Yellow Cake Recipe

This recipe is based on Rose Levy Berenbaum’s excellent All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake, adapted slightly to my own tastes and techniques.

Yellow Butter Cake

6 large egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) cake flour, sifted
10 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Begin by preheating your oven to 350˚F. Combine the yolks, about 1/4 cup of the milk and the vanilla, beating them lightly to blend. Pour the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, then sift the flour and the leavening together into the bowl. Add the salt. Turn the mixer on low and blend the dry ingredients for about one minute. Add the soft butter and the reserved milk. Slowly raise the mixer speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes until the batter is smooth and uniform. Scrape down the bowl.

Now begin to add the yolk mixture. Pour in about 1/3 of it, beat the mixture at medium speed for 20 seconds, then thoroughly scrape the bowl, paying particular attention to the bottom by the dimple. Continue on in that fashion until the entire yolk mixture has been incorporated. Divide the mixture between the two pans. Bake for 25 minutes, then check the layers. If the middle seems slightly sunken and mushy to the touch, continue to bake for another 7-10 minutes.

When fully baked, place the layers, in the pan, on a wire rack to cool. After 15 minutes, turn them out onto the rack to cool completely, about another hour.

34 thoughts on “Yellow Cake Recipe”

  1. Hi, Joe!
    I made this for my own birthday this week (I have the misfortune of now being irrevocably and undeniably in my 40s – sigh). I liked it very much: soft but dense, tasty without being overly sweet. (And those are the exact reasons my husband didn’t like it.)
    On the down side, however, neither your whipped ganache nor easy chocolate frosting worked out. The frosting never whipped up to frosting consistency, staying somewhat thin. t was very tasty, though, so I used it. The ganache also never whipped up fluffy and remained thick and dense. Tasty dough-ish stuff.
    Or did I do it right, and that was how they were supposed to be?
    I checked to make sure my cream was good. A-yup. Chocolate is ALWAYS fresh in this house.
    Any thoughts on what I might have done wrong and what I can do to correct it? I have one layer of the cake left (in the freezer) and am willing to sacrifice my adipose tissue in the name of getting all of this right.
    Because, as I said, tasty tasty tasty. Just not the texture I was expecting.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Charm!

      It sounds like temperature is the problem here. Sounds like the whipped ganache cooled too fast and the chocolate frosting didn’t cool enough. Whipped ganache can be very fussy stuff when the weather is cool. It only needs to be whipped for a short while, then applied immediately before it starts to set up. The chocolate frosting probably just needed a bit more time to firm…or at any rate that’s what it sounds like. I’m sorry neither one of those worked for you — but I’m glad they tasted good!

      – Joe

  2. Every yellow cake I’ve made from scratch has been a little tough – maybe now I know why! I’m going to give this recipe a whirl in a couple of weeks for a birthday, but one question – I don’t like having egg halves hanging around without a plan for their use. Think I could use four yolks and one whole egg instead of six yolks? This way, I can use the four whites for Swiss meringue buttercream for the cake and not leave any egg parts languishing in the fridge, where they usually die a sad death.

    1. Hi Nicole!

      You can go that route, but the whites will make a drier cake. I suggest freezing the white instead. I freeze both yolks and whites in ice cube trays, then just thaw them out when I need them. That’s my best advice!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  3. Huh. This just occurred to me. Hopefully you check comments on really old posts!

    If you want the butter to incorporate fully into the flour first… why not melt the butter before adding it to the flour? The usual reason of wanting to aerate the butter doesn’t seem to apply in this situation. I also don’t see how temperature would make that big of a difference, provide the melted butter has cooled some. Besides, you wouldn’t have to wait just long enough for the butter to be in the perfect state of softness.

    I speak as someone who rarely uses a mixer for anything other than swiss/italian buttercream. I have a hard time figuring out when the butter in this recipe is mixed in enough by hand.

    The cake was still fantastically tasty when baked. And when unbaked 😀

    1. Hey Mari!

      Yes I do check those comments. They come through like new ones. I’ve considered that, however there’s a difference between distributing the butter and adding it in as a liquid. In that latter case you get a flatter cake than normal since the flour granules get completely coated with fat. They have a hard time forming a gluten structure, some of which is necessary for the rise.

      Thanks for the note!

