WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Traditional yellow layer cake should melt in the mouth and taste of butter and eggs. But many recipes we tried came out crumbly, sugary, and hard. And the flavor? It tasted merely sweet. We wanted a yellow cake that was tender, buttery, and could stand up to a slathering of frosting, if desired.
Most versions of yellow layer cake relyon the 1–2-3–4 formula (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and four eggs—plus milk, baking powder, vanilla, and salt) and follow the classic way of mixing together the ingredients—creaming the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one at a time, and finally adding the milk and dry ingredients alternately. This worked okay, but we wanted something easier for this cake. The two-stage method fitthe bill. In this technique, the dry ingredients are combined and then two-thirds of the milk and eggs are added and beaten until thick and fluffy. Then in the second stage, the rest of the milk and eggs are poured in and the batter is beaten again. This technique is simpler and quicker, and produced a tender cake. The flavor still needed some improvement. We tackled the proportions of theingredients, increasing the butter, eggs, and sugar. This cake turned out fine-grained, soft, and meltingly rich—just what we wanted. As for the frosting, we chose a traditional vanilla buttercream. Rich with egg yolks, butter, sugar, and corn syrup for sheen, this supple frosting is the perfect complement to our cake.
Makes two 9-inch cakes
To quickly bring the eggs and milk to room temperature (65°F),submerge them in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes after mixing them together. Adding the butter pieces to the mixing bowl one at a time prevents the dry ingredients from flying up and out of the bowl.
• 4 large eggs , room temperature
• 1/2 cup whole milk , room temperature
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
• 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon table salt
• 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened (see illustration 1), each stick cut into 8 pieces
• 1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 9-by-1 1/2-inch cake pans with vegetable shortening and cover pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper or wax paper. Greaseparchment rounds, dust cake pans with flour, and tap out excess.
• 2. Beat eggs, milk, and vanilla with fork in small bowl; measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment; mix on lowest speed to blend, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running at lowest speed, add butter one piece at a time; mixuntil butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy and pebbly, with pieces about the size of peas, 30 to 40 seconds after all butter is added. Add reserved 1 cup of egg mixture and mix at lowest speed until incorporated, 5 to 10 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high (setting 6 on KitchenAid) and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add remaining egg mixture (about 1/2 cup) inslow steady stream, about 30 seconds. Stop mixer and thoroughly scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Beat on medium-high until thoroughly combined and batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds longer. (To mix using hand mixer, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Add butter pieces and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. Add reserved 1 cup of egg mixture; beatwith hand mixer at lowest speed until incorporated, 20 to 30 seconds. Increase speed to high, add remaining egg mixture, and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stop mixer and thoroughly scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Beat at high speed 15 seconds longer.)
• 3. Divide batter equally between prepared cake pans; spread to sides of pan and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake until cake...