strawberry cream cake

Strawberries, cream cheese, and cake – is there any better combination? Strawberry shortcake is the iconic strawberries and cream dessert, and for good reason, but for me, this cake is a step above. Mostly because of the cream cheese, but I’m also partial to soft and tender cake over a craggy biscuit. And you can’t beat the wow factor of a beautiful layer cake with the innards exposed. Cake innards are my favorite.

Of course there’s a price to pay for alternating layers of sunny cake, swirled cream, and ruby strawberries, and that is in fussiness. And who doesn’t love fussiness? Not I.

Because this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, there are a handful of tricks that make it work. The cream cheese stabilizes and thickens the whipped cream, not to mention it tastes so darn good. Half of the strawberries are halved for maximum visual impact, and the remainder is macerated to remove liquid. The extracted juice, full of strawberry flavor and not to be wasted, is cooked down to a syrup that won’t make your cake soggy.

Three parts that must be separately prepared and then alternately layered to make a tall, striped, impressive dessert.  A dessert which, when sliced, will collapse into a jumble of fruit, cream, and cake that shows a remarkable resemblance to strawberry shortcake.  But it was worth the trouble of all that layering, because fussing is fun, right?


One year ago: Cream Cheese Spritz
Two years ago: Strawberry Lemon Sorbet
Three years ago: Ricotta Spinach Tofu Ravioli

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Strawberry Cream Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

12 servings

I hate splitting cakes. I baked my cake batter in three separate cake pans instead of one pan which would later need to be split.

I made a half recipe in 6-inch pans.  6-inch round pans are slightly smaller than half of a 9-inch pan, so my layers are taller than the original recipe will result in.

Cake:
1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling:
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
4–6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch
Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3½ ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream

1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.

2. In a clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of the whites into the batter to lighten; add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a greased wire rack; peel off and discard the parchment. Invert the cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.

3. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of the best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter the remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries) in a medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain the juices from the berries and reserve (you should have about ½ cup). In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, give the macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1½ cups). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the reserved juices and Kirsch until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until the cake is cooled.

4. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: When the cake has cooled, place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to low and add heavy cream in a slow, steady stream; when it’s almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2½ minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed (you should have about 4½ cups).

5. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using a large serrated knife, slice the cake into three even layers. Place the bottom layer on a cardboard round or cake plate and arrange a ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around the perimeter of the cake layer. Pour one half of the pureed berry mixture (about ¾ cup) in the center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of the whipped cream (about 1½ cups) over the berry layer, leaving a ½-inch border from the edge. Place the middle cake layer on top and press down gently (the whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, the remaining berry mixture, and half of the remaining whipped cream; gently press the last cake layer on top. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top; decorate with the remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.

chocolate chip bundt cake

Dave opens doors for me and buys me little surprises, but Sunday he really went all out when he offered to clean up the kitchen while I baked a cake. Then he indulged me when I brought the baked cake to him and exclaimed, “Smell this! Just like a chocolate chip cookie, right?!” over and over. And then, even though his favorite desserts are fruity and custardy and pretty much the opposite of chocolate chip bundt cake, the next day, we had this conversation over gmail chat:

David: i’m eating chocolate chip cake
me: it’s good, isn’t it?!
David: it’s good!
me: tell me some more about how awesome my cake is.
David: very moist
and delicious
me: thank you
just chocolately enough, right?
David: and the outside was powdery
me: it has a bit smaller ratio of chocolate to dough than choc chip cookies, but the few bites i’ve had have seemed good
David: and perfect balance of chocolateness
me: you’re so sweet.

Dave might have preferred Dorie Greenspan’s original fruit and nut version, posted on Peggy’s site, but the dough is so similar to chocolate chip cookie dough that I couldn’t resist adding 8 ounces of chocolate instead. I’m fairly certain I made the right choice. (I also increased the salt to 1 teaspoon.)

One year ago: Quick Classic Berry Tart
Two years ago: Tartest Lemon Tart
Three years ago: Florida Pie

strawberry cheesecake

When I want strawberry cheesecake, I want cheesecake that’s strawberry-flavored, not plain cheesecake topped with strawberries. And not a plain cheesecake with a swirl of strawberries. Although I’m certainly not against adding a strawberry topping and strawberry swirl to strawberry-flavored cheesecake.

