Friday, February 24, 2012

Classic Birthday Cake

Remember when you were a kid, and at your birthday party, your mom would bring out some fluffy yellow cake, rich and buttery, slathered in soft, delicate frosting and sprinkled with confetti sprinkles?

This is that cake.

I found the recipe in the dessert cookbook published by the bakery Amy's Bread, which sells slices of this incredibly luscious cake paired with a rich, thick frosting so sugary it practically burns the roof of your mouth. I was a bit daunted by the complicated recipe (which calls for "poured fondant"), so I went for a simple swiss buttercream that's delicious but very light, maybe even a bit too light for some.

For me, it's all good.

photo by Anthony Palatta

The recipe, titled "Simply Delicious Yellow Cake," lists its ingredients by volume as well as grams and ounces for those of you with a kitchen scale.  For convenience, I'm listing them by volume, but you can find the other measurements on p. 169 of the book, which is well worth the investment.

Simply Delicious Yellow Cake

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups and 3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 3/4 cups and 2 teaspoons sugar
5 eggs

Frosting of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 x 2 cake pans with baking spray that contains both oil and flour, then line the bottoms with rounds of baking parchment and lightly spray the parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk them gently for even distribution. In a separate bowl combine the milk and vanilla.

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until it is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs gradually, mixing well after each addition, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl often.

Reduce the mixing speed to LOW and add the flour mixture to the butter in 3 parts, alternating with 2 parts of the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until it is evenly incorporated. This is a thick, fluffy batter, resembling whipped cream. There should not be any lumps or dry pockets of flour remaining. If the batter has a curdled appearance it has not been mixed enough. Increase the speed to medium and mix for another minute or until it is thick and fluffy.

Divide the batter equally between the 2 prepared cake pans. The pans should be about 2/3 full. Smooth the batter so it fills the pans evenly. Place the pans on the center rack in the preheated oven. Bake them for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is almost ready to pull away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Rotate the layers carefully from front to back after 20 minutes for even baking.

Cool the pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a wire rack that has been sprayed with cooking spray and lift off the pans. To prevent cracking, carefully right each layer so the top side is up and the parchment-lined bottom is down. Cool them on the rack completely. Before frosting, be sure to remove the parchment from the bottom of each layer.

To assemble the cake, place one layer, top side down, on a flat serving plate. Cut several 4-inch-wide strips of parchment or waxed paper to slide under the edge of the laer to keep the plate clean. Using a thin metal spatula, spread the top of this cake round with 1/2-inch thick layer of frosting, leaving a 1/4-inch unfrosted border around the edge. Place the second layer top side up on the first, aligning the layers evenly. Spread a generous layer of frosting around the sides of the cake, rotating the plate as you work so you're not reaching around the cake to frost the other side. Try not to let any loose crumbs get caught in the frosting. Let the frosting extend about 1/4 inch above the top of the cake.

Starting in the center of the cake, cover the top with a generous layer of frosting, taking it all the way to the edge and merging it with the frosting on the sides. Try to use a forward-moving, circular motion, not a back-and-forth motion to avoid lifting the top skin of the cake. Rotate the plate as necessary. Use the spatula or a spoon to make decorative swirls. Slide the pieces of paper out from under the edge of the cake and discard them. Store the cake at room temperature, preferably under a cake dome, for up to 3 days.

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