Monday, May 16, 2011

Quite Possibly the World's Best Yellow Cake

When I was in high school, I babysat a lot.
It wasn't just a job for me.  I loved it.
The kids I baby sat for meant something to me.  I loved them.
I am lucky enough to still be in touch with a lot of them--not just on Facebook.  In real life, too.
I have watched them graduate from high school and college, get married and even, oh I feel old, have their own babies.  I see them at church or the grocery store when I go home to Fallbrook.
Some of them come for dinner at my house, and play with my kids.  I love that.

I have many sweet memories wrapped up in those babysitting years.
One of them involves birthday cake.

One of my favorite families to babysit for had 4 daughters.  Oh, how I loved those girls.
Their mom was a marvelous cook.  Baker too.
And every year, on each girl's birthday, Tilly made them a cake.

Not a boxed cake.
A real cake.  From scratch.
And each girl had a different favorite that she got to have on her birthday.
I was invited to more than a few birthday parties and I always looked forward to the cake.
But even more than eating the cake, I loved the idea of the cake.
Imagine being the kind of mom that bakes a special cake every birthday.
Imagine being so sure of your cake baking abilities that you are able to say, "of course you can have spice cake, darling.  It's your favorite."
I wanted to be that kind of mom.

Tilly taught me a lot about being a good mom.
And, though you may think it strange, more than a little bit of it came from those birthday cakes.
I admired the thoughtfulness and love that went into each cake.
I appreciated the extra effort it took to mix it up from scratch.
I appreciated the growing tradition behind each girl's cake.
I admired the way it made a special day even more special.
A bit of extra effort will do that.
I imagined that one day I'd do the same for my own kids.

William turned 5 today.
I wanted to make him a yellow cake.  
Yellow is his favorite color.
James always requests chocolate cake.
And I have a favorite chocolate cake recipe that is now my standard.
But I didn't have a yellow cake recipe.

When I found this post on Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had found THE ONE.
I understood her need to find the perfect birthday cake before the birth of her baby.
I understood her need to make it from scratch and not from a box.
I understood her very strong feelings about birthday cake.
Obviously, birthday cake is not something I take lightly.
Neither does she.  I like that.  A lot.

The cake is delicious.
It is really so very, very good.
So good that I don't think it needs frosting.
It can be eaten by the slice, held in hand, standing over the sink so the crumbs don't get every where.  It's that good.
Moist.  Not too sweet.  A subtle vanilla flavor.  The perfect yellow cake.

I admit, I don't like recipes that call for buttermilk.  And this one does.
I don't typically have carton of buttermilk sitting in my fridge.
Usually I do have lemons or white vinegar though, and by combining one of those with milk, I can get a buttermilk substitute.
Of course I was fresh out of both of them, necessitating a trip to the store.
As I walked past the bakery department, I couldn't help looking at the ready made cakes.
"Why can't I just make my life easier and buy a stinking cake?" I asked myself.
But I couldn't.
Nor could I put a box of Betty Crocker cake mix in my cart.
Please do not think I am casting dispersions on those of you who chose not to make birthday cakes from scratch.  I'm not.
It's just that I like to bake from scratch,
If I have the time and energy, I'll chose it every time.  I find it fun and satisfying.
I hope I'll still be making cakes for my grandkids.
Besides, I wanted this cake to be special.
I wanted it to be William's cake.

It was worth it.
Anyway, as for the recipe, I didn't have cake flour, I just used regular.
My eggs were not room temp because I was in a hurry.
The cake survived these challenges.
The batter was thick and after filing 2, 9 inch cake pans, I had enough batter left over to make almost a dozen cupcakes.
It was quick to mix up and the house smelled glorious while it baked.

I opted for cream cheese frosting, rather than the sour cream frosting that is included with the recipe.
I'd like to try that next time, but I went with what I knew this time.
And, of course, I made the frosting from scratch, too.
Don't mess around with frosting, people.
You always make frosting from scratch.
Now, I guess the next thing I need to learn how to do is frost a cake.
Cause my cakes are not much to look at in the beauty department.
But they taste good.
And with cakes, it is much better to taste good than to look good.

So, if you're needed the perfect yellow cake, for a birthday, a baby shower, or to celebrate someone you care about, give this cake a shot. You will not regret it.
Or just make it for yourself.  
And then give it away the next day.  Otherwise you'll eat the whole thing and you'll hate me.  I am trying not to think about how good a piece would taste for breakfast with my coffee tomorrow.
In case you missed it before, here's the link for the cake recipe.
Happy baking!  
And Happy Birthday William!
To read his birthday post, go here.
Love from,

PS.  Linking up to Life Made Lovely.  Go over and take a peek at all the inspiration.
PSS.  (is that the real way to do that?)  I was just wondering, am I the only one who has had nearly life long visions of being a cake baker? For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be the one who makes great cakes. I dream of making the perfect coconut cake.  Layer upon layer, creamy lemon filling, beautifully frosted (need to work on that) and sitting proudly upon a cake stand.
I need a cake stand.
And I need to bake more cakes.
So really, is it just me?  Did I read too many cook books as a kid?
Oh, and I feel the same way about pie.
But pie crust taunts me.
Why do you elude me, pie crust?


Megan B said...

The only way I manage pie crust is with a food processor. It's tricky business and my hot little hands will destroy it.
And I'll have to try this cake -- Mark's birthday is at the end of the month... (though he will prob. want red velvet)

katie said...

I love yellow cake. Sadly, I love most cakes. However, there is such simplicity with a yellow cake and because it isn't as rich, I can eat a lot of it! I love how you put so much love into everything you do for your children, Greta.

Anonymous said...

I love this post, Greta~ it says so much about who you are! Homemade cakes are DEFINITELY worth the extra effort. And really? I'm pretty sure your son won't remember what the cake looked like, but he WILL remember how absolutely yummy it was! (Look at your own memories of the girls' birthday cakes--you never even mentioned what they looked like!). XO

branda said...

Hi, Greta! You knew my husband, Rob Keehn, a long time ago. He clued me into your blog and I want to tell you who I am before I just start commenting all over the place. ; ) This is a beautiful blog!

I also love birthdays and the cakes that go with them. I was just able to wrestle the job of birthday cakes for my kids away from my mom this past year. (She's a box cake and crisco icing sort of baker. Ick.) We've had mint-chocolate chip for Beatrice and chocolate with cream cheese icing for Margaret so far. There is nothing as rewarding as watching your children and their little friends revel over a cake you made from scratch, especially when it has hidden whole grains!

Here are two decorating tips. Always use a crumb coat to make your cake look smooth and professional. And if you haven't tried ganache, please do. It always looks stunning and the taste is to. die. for. After all, it is chocolate and heavy cream. I hope that helps your future icing endeavors.

Now I want to bake a cake. ; )