I confess that the strawberry swirl wasn’t intentional. But when I had leftover strawberry puree, I didn’t know what else to do with it. I didn’t want to risk marring the cheesecake’s creamy texture by doubling the puree. So on my first try, I poured half of the cheesecake batter over the crust, then spooned on the puree, then finished with the rest of the cheesecake batter. I liked the hit of fresh strawberry flavor in each bite, but the leftover cheesecake’s crust got soft, almost soggy, after a day in the fridge, which I blamed on the watery strawberry puree.

So I thought I’d try putting the extra puree on top of the cheesecake instead of in the middle. Generally when you plan to swirl things together, you want them to be about the same viscosity, but that would require cornstarch and cooking to thicken the strawberry puree, and I didn’t want to mess with all that.

The swirl on top worked wonderfully, even without thickening the puree.  Of course I still topped the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, but with the bright flavor from the swirl, it was hardly necessary. Now this, with even pink strawberry flavor throughout, beautiful fresh puree, and if you can’t get enough strawberries, sliced fresh strawberries on top – this is worthy of being called strawberry cheesecake.

One year ago: Slaw Tartare
Two years ago: Comparison of 3 brownie recipe (and a box mix)
Three years ago: Red Beans and Rice

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Strawberry Cheesecake (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)

Makes 16 servings

For the crust:
1¾ cups graham crackers
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1⅓ cups (9.67 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cream
1 cup (8 ounces – both in weight and liquid measurements) strawberry puree, divided

1. For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the graham crackers with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the sugar, salt, and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool on a wire rack, then wrap the bottom of the pan in foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil.

3. For the cheesecake: With a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sugar and salt; continue mixing for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs one a time, mixing just until each one is incorporated. Mix in the cream and ½ cup of the strawberry puree.

4. Pour the batter onto the cooled crust. Spoon the remaining strawberry puree over the batter and use a butter knife to gently swirl it. Place the wrapped springform pan into roasting pan; pour the hot water into the roasting pan.

5. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon; let the cheesecake set in the water bath for another hour. Remove the cheesecake from the hot water and let it come to room temperature on a cooling rack. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours.

I’m donating my Bourbon Pound Cake to Bloggers Bake for Hope.  This and over fifty other treats are available to be shipped directly to you. Bidding is open until midnight (EST) Friday, so hurry and bid to win this pound cake!  All proceeds go to Massachusetts Komen for the Cure.

marbled loaf cake

Although I’ve been running regularly since high school, I’m starting to realize that I’m not particularly good at it. I don’t mean that I’m falling over or anything; I’m not that bad!  I’m just kind of slow. And I know if I try hard enough, I’ll get faster. But I think I’m slow for how much I run and long I’ve been doing it.

I’m trying to come to terms with this. After all, I’m still running.  And I ran my longest distance this weekend, and I’m proud of that. And I don’t much care that running 6.2 miles only burns 400-500 calories; I deserved cake. At least 400-500 calories worth, if not more.

Or cake batter, at least, and you know that’s what I really wanted anyway. As cake batter goes, this pretty much hit the spot. Plus it was fun to get so much variety – first vanilla before I divided the batter and added flavorings, then chocolate, then coffee. Then I mixed a bit of coffee and chocolate together. I think it’s safe to say that I crossed that 500 calorie mark, and in a lot less time than it took me to burn it off.

I’m glad I filled up on batter, because the few nibbles I had of the cake were on the dry side. It’s possible I overbaked it, or maybe my substitution of almond milk + half-and-half for the whole milk I was out of wasn’t quite right. I’ll be interested to see what everyone else thought of this cake, and I’ll start with Carol, who chose it for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Burnt Sugar Ice Cream
Two years ago: Tiramisu Cake
Three years ago: Peanut Butter Torte

honey nut brownies

I was going to focus on how weird these brownies are, but instead I’m going to talk about how weird Dave is.

He doesn’t like brownies. He isn’t really into desserts in general, but brownies in particular just don’t do it for him. They’re too chocolately, he says. So I suspected that he would like these, and I was right. Better than the average brownie, he says.

While I think he’s nuts, I do see what these brownies have going for them. They don’t taste like chocolate, but I do think the bitterness from the chocolate is crucial to balance the sweetness of the honey.

Maybe they shouldn’t be called brownies. The flavor is mostly honey, and the texture is fluffy moist cake, not dense chewy brownie. Or maybe it’s just a brownie for brownie-haters.

Suzy chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. I followed the recipe exactly (including the rather generous, for a Dorie recipe, amount of salt) because I was so curious about the outcome. Dave recommends adding bits of candied ginger to the batter, and I agree that the bite of ginger would offer another contrast to the sweet floral honey.

