When I read this recipe for the “Best Birthday Cake” Smitten Kitchen, I had one of those little kid moments and thought that she was actually talking to me! Yes, I love the “consistently perfect, moist and plush yellow layer cake” attributes of a cake mix, but I can’t recreate this “consistently plush (but not freakishly unnatural) [cake]” at home! In my extended family, August through April provides us with a birthday party at the rate of one every two weeks, if not more often, with my husband always requesting yellow cake with chocolate frosting! I admit that as I waltz down the baking aisle, gathering the required ingredients, I look longingly at the yellow cake mixes, sad that my homemade cake will no doubt be a bit grainier, and a bit flatter, but consoling myself with the fact that it’s made from scratch. With this recipe, I can cast aside my feelings of boxed-cake envy, and whip up the best birthday cake from scratch in my very own kitchen!
Best Yellow Layer Cake Recipe
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting Recipe
*Adapted from The Dessert Bible
*Makes 5 cups of frosting, or enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake
15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate)
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted.) Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid.
Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.
Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.