After much testing, this is the only vanilla cake I make anymore, except for the classic yellow.
Once you've been a pastry chef, people will assume you're a snob about cake. I will admit this is true about me to a degree. But people have kids and jobs and stuff to do, from-scratch baking is rarely anyone's priority, and there is no shame in relying on cake mixes for any reason, including simple personal preference.
That said, the following cake is the shit. This is my tweaked version of King Arthur Flour's wedding cake - excellent for that, but simple enough for any occasion. Its dense but soft texture means it stacks well, without being wooden. It's pure white, a result of the recipe's one fussy step: separating the eggs. Although the almond extract can be omitted, its inclusion will add a lovely richness to the flavor that nobody will be able to quite identify at first bite - they'll just instantly know that it's delicious and homemade.
- 0.5 cup (1 stick / 4 oz / 225g) butter, salted or unsalted, room temp
- 0.5 cup (3.5 oz / 180g) plain vegetable shortening (not butter-flavored), room temp
- 1.75 cups (12.5 oz / 350g) granulated white sugar
- 2.5 teaspoons (0.4 oz /11g) vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon (0.15 oz / 4g) almond extract (or omit, and replace with more vanilla)
- 5 large egg whites (about 5-6 oz / 150g)
- 2.75 cups (12 oz / 350g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (0.2 oz / 6g) salt
- 1 cup (8 oz / 250g) milk, anything but whole (or thinned-down whole)
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Grease and lightly flour pans: 2 round 9-inch, one 9x13 sheet pan, 2-3 loaf pans, or 3-4 dozen cupcakes.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; mix well and set aside.
Cream together butter, shortening, sugar, and extracts at high speed for at least 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add egg whites one at a time, mixing well after each. Scrape down the bowl.
Add in a third of the dry ingredients, then half of the milk, another third of the dry, the remaining milk, then the last of the dry. There's a reason for this, but it's boring.
Fill pans no more than 2/3 full, and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until browned and a knife inserted deeply in the center comes out clean.
This is enough batter to make 2 adequate round layers; I usually double the recipe and make 3 very tall ones.
The original recipe calls for cake flour. Using this does give a softer, more delicate texture, but to me it’s not worth the bother. Regular all-purpose flour works fine.
This makes a beautiful layer cake and pairs well with nearly any frosting and filling. I recommend filling with tart raspberry jam and frosting with chocolate. It also makes a great base for trifle or tiramisu.
In a round pan, this cake often domes impressively. If you’re looking to stack layers, you’ll probably want to trim the domes. Do yourself a favor and refrigerate it first, then use a serrated knife.
For minimal trauma to the cake and yourself when removing it from the pan, it really is worth the bother of greasing and flouring. Lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper (after grease + flour) will give you the best odds of unbroken cake. Wait until the pan is cool enough to touch, but not yet room temperature, before inverting it. Evilrooster's writeup here goes much more in-depth.
When made as cupcakes, for some reason these turn out with very flat tops. Delicious, just flat.