05 October 2010

Birthday blessings

Vanilla with

Everyone deserves homemade birthday cake. It ought to be right there with life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Although maybe they assumed that birthday cake was covered by the happiness bit.) This means that you (Yes, you! Okay, maybe me.) might need to get over a few things, like your doubt about your cake decorating ability. A homemade birthday cake does not need to look like it came from Charm City Cakes. If you made it with a good recipe and good ingredients and love for the recipient, it will be good, and maybe no one will fall to their knees and beg you to make their birthday cake, swearing that money is no object. But something better might happen. Someone might know that you put time and love into the cake, and they might feel loved. How cool would that be?

It's also possible that someone might declare your cake one of the few that is worth the calories, which given the caloric content of cake is really quite a statement.

The birthday boy wanted just vanilla, because the birthday boy is not a fan of chocolate. Last year I made a cake from Epicurious, and while everyone else loved it, I didn't. Mostly it was a texture thing, and recent reviews have confirmed what I suspected, whipping and folding in the egg whites at the end helped a lot. I'm going to try that some other time. But because I was down to the wire on this cake, I wanted to go with something someone I trusted had done, so I stole the birthday cake recipe from Justine, who knows what she's doing. I had to make a few adjustments, only because I didn't have self-rising flour. It was very good cake, with a nice flavor and texture.

I've wanted to try a cooked flour frosting for a while, and here was my chance. Cooked flour frostings were common in places where it was hot and not air-conditioned, because they stand up to the heat a bit better than a simple buttercream. There are a hundred thousand (give or take) variations on cooked flour frosting, all more or less the same. I used one from Tasty Kitchen which Ree herself had tried and approved. It was very good, easy to make and easy to use. It was indeed more stable than an uncooked buttercream, which was nice since I have this fear of my cake layers sliding apart and crashing dramatically onto the floor (or the mulch of the playground.)

As for decorating, well, I let the birthday boy put on sprinkles. He seemed pleased with the result.


Just Vanilla” Layer Cake

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Butter and flour two 9” cake pans.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Combine milk and vanilla in a measuring cup with spout or small pitcher.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat to combine. Scrape down the sides. Add one half of milk mixture and beat to combine. Repeat with half of remaining flour, all of remaining milk, and the last of the flour, beating just until combined to avoid over-mixing.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and gently smooth the tops. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, rotating the pans after 20 minutes to ensure even browning.

When the cake is done, remove the pans from the oven and invert layers onto cooling racks. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.

You can make the cake a day ahead. Allow layers to cool completely and then wrap separately in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Just Vanilla” Cooked Flour Frosting
(This makes just enough to frost a 9 inch layer cake with no decorations. If you want to break out your piping bag, or you really love buttercream icing, consider increasing the recipe by half.)

5 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar

Whisk together milk and flour in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and keep stirring for another minute. Stir in vanilla extract. Allow mixture to cool completely before proceeding.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy and light. Add in cooled milk mixture and beat again until fluffy and light.


  1. You're braver than I was ... I went out and bought self-rising flour, and am now trying to figure out what the heck I'm going to do with the rest of it, because as much as I liked that cake, I can't eat another one too soon! I'm glad that the recipe worked well for you. Funny ... I have cake decorating issues, too. My layers always go crooked.

  2. It wasn't bravery, I just really couldn't cope with making yet another trip to the grocery store when the store I usually patronize didn't have self-rising flour.

    Self-rising flour can be used in quick breads in place of AP flour. Just omit the baking powder and salt from the recipe.

    I normally accept crooked as part of the rustic charm of the homemade cake. In this case I did have to level off the top of each layer because when I put them tops together to make the cake, they touched in the middle with an inch gap around the sides, more than I was willing to fix with frosting.



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