Sep 062012

This is my basic, go-to cake recipe. If you’re accustomed to box mixes, the buttery-ness and heavy crumb of scratch cake will probably surprise you – but in a good way. The beauty of this cake recipe is that you can modify it in a million ways, and it will always be good. You can add unsweetened cocoa to make a chocolate cake, or use egg whites only to make a white cake. You can use it as a base for a hundred different cupcakes, such as Nutella swirl or lemon raspberry (which I’ll tell you about later in this post). It makes a beautiful, tall layer cake, which you can frost with classic chocolate buttercream for a fantastic birthday cake.

It is, in a word, awesome.

I think many people avoid scratch baking because it’s intimidating to them, but I’m going to show you just how easy it can be! As long as you have an electric stand mixer, or even a hand mixer, you’re set!

Heather’s Basic Yellow Cake
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

First, cream together the softened butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. Medium speed is best for this.

Next, add the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Some recipes will tell you to alternate the liquid and dry ingredients – I never do this, but my baked goods always turn out great (maybe they would be even better if I did, but I’m content nonetheless). Beat very, very well, on medium low speed, until completely blended.

I can’t actually crack eggs with one hand – it’s just that I had the camera in the other hand.

In lieu of sifting, I prefer to just combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, and mix well with a fork. I’m sure Martha Stewart would frown upon this, but it works for me.

Then, add the dry ingredients (that’s right – you can do it all at once, because I’m a baking rebel!), and mix on very low speed (to prevent flour from flying everywhere – you don’t want to have to clean up that mess, believe me) until just incorporated. Then scrape down the bowl very well, to make sure all of the flour gets mixed in.

Increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat batter for a full two minutes. Seriously – two full minutes. If you have to set a timer, do that, because you want to beat plenty of air into the batter so it will be light and fluffy, like this:

Now fill your muffin cups about 2/3 full. An ice cream scoop is, by far, the easiest way to do this. But be careful not to overfill, or the batter will spill over, and you will kick yourself when you can’t get the cupcakes out of the pan without destroying them. Just in case, it’s a good idea to grease around the tops of the cups.

For the Nutella swirl cupcakes, plop a dollop of Nutella (a generous teaspoon) on top of each cupcake, and swirl it in with a knife. I like to use a figure 8 motion when I do this.

While I was making these, my little kitchen helper was standing by, helping “clean” the spatulas and mixer paddle, because I’m one of those really bad mothers who ignores the doomsayers’ salmonella warnings in favor of allowing my children this childhood pleasure.

Now, I’m what I like to call a “fly by the seat of my pants” cook. What this means is that I try a lot of things just to see what might happen – some work, some don’t. Today, I had some leftover lemon pie filling from when we made crepes last weekend, and also some frozen raspberries. So on half the cupcakes, I swirled in a blob of lemon filling, and squished a couple raspberries down in the center.

When these were cool, I dusted them with powdered sugar (think lemon bars), and what was the verdict?

Thumbs up!

DJ prefers the Nutella, I think.

This recipe makes 24-26 generous-sized cupcakes (bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes, but always check at 15, to be safe), or a tall, 9-inch, 2-layer cake (bake 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean). A 13×9 cake will take about 28-31 minutes, depending on your oven.

This recipe also makes a perfect muffin base. I like it because it has enough fat so that the muffins don’t stick to the liners. If you want to make a chocolate cake, add 1/4 – 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder to the dry ingredients, depending on how chocolatey you want it. For a white cake, sub 5 egg whites for the 3 whole eggs. For a spice cake, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon allspice to the dry ingredients. You can also use this as the base for your favorite pineapple upside down cake!

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own mix-ins. Some of the best recipes were discovered totally by accident, or were even considered mistakes at first (like chocolate chip cookies!)