Yellow Cake

My grandparents, for their 50th wedding anniversary, had a celebration at one of the fancy resort hotels nearby.  The ballroom that was used for this celebration was actually at the same resort hotel were my high school graduation dinner/dance was held, albeit the décor (especially the furniture) were considerably nicer. I guess they don’t break out the nice stuff for high school students. Besides the room décor being nicer, I don’t remember very much about the whole event. I am pretty sure a lot of relatives came, I am pretty sure there was a cake but whether it was a big three tier masterpiece or just a simple single layer sheet cake, I’m not really sure. I would be willing to bet there were gifts, but I would also be willing to bet I didn’t bring one.  I don’t remember when it took place, what month or year, I don’t remember if I dressed up in a suit (but I assume I put on something nice), and I don’t…. you know what… it’s probably easier to tell you what I do remember, so let’s start there.

I was seated at a table right next to my mother when the dinner was served. First you had to get a plate and serve yourself whatever salads, rolls, and/or vegetables you wanted, then a guy at the end of the table carved you a piece a beef (I’ll bet there were other meat options, like ham or chicken too). Then came the pièce de résistance: the hotels “signature” red wine sauce.  This was the item that was probably supposed to make the meal “fantastically delicious” (and to justify whatever price they charged for the event) and they were not shy when pouring it onto the plate either. When I sat down at the table I looked at my plate and saw the sauce had started to run down into the vegetables and other salad type things and I knew that I would need to eat quickly (or at the very least, hurriedly rearrange my food before the sauce started making everything on the plate the same flavor, or worse yet - make my bread roll soggy).  As I sat down, I also noticed, my mother was already seated and I wondered how she made it through the line before me, because back then I was usually right at the head of the crowd when it came to getting food.  

It might be good to know here, that I really hate wasting food, I don’t mind wasting a good many other things, but for some reason wasting food just seems criminal: it’s my line in the sand. If I sit down at a restaurant I will do my very best to eat everything on my plate, not only because I don’t want to waste food, but I also don’t want the cooks or other staff to somehow see my unfinished plate and think I hated the cooking… even if I actually did hate the cooking. Now, I didn’t hate the meal at the anniversary party, but this red wine sauce, for me, was not that particularly appealing.  It was strong… very strong… the only flavor on the entire plate of food after just one bite of that sauce was red wine, and all I could smell was red wine. As I looked around the room everyone was happy, eating, going back for seconds, you know… having a good time. I pressed on eating, but about half way through my plate of food I started to feel hot.  It was as if the air conditioning unit broke and was spewing super heated air into the room instead of cold.  I leaned over to my mother and asked her if she thought it was hot.  She didn’t, which definitely surprised me, but maybe she was wearing cooler clothing then me and perhaps she hadn’t felt it yet.  I continued eating, and in fact I cleaned my plate, but by the time I had swallowed the last bite of my overly, red wine sauced, meat… I was literally sweating.  I again leaned over to my mother and said, “I think there was “too much” wine in that sauce and I need to go outside to get some air”. She just nodded at me and I got up and quietly snuck outside.  I picked a spot that was just past the last window of the room and sat down on a low stone wall.  Luckily I had brought my napkin with me and was able to use it to wipe the sweat off my forehead. The weird thing was when I got outside, on what I distinctly remember being a fairly pleasant, somewhat cool, evening… I kept getting hotter. I could even feel heat inside my stomach, as if somehow the contents therein had burst into flames. Then I started to feel my stomach get tight and even though I did not get sick, it was all I could think about. I sat there talking to myself… don’t get sick… don’t get sick… don’t get sick… you’ll ruin the party if you get sick… oh, man, what will I do if I get sick… I think I’m going to get sick… don’t get sick… stop thinking about getting sick… I even unbuttoned and untucked my shirt to help cool me off, which made the people passing by on the walkway quicken their steps just a little. I sat on that little wall, rocking gently back and forth, for a good portion of the event. At one point one of my cousins came out to sit and talk with me for a while, never knowing that I wasn’t feeling all the great, which really helped take my mind off the churning fire in my stomach. I may have sat outside for most of the event, but I still watched through the window at all the people, talking, eating, and enjoying one another’s company, so I still felt connected to everything. I did, eventually, get back inside near the end so I could actually socialize, and take some obligatory photos. And what else do I remember? Oh yeah… I have never eaten red wine sauce since. 

