to
keep it from sliding while decorating. Once a layer of frosting has been applied to the first cake layer, invert a second cake layer top side
down. This will prevent that delicate cake portion from the surface from getting crumbs throughout the rest of the cake as you’re icing it. Repeat that step when adding the final cake layer.

The Tune
“Oh Happy Day” Aretha Franklin featuring Mavis Staples

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About Rebecca Gordon

* Southern Born * Southern Bred * Tailgate Queen * Southern College Football Fanatic * SEC Tailgate Strategist * Southern Recipe Writer & Sometimes Novelist * Half-Hour Hostess * Media Personality * Houndstooth Hound Owner * Small Town Dreamer * Big Idea Doer * 3rd Generation Pimiento Cheese Fixer * Casserole Maker * Budweiser Drinker * Bourbon Cocktail Sipper * Peanut Butter Love Affair * Cookie Monster * Calorie Burner * Retainer of Useless Pop Culture One Liners * Terrible Dancer * Even Worse Singer but doesn't care * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Rebecca Gordon shares over 20 years of cooking knowledge in the instructional filled original editorial content on Buttermilk Lipstick as well as the cooking class format videos that can be found on her YouTube channel through regular collaboration with numerous media outlets. Gordon draws from an extensive background in corporate publishing spanning over 13 years on both the business and editorial side focusing on women’s southern lifestyle. She is a classically trained pastry chef and draws from fine dining restaurant experience from a James Beard award winning chef as well as her southern roots upbringing to share cooking, entertaining & style content relevant to today’s modern woman.

3 Responses to The Basics: Classic Vanilla Butter Cake

  1. Virginia Peelen July 10, 2016 at 9:51 am #

    What is ap flour?

    • Rebecca Gordon July 10, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      Hey Aunt Virginia!

      It’s short for all-purpose. I wanted to use something most folks already have in their cupboard. Hope y’all are doing well! Love you, Becca

      • Virginia Peelen July 10, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

        Thanks, Becca. Hope to see u soon

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