One year ago: Dulce de Leche Duos
Two years ago: Blueberry Crumb Cake

cream cheese pound cake

I don’t need a new pound cake recipe, but my other pound cake recipe doesn’t have cream cheese in it. Besides, my coworkers are apparently nuts about pound cake. They look so unassuming (pound cakes, not my coworkers) – no frosting, no decorations, often not even a glaze – that I wouldn’t expect it, but both times I’ve brought one to work, it’s disappeared in minutes. (Unlike the delicious bran muffins that I brought in the first week of January, thinking they were the perfect compromise between the post-holiday temperance and a treat, that sat around unloved all day.)

This pound cake isn’t dramatically different from the other pound cakes I’ve made, particularly in flavor and, most importantly, in how crazy good the batter is. It is denser than my favorite recipe. That’s fine for a Bundt pan, but I think for a cake baked in a loaf pan, you’d want a higher dome.

Either way, pound cake! And more importantly, pound cake batter! I also stirred some white chocolate into the batter. It was hardly noticeable in the cake, but I did get to write “White Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake” on the post-it next to the cake at work. Everyone knows that more adjectives means more enticing, so maybe that’s why it got grabbed up so quickly. Or maybe it’s just because pound cake, despite its plain looks, is soft and sweet and buttery and rich.

One year ago: How to adapt any bread recipe to be whole wheat
Two years ago: Orange Berry Muffins (and an experiment on spraying muffin tins)
Three years ago: Challah (although now I like this recipe better)

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Cream Cheese Pound Cake (tweaked a bit from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Staff Meals from Chanterelle)

I was tempted to substitute cake flour for the all-purpose flour, because I’ve found that it makes pound cakes lighter, but in the end, I stuck to the recipe.

Serves (at least) 10

24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (21 ounces) granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
3 cups (14.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped white chocolate (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan.

2. Place the butter, cream cheese, and salt in a large bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar, increase the speed to high, and beat until light and airy, at least 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the extracts, then the flour all at once. Beat on low speed just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate, if using.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60-75 minutes.

4. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

strawberry buttercream

One of my favorite parts of birthdays as a kid was flipping through my mom’s stack of Wilton yearbooks to pick out my cake. I remember cakes shaped like treasure chests, dice (every guest got their own die), telephones, dollar bills, a whole scene with penguins and an igloo and a pond (that was my brother’s cake, two years in a row), so many others.

My mom, of course, used the Wilton buttercream recipe, a simple mixture of powdered sugar and solid fat (butter or shortening), with a bit of vanilla for flavor, milk to loosen it up, and meringue powder to help it set. This is what I knew as frosting as a kid; I loved it then and still do.

To some, it’s too sweet and it’s certainly grainy, and those people often prefer swiss meringue buttercreams, in which butter is mixed into a meringue built from egg whites and sugar. My first experiences with these weren’t great; I felt like I was eating lightly sweetened butter. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe, a lemon version, changed my mind, because it actually tasted like something.

Now I love both types of frosting (is there any horribly fattening food I don’t enjoy, I wonder?), although I always add at least a couple drops of lemon juice into my meringue buttercreams to brighten their taste. But this strawberry version might just take the cake. It’s light and smooth, like all meringue buttercreams, but it has plenty of flavor from all those strawberries. I don’t think anyone will be shaping this frosting into penguins anytime soon, but it might top my next birthday cake anyway.

One year ago: Bacon-Wrapped Goat Cheese and Almond-Stuffed Dates
Two years ago: Beer-Battered Fish
Three years ago: Cream Cheese Brownies

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Strawberry Buttercream (adapted from Martha Stewart via Annie’s Eats)

The original recipe calls for fresh strawberries, but I prefer to use frozen strawberries when their texture isn’t important, because they’re available year-round and always picked at the peak of their ripeness.

1 cup strawberry puree (from 8 ounces frozen defrosted strawberries)
4 large egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Combine the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.

2. Remove the bowl from heat and attach it to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. (The bowl should be cool to the touch.)

3. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, whisking well after each addition. With the mixer on low, whisk in the strawberry puree, mixing just until incorporated. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

This frosting topped Sky High’s Pink Lady Cake.

chocolate frosting comparison

Let me put this right out there: Chocolate frosting isn’t my favorite thing. Chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate pie, yes. Vanilla frosting, cream cheese frosting, lemon frosting, yes. Chocolate ganache, that richest of chocolate glazes, yes. But frosting, not so much, and so this comparison was by request. And curiosity – is there a chocolate frosting out there for the likes of me?

