I have never really been fond of making what could be called “traditional” cakes – I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m still a lousy decorator. My thought is this: without the whole looking pretty thing, why would you make a normal cake?
It seems it would be prudent of me to expand my abilities, though, because making traditional cakes is pretty fun. If you have ever seen Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes, you’ll understand that a traditional cake is a blank canvas on which you can create nearly anything. It’s pretty awesome. As much as I love making more intricate cakes like the Bon Appétit Ribbon Cake or a Milk Chocolate Mousse Cake with Hazelnut Crunch – and believe me, they are amazing to eat and very fun to make – well-made traditional cakes have a simple elegance to them. If you were to take a look at my pinterest boards, you would see I have one of them dedicated to Food Decoration and Presentation; it’s half-filled with beautiful cakes.
In the mean time, I have made a pretty awesome cake for my friend Rebecca. As I have done with nearly all the newer people I have met and will be in close contact with for a while, I asked her pretty early on what kind of cakes/sweets/desserts she likes. She had mentioned what I would call a seven-layer cake, with each layer comprised of a different item – cookie crust, brownie, chocolate cake, white cake, etc. As much as I would enjoy that challenge, it was just a little much to wrap my brain around having just come off the holiday season and baked my mind away. After consulting people, I decided on a visually striking cake that would be much easier to execute.
You can make this cake with any non-colorful base, really – you could use boxed cake mix if you wanted. I decided on a butter cake, as it would be hearty enough to deal with having a bunch of food coloring mixed in, and would retain a good bit of moisture. If I could have, though, I totally would have done a lemon chiffon, but I don’t think it would be sturdy enough to endure the food color additive aspect and keep its levity.
I briefly thought of adding a flavoring to the cake to give it some interest, but realized it really wouldn’t need it; instead, I added it to the icing and it came out pretty amazing.
Below you will find the recipes I used and the techniques. I didn’t take any pictures during the process, but I will provide links to the pages I used as reference for it.
Yellow Butter Cake
3 1/2 cups cake flour*
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking pouder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, diced, at room temperature (dice while cold – it’s easier)
1 cup milk, divided
4 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
*to make cake flour, substitute 2 tbsp cornstarch for 2 tbsp flour for each 1 cup flour; be sure to sift to ensure adequate distribution
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat two 8-inch cake pans lightly with cooking spray, or wipe down with vegetable oil or butter and finely coat with flour.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the butter and 1/2 cup of the milk. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
In a separate bowl, blend the eggs, egg whites, remaining 1/2 cup milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the batter in 3 addition, mixing for 2 minutes on medium speed after each addition to ensure incorporation.
Divide the batter evenly between six (or however many colors you’re doing) smaller bowls. Each bowl should have its own stir stick of some sort, unless you want to be washing the same stirring implement over and over again. Add a small amount of color to each bowl, stirring to distribute evenly. In whatever order you desire, add spoonfuls of each color to a pan, each time putting it into the center – check out Siriously Delicious’s image below and click the link if you would like to see her explanation:
Once finished with the color plopping, place pans in oven and bake until the layers spring back when touched lightly in the center, 35-40 minutes.
Remove the layers from the oven and cool completely in their pans on wire racks. Release the sides and bottom of the layers from the pans with a narrow metal spatula or a table knife before unmolding.
And now for the fun! Because I prefer to surprise – and also frankly because the colors are VERY INTENSE in this cake – I opted to have it look very unassuming from the outside. Thus I went with a simple buttercream frosting, though I gussied it up with a bit of orange extract.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, plus extra as needed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup heavy cream, half & half, or whole milk
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until it is very light in texture, 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, extracts, and salt and mix on low speed until the sugar and butter are blended, scraping down the bowl with a silicone spatula as needed. Increase the speed to medium and, with the mixer running, add the cream in a thin stream. Increase the speed to high and whip the buttercream until very smooth, light, and a good spreading consistency. Adjust the consistency if necessary by adding a bit of confectioners’ sugar or cream. Use to fill, ice, and decorate the cake.
Ok, I couldn’t help but put the confetti sprinkles on the outside to give a little hint – it looked to plain without it, and I just don’t have the skills yet to make plain icing look super-awesome.
The finished product from the inside – I did put WAAAAY too much icing on the top – need to refine my technique there. We’ll see how I do on my next cake.