So now, to close out our blogs anniversary month, and because today (the day this posts) is also my sister’s birthday AND because our last post for triple chocolate mousse cake was a little bit labor intensive I thought I would bring you something fairly simple to make. This yellow cake is a simple, classic, cake and has been a birthday party staple for decades, though my guess is - most people make it from a box mix and then top it with icing from a tub. Well, not today folks, look in your cupboards and you’ll find you probably have most of the ingredients you need, and besides - making a cake from scratch will be so much better than a box mix. This particular recipe comes from the folks over at King Arthur Flour (it is their recipe of the year for 2019) and you can see the original recipe here.  You won’t need too much equipment to make this cake, a couple of 8-inch round cake pans (with 2-inch high sides), an electric or stand mixer, some parchment paper to line the pans with, a serving plate, and a scale to weigh the ingredients, but that’s about it. If you don’t have a scale though, don’t fret, just use the link above to see the recipe on the King Arthur website and you can get the recipe in volume measurements.

Here is how I made it today:

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 8½ ounces all purpose flour

  • 1¼ teaspoons salt

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 4 large eggs

  • 14 ounces granulated sugar

  • ½ ounce vanilla extract

  • ⅛ teaspoon almond extract 

  • 8 ounces milk

  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pats

  • 2⅜ ounces vegetable oil

  • shortening or butter for greasing the pans

For the Frosting:

  • 3¾ ounces natural cocoa powder (sifted if lumpy)

  • 4 ounces + 12 ounces confectioners’ sugar (sifted if lumpy)

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 2⅝ ounces hot water

  • ½ ounce vanilla extract

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

Directions:

For the cake: 

Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center position.

Lightly grease two 8 x 2-inch round cake pans then line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit, and lightly grease those as well.

Whisk together the flour, the salt, and the baking powder to combine and set aside for now.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a large bowl and an electric mixer) add the eggs, the sugar, the vanilla, and the almond extract and beat on medium high speed, until thickened and light gold in color, about 2 minutes. The batter should fall in thick ribbons from the whisk or beaters when done.

Next, add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix either by hand or at the lowest speed of the mixer, just enough to combine the ingredients. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, then again mix on low speed briefly, to fully incorporate any unmixed flour.

Put the milk into a small saucepan set over medium heat until it just starts to simmer, then remove from the heat and add the butter and the vegetable oil and stir together with a spoon until the butter melts completely. 

Set the mixer on low speed and while mixing, slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the batter until everything is well combined. Again, scrape down the bowl and mix briefly, just until the batter is smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, approximately 20 ounces per pan (about 2¾ cups) in each pan. 

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top feels set, 38 to 42 minutes; a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the cakes should read 205°F.

When done, r emove the cakes from the oven and set the pans on a wire rack. Carefully loosen the edges with a small offset spatula or thin knife then allow them to cool for 15 minutes in the pans. 

To turn them out of the pans place a piece of parchment paper and then a second wire rack (or lightweight cutting board) on top of the cake pans, then invert the cake pan and wire rack together, lift off the cake pan, peel off the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake (if it did not stay in the pan) then re-invert the cake back onto the cooling rack. 

Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Forthe frosting: 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using an electric mixer) stir together, either by hand or on the lowest speed of the mixer, the cocoa powder, the 4 ounces of confectioners’ sugar, and the salt, until thoroughly mixed.

Next, stir in the water and the vanilla, scraping the bowl as necessary so as not leave chocolate stuck to the sides or the bottom of the bowl.

Add the butter and remaining confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and stir again either by hand (recommend) or on the lowest mixer speed to combine. Take care if using the mixer as sugar can jump from the bowl.  The mixture will be very stiff at this point.

Now, set your mixer on medium high speed and beat the frosting for 1 to 2 minutes, until it is lightened in color and very fluffy, stopping halfway through to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

 

Putting it together: 

Place one cake layer on your serving plate, top side up, and tuck pieces of parchment paper underneath the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean while your frosting. 

Spread the bottom layer with about 1 cup of frosting, smoothing it into an even layer.

Place the second layer, bottom side up onto the frosted first layer and press gently to set it in place.

Next, spread a very thin layer of frosting over the tops and side of the cake (this is called a crumb coat) then refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes to let this layer set. 

When the cake has chilled, use the remaining frosting to coat it thoroughly and evenly as you desire. For a few frosting tips check out this web page

 

This cake can be kept, covered, at room temperature, for up to three days. If it’s hot, store the cake in the refrigerator, for up to a week, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

 

There you have it, the classic yellow cake. A moist, fluffy cake with a chocolaty icing that is perfect for any kind of celebration… or just an everyday dessert. 

Riley thanks if he stares long enough at the food… it will be his.