My theory is that I haven’t found the perfect chocolate frosting because I like chocolate things to be very very chocolately. A hint of chocolately is just a tease. And with frosting, you’re playing a balancing act between squeezing in as much chocolate flavor as possible while maintaining a light, fluffy texture.

I compared Cooks Illustrated’s Creamy Chocolate Frosting (CI), Ina Garten’s Chocolate Frosting associated with her recipe for Beatty’s Chocolate Cake (BC), and Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Frosting (MS). Other than the addition of some sort of chocolate and some sort of sugar, they have little in common. Well, that and butter. Lots and lots of butter.  I used the same bittersweet chocolate for all of the recipes. We tasted the frostings plain.

CI (wider star tip) – This recipe is a swiss meringue buttercream, in which warmed egg whites and sugar are beaten together until fluffy, then soft butter is slowly whipped in. Melted bittersweet chocolate and vanilla extract are added at the end. The ratio of chocolate to sugar and butter in this recipe is 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate to 0.4 ounces granulated sugar and 2.0 tablespoons butter.

MS (round star tip) – This recipe is a mixture of butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, cocoa, sour cream, and bittersweet chocolate. For every 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate, there is 0.8 ounces powdered sugar and 1.6 tablespoons of dairy fat (from various sources).  Plus 1.5 teaspoons of cocoa powder.  My ratio system doesn’t work so well for this recipe.

BC (finer star tip) – This frosting includes butter, an egg yolk, vanilla, powdered sugar, coffee and bittersweet chocolate. There is 0.8 ounces powdered sugar and 2.7 tablespoons butter for every 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate.

CI –This frosting was smooth and light with no graininess.  With the least amount of sugar and a high ratio of chocolate to butter, I was expecting this to deliver the rich chocolate flavor I was hoping for, but it tasted as light as it felt.  Maybe all that air from whipping the egg whites to a meringue diluted the flavor?

MS – This frosting was creamy and mousse-like, although a bit grainy. It was by far Dave’s favorite, and it was mine as well.  (The magic word is mousse-like.)

BC – This frosting was thinner and a little grainy. Similar to Ina Garten’s popular brownie recipe, I thought the coffee flavor was overpowering.  It would make a great mocha icing, but for a classic chocolate frosting, the coffee powder should be eliminated or at least reduced to a pinch.

(Cooks Illustrated, Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa, Martha Stewart)

It comes as no surprise to me that the recipe that includes cream cheese is my favorite. It does surprise me that Dave would feel that way, as he generally isn’t as much of a fan of cream cheese. Perhaps it’s because Martha Stewart’s recipe had the least fat per chocolate in it, although it does have plenty of other goodies in there.  Or perhaps that extra sprinkling of cocoa bumped up the chocolate flavor more than I expected. Whatever the reason, this rich creamy frosting was chocolately enough to overlook the slightly grainy texture.

Already, just hearing about this comparison, new chocolate frosting recipes are being recommended, so this isn’t the end of this story. But at least it’s a beginning.

(Cooks Illustrated, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa)

One year ago: Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
Two years ago: Pot Roast
Three years ago: Vanilla Frosting comparison

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Chocolate Frosting
(from Martha Stewart via Annie Eats)

14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream

1. Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Set aside to cool until just barely warm.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Gradually mix in the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate and then the sour cream. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Frost cupcakes immediately.

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Creamy Chocolate Frosting
(from Cooks Illustrated)

⅓ cup (2⅓ ounces) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon pieces
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to 85-100 degrees
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set over a small saucepan of simmering water, and, whisking constantly, cook until the mixture is slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150 degrees on an instant read thermometer, 2-4 minutes.

2. Fit bowl to stand mixer, and with the whisk attachment, beat at medium speed, until mixture is the consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1-3 minutes. Add butter 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. The frosting may look curdled halfway through, but it will smooth out eventually.

3. Once all the butter has been added, pour in the cooled chocolate and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Increase speed to medium-high and until light and fluffy, another 30 seconds to a minute. Frost cupcakes.

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Chocolate Buttercream
(from Ina Garten)

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups (5 ounces) sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

1. Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

yellow cake comparison

I was going to wait to post this because now I want to do more yellow cake experiments. But this week I have a couple batches of cookies I want to make, and last week it was bread pudding and chocolate mousse, and next week it’ll be something else. By the time I find an opportunity to make more yellow cake, I’ll have forgotten everything about this batch.

