No one baked in my family. Not often, anyway.
In fact, I distinctly remember only two desserts ever being made with any consistency through my childhood. Crème Caramel and Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting. I remember both fondly, both were always made by my father, and always on a Sunday.
The crème caramel was always perfect. Flawlessly executed and topped with jarred caramel sauce. The yellow cake was, well….boxed yellow cake. Made from a mix and covered in pre-made, pre-packaged chocolate buttercream. I don’t remember it because it was particularly good, I remember it because it was (and still is) my Dad’s favorite.
He always asked for that boxed yellow cake for his birthday. I’ve made it so many times over the years. Once my younger sister made it. I still remember the way the batter bubbled over in heaps onto the oven floor as it baked because the pans had one full box of mix in each. That was the last time she made the yellow cake. As the years have passed I’ve thought many times about making my own version of a yellow cake from scratch. Something made of whole ingredients, free from the additives and preservatives. As it turns out, King Arthur Flour beat me to it. And good thing, too! Their recipe is utter perfection.
Every year, King Arthur Flour chooses one great recipe to focus on and this is the year of the Classic Birthday Cake! Imagine my excitement when I found out that the perfect yellow cake recipe had already been fashioned, tried, and tested, and all I had to do was follow the instructions to end up with the most tender, vanilla-scented, buttercream enrobed DREAM. What makes it such a magical cake? For one, it combines butter and oil for the perfect texture and flavor. I generally use oil in my cakes because I feel it leaves them more moist than butter, but then I miss the butter because it adds such richness to the flavor of the cake. This cake has the best of both worlds. The texture is spot on, and so is the flavor.
The frosting is smooth and chocolatey, rich and fluffy. Adding hot water to the cocoa before beating in the butter keeps it free from lumps and wonderfully silky.
Of course, I had to test this cake out on the man himself, and my Dad gave it a big thumbs up. Looks like I know what I’ll be baking for his birthday this year!
A few tips for baking and frosting a perfectly perfect classic yellow birthday cake:
*Be sure not to overmix the cake when adding the flour. Mixing the flour into the batter for too long over-develops the gluten and will make your cake tough.
*Line the bottom of your cake pans with parchment paper! Why risk having those beautiful cake layers getting stuck to the pan? I always add parchment to the bottom of my pans and brush the sides with a mixture of equal parts flour, shortening, and oil for a flawless release every time.
*Don’t over-bake the cakes! Over-baking by even a minute can leave you with a dry crumbly cake. I removed my cakes from the oven just as soon as the tops were set. You can test this by lightly pressing your finger on top of the center of the cake. If you meet a slight resistance, the cake is done. This trick doesn’t work quite as well with super dense cakes, but functions great in this situation. The cake will be a bit wobbly until it is fully cooked. If it’s not jiggling when bumped, it should be ready to test.