      – Joe

  4. Joe,

    I actually discovered your site researching yellow cakes after two failed attempts at Alton Brown’s version. I’m going to try your version next, but one part gave me pause and I wanted to talk to you about it first.

    In several of his episodes on cakes, he strongly stresses that it’s the creaming of the butter and sugar, and the tiny seed bubbles that get made during this creaming, that ultimately determine the texture of the finished cake, or at least contribute greatly towards it. I’m totally willing to accept that this is either mistaken or overblown, though.

    Since your method takes a different route, can you comment on these two different methods?

    Thanks a lot for the killer site. I’ve learned a lot since arriving here and look forward to trying more of your recipes and methods.

    1. Hey Ted!

      Interesting you should ask. I’ve been wanting to put up a post on the one bowl method (which is what that mixing method is called) for a while now. It’s a notable omission from my “Mixing Methods” section under “Baking Basics” over there on the left. You can read about the creaming method there for now if you like. Mind if I get to this on Monday?

      Cheers, and thanks,

      – Joe

      1. Of course! Though after reading your section on the creaming method, I think I get it. Alton’s will be one of those more sturdy cakes that you mentioned, while your method will me more tender, though perhaps a bit denser, yes?

        And I loved your recipe.

        1. Bingo – you got it! I’m still going to do that little wrote up of the one-bowl method, though. It needs doing!

  5. Hi Joe,

    Can I use this yellow cake for wedding cake layers? Will it have good support in 3 tiers Fondant Cake ? Any good suggestion from you ?

    Kit

    1. Hi Kit!

      It all depends on whether you like high cakes for sculpting or low, broad cakes that don’t look as dramatic but taste better. In the former case you need a firmer, sweeter cake layer. This recipe is the latter…very tender and buttery and just fine for a tiered cake.

      – Joe

    1. Hi Amber! Any of the buttercreams match well. I like Italian meringue buttercream as a rule. As for flavor, they sky is the limit. I tend to prefer a jam or curd filling since it’s lighter, with a scraping of buttercream below to keep it from weeping into the cake. Being a lemon lover, I suppose my favorite is a plain vanilla buttercream with a lemon curd filling. My wife loves chocolate and raspberry. Anyway…does that help?

      – Joe

  6. Hi
    Just wanted to know if this cake would work for Boston Cream Pie, or do you think some other type of cake would work better? Hope you see this.

    Thanks!

  7. Hey Joe, can cake batters, specifically the one-bowl type cake batters, chilled in a fridge? Thanks Joe.

    1. Hi Nate!

      You can refrigerate them, though it’s not ideal. Bubbles tend to rise out, also you lose a little of the leavening pop. Regardless, the batter would need to come back to room temperature before you attempted to bake, to allow the fat to soften again, as well as to ensure you got good heat penetration.

      Good luck with the experiment!

      – Joe

  8. Hi Joe,

    Lately my cakes have been turning very soft to the point of falling apart, so I have been very unsuccessful when layering. I will try your recipe, but before I do I wanted to ask you a couple of questions.
    I live in higher altitude, 5400 feet. What adjustments should I make to keep the cake from being too soft? Is the use of an emulsifier going to help? do I need to use any syrup to moisten the cake when filling it? How about a chocolate cake (also turning too soft, I’m afraid).
    Thank you for all the help. My daughter’s bd is coming in a month and I need to figure out the cake.

    1. Hi Denise!

      If tenderness is a problem I’d do the high-ratio yellow cake instead…it’s more along the lines of what kids like anyway. How high up are you by the way?

      – Joe

      1. Also, it has been amazingly wet here (Denver). I don’t know if this will make a difference.
        And the cake will be a squared one.
        And I have the Cake enhancer from King Arthur, wondering if that will make a difference.

        1. Humidity shouldn’t matter much for the baking stage, though it is possible the cake got increasingly moist in the humid air. Very interesting. Again, please tell me how it all turns out!

          – Joe

  9. I just made this cake and so far I am beyond pleased! I just had a teensy tiny concern, while I was making this I noticed that the recipe said to add the reserved milk and the vanilla mixture after adding the butter to the dough, and then it goes on to say to add the yolk mixture. I was confused for a moment because the vanilla was added to the eggs&milk mixture. Then I thought it might be a typo and I wanted to inform you of it…..unless I’m missing something here.

    Thanks again for a great recipe!

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