Growing up, Ms. Crocker and Mr. Hines were VIP's - Very Important Packages - at our house. Before Justin & Andy's schlong song, this is what you wanted in a box. These easy-bake cakes ensured every occasion had frosted treats. No event was too small. Dance recital? Funfetti. An A essay from D-minus Decker? German Chocolate. My sister discovered that adding more oil than directed created exceptionally moist cakes; now a bake-from-scratch maven, it was her first glimmer of pastry prowess.
Hundreds of cakes and cupcakes later, my taste buds have been trained so that only this simple style of cake suits me. Most bakeries operate on a More is More method, where saccharine, buttercream frosting overwhelms the actual cake. So, I turned to my trusty recipe pros, and, voila... Smitten Kitchen's Best Birthday Cake!
This is the adult version of my childhood fave, the classic yellow n' chocolate combo. With its buttermilk batter and sour cream icing, sour trumps sweet in this grownup cake. This is dessert for the dry martini, not the juice box, crowd--though eaters of all ages will gobble up this goodness.
Today is my father's birthday. His real one, that is (he was raised believing his birth was in November, a well-intended fib his mother used to sneak him into school). Not surprisingly, my bi-celebration dad thought dessert was the best part of the meal. In honor of the man who gave me my sweet tooth and abundant appetite, here's a slice of sweetness. Bon Anniversaire, Papa!
Yellow Layer Cake
from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake.
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.
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. 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
Adapted from The Dessert Bible (by Cook's Illustrated Chris Kimball)
In this easy-peesy recipe, no sugar means more chocolate-y oomph. For those super-dark chocolate lovers, opt for bittersweet over semisweet. Be sure your sour cream is at room temperature to ensure a smooth and clump-free frosting.
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
*optional: rainbow sprinkles/dots for a dash of good cheer
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.