White layers are gorgeous — and very “spring-like” — especially when accompanied by a light-colored frosting and filling (I’m thinking especially of a citrus curd of some kind). Making them is no more difficult that making any other one-bowl-type cake layer. Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and assembling your ingredients. Sift the cake flour into your mixer bowl:
White cake lovers treasure the image of grandma gently folding a mound of whipped egg whites into a rich, buttery batter. Unfortunately it’s whipped whites that are the cause of what a lot of people don’t like in white cake: dryness. Or, if those egg white bubbles pop en masse, density. Plus dryness. Which is really no good for anybody. Nope, when it comes to white cake the “two-stage” or “one bowl” method is really the only way to go. You’ll need:
10 ounces (scant 2 1/4 cups) cake flour
10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (12 tablespoons) soft butter
5 egg whites
8 ounces (1 cup) milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or for fun, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. almond)
I had a sudden request to provide a birthday cake for a party for a banana-loving 2-year-old. How do you say no to that? This recipe is virtually identical to my mother’s banana bread, just re-engineered a bit to make it more “cake”-like. I took away one of the three bananas (since bananas are dense) and a third of the flour. I also changed to a layer cake mixing method since a tight, uniform crumb is one of the defining features of cake. The formula now goes like this:
There’s only one absolutely critical thing you need to remember when making red velvet cake: wear an old shirt. Other than that it’s much like making a basic yellow butter cake. The odd alchemical steps you find in many traditional recipes really aren’t necessary. Plenty of food coloring and a little cocoa is the extent of the juju.
Which is not to say that red velvet cake is indiscernible from yellow cake in the mouth. The quarter cup of cocoa does create a distinctive taste and texture, and the food coloring itself brings a few unique hints of flavor to the party. Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, assembling your ingredients and preparing two 9″ cake layer pans. Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle (beater). Stir it all on low for about 30 seconds.
A lot of very creative balderdash surrounds the red velvet cake, from its origin myths to its chemistry to its odd little preparation rituals (making a paste of red food coloring and cocoa powder, etc.). There’ll be more on all that this week. For now all you need to know is that red velvet cake is little more than a buttermilk layer cake with a hint of chocolate and a whole lot of red food coloring. It goes like this:
6 large egg yolks
11 ounces (1 1/4 cups plus two tablespoons buttermilk)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ounces red food coloring
13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) cake flour, sifted
10 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Sheet cake lovers, this is your cake. It’s as close as you can get to a commercial sheet cake consistency without the high ratio flour and emulsified shortening that the pros use. It’s great for stacking and decent for carving (though if you really want to get serious about cake theatrics you’ll want to do a google search for “durable cake recipe”). But of course the main reason people like a sheet cake is for the decorating potential. Quite a canvas they present, oh yes they do.
For those looking to imitate the sort of chocolate cake you get from a boxed mix, or you want a chocolate sheet cake like like you’d get from a larger commercial bakery, this is your ticket. This cake has the tight crumb and relative durability you want, plus it bakes up well in broad cake pans. This formula is enough for one 11″ x 14″ x 2″ sheet cake pan or three 8″ x 2″ round layer pans. It can be easily scaled up or down depending on your needs.
As with the high ratio yellow cake recipe, emulsification is king here. The recipe is built accordingly, making a process allowance for the cocoa powder. An interesting feature of cocoa powder is that it delivers double the chocolate flavor if you combine it with boiling milk or water before you add it to your mix (another trick from the world of box cake formulators). Since I can’t abide wasting perfectly good chocolate flavor, I’ll be doing that.
I should add that this cake can be made with butter if you wish. As it is it won’t be exactly like a commercial cake because most of us don’t have access to emulsified shortening or high ratio flour, which are usually used to make high ratio cakes. But butter will work here. For more moisture you can substitute oil for some of the fat (olive oil is best since it also adds emulsifiers and tightens the crumb. This recipe will make one 11″ x 14″ x 2″ sheet cake or three 8″ round layers.
The name of the game in high ratio cake recipes is “emulsification”, which means an extremely smooth and integrated mixture with all the ingredients distributed as finely and uniformly as possible. That’s how the very fine and strong crumb of a commercially made cake layer is achieved. Most people don’t have access to the high ratio flour and emulsified shortening that commercial bakeries use, so I’m adding adding extra emulsifiers in the form of egg yolks. What are emulsifiers? Simply little whatsit molecules that get between other molecules and keep them from forming big clumps. A key to this is making sure all your ingredients are room temperature, since egg yolk emulsifiers don’t work well when they’re cold.
Many a little old lady has trodden caramel cake territory. Go there and you’ll find yourself getting in touch with your inner granny, the one with the heavy orthotic shoes, lace collar and tinge of blue in her hair. I did and I can tell you that it made me a better baker. However later I found myself complaining about street crime, the rudeness of pharmacy clerks and the scandal of mini skirts. It was a double-edged sword.