The three recipes I chose for this comparison are Cooks Illustrated’s Fluffy Yellow Cake (CI), Martha Stewart’s Yellow Butter Cake (MS), and Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake (SK). Like all yellow cakes, they all include butter, whole eggs (unlike white cake, which only uses the whites), granulated sugar, vanilla, salt, leavener, flour (cake or all-purpose), and dairy (whole milk or buttermilk). I baked them all as mini cupcakes at the same temperature for the same amount of time.  I used the same size scoop to transfer the batter to the muffin cups.

CI (blue wrappers), which uses cake flour and buttermilk, is unique among these recipes in its inclusion of oil and extra egg yolks. It is also mixed like a chiffon cake, in which the dry ingredients and liquid ingredients (including melted butter) are combined, then beaten egg whites are folded in.

MS (red wrappers) uses a mixture of all-purpose flour and cake flour, as well as whole milk instead of buttermilk (it is therefore missing the baking soda the other two recipes require to balance the acidity of the buttermilk). It is mixed using the creaming method, in which the butter and sugar are combined, the eggs are added, then the milk and dry ingredients.

SK (yellow wrappers) also uses cake flour and buttermilk. There are no tricks up this cake’s sleeves. It is also mixed with the creaming method.

CI (blue) was buttery and moist with a nice sponginess. The top was a little sticky (easily covered up with frosting, but we were testing them plain) and crisp. It was my and Dave’s favorite.

MS (red) was less sticky and fluffier, but it was also less buttery, and, to be honest, a little bland. It has half the salt as the other recipes, so that’s probably the culprit, although it could be the use of whole milk instead of buttermilk.

SK (yellow) had a nice, buttery flavor, but a solid, flat top. For cupcakes, the flat-topped spreading is a deal breaker for me, but I believe it would be fine for a layer cake. And because this cake has over three times more baking soda than CI, I suspect that cutting it in half would solve the spreading problem, which I attribute to overrising.


(sorry I switched the order around in this photo)

So the cake with the best texture (MS) – fluffy, slightly domed, with no stickiness or overly hard tops – had the least impressive flavor. I’m inclined to think that it would be easier to bump up the flavor of that recipe than it would be to adjust the texture of the others. I would also love to try SK as a layer cake and/or with less baking soda. To complicate matters further, a reader recently pointed out another yellow cake comparison with several more recipes I’d like to try.

In the meantime, Cooks Illustrated’s Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake has the best balance of these three recipes of full, buttery flavor and a light texture. And once the cakes were smothered with chocolate frosting, I couldn’t tell the difference between them anyway.

(Oh, were you wondering what the best chocolate frosting is? It turns out I compared three chocolate frosting recipes in the same (exhausting) night. I’ll discuss those next.)

One year ago: Oatmeal Pancakes
Two years ago: Red Velvet Cake comparison (odd coincidence)
Three years ago: Potstickers

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Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes two 9-inch round cakes

2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and knock out the excess. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and yolks.

2. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Using rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

5. Bake until the cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pans and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-22 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cakes from the sides of the pan with a small knife, then invert onto a greased wire rack and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.

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Yellow Butter Cake (from Martha Stewart via Annie’s Eats)

Makes two 9-inch round cakes

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1½ cups (6 ounces) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¾ cups (12.15) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups milk, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour the edges of the pans, tapping out the excess; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk together to blend well and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk. Beat each addition just until incorporated.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans to help remove the cakes. Invert the cakes onto the rack and peel off the parchment. Let the cakes cool completely before frosting. Level the cakes if necessary.

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Best Birthday Cake (from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes two 9-inch rounds

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (16.6 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)

2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

3. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

nutty chocolately swirly sour cream bundt cake

I’ve got nothing against nuts and chocolate and currants, but you know what I really like best? Cake made with sour cream. For me, it always comes back to the purest form of flour plus butter plus sugar, and adding a tangy fatty dairy into the mix just makes things better. Usually that’s cream cheese, but I have nothing against sour cream either.

I’ve been doing a better job of reining in my batter-eating, but the few spoonfuls I had of this cake’s batter made me crave a bowl of the stuff, a quiet corner, and a cup of coffee. It also made me wish I had more sour cream cake. The swirl was fun, but all I really want is the cake part. Or the batter part.

Jennifer chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I actually didn’t change anything. I don’t think I even added more salt.

One year ago: Coco-Nana Muffins
Two years ago: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread