Let's face it: I am a total nerd at heart. I can't even try to hide it. My inner-nerd is always revealed, one way or another. I used to be ashamed of my nerdiness but now I understand that it's a part of who I am.
My vanilla sablé comparison reminded me just how nerdy I can be. I loved doing the math and setting up "the experiment". I filled out my kitchen notebook like it was my lab book at McGill with the ingredients, amounts, and directions for each recipe. I took notes along the way, when the cookies were baked, and when I sampled the "products" to compare them. At the end of the page, I drew a conclusion. I documented the process with photos. My sablé post was a true experiment. I loved it and I found the whole process so incredibly satisfying. So I embraced my inner-nerd and repeated it all, this time comparing yellow butter cake recipes.
It took me a lot of time to choose what recipes to compare. In the end, I settled on recipes that contained the same ingredients: butter, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, and milk. Only one recipe (#6) was different. Here are the cake recipes I tested:
- Martha Stewart Weddings basic yellow cake—traditional creaming method (made with cake flour)
- 1-2-3-4 yellow cake (adapted from here)—very similar to cake #1 but has 1 1/4 tsp more baking powder; also made with a traditional creaming method (made with cake flour)
- High-ratio yellow butter cake—a reversed method where all the dry ingredients and the sugar are first mixed with the butter and some of the liquid, before adding the rest (made with cake flour)
- Zilla's cake—this is my grandmother's basic sponge cake recipe that we use for trifles, made by beating the eggs with the sugar to a ribbon, then stirring in the flour alternately with the warm milk/melted butter mixture. It's a family favorite and I was curious to see how it compared. (made with all-purpose flour)
- Ricardo's basic vanilla cake—very similar to #1 but has 1/3 tsp more baking powder (made with all purpose flour)
- Shirley Corriher's magnificent moist golden cake—another reversed method cake, but made with butter, oil and cream in the batter, as well as buttermilk instead of regular milk (made with cake flour)
Cakes #1, #4 and #6 were the most different of all. Cake #1 was just like a pound cake. It was denser than the others, but not right for layer cakes. It was the cake that was the most domed also. On the other hand, cakes #4 and #6 baked flat, which to me is a good thing. However, cake #6 (with the oil, buttermilk and cream) was greasy. It had a fluffier, lighter texture, but it left grease on my hands when I sampled it. Cake #4 had a really nice spongy and airy feel, as expected, and it's definitely perfect for a trifle, but not what I was looking for. It's still my go-to sponge cake recipe.
Cake #2 had a good texture and was very flavorful, but I just didn't like its flavor. Interestingly, it also sank a little in the middle (apparently this is a sign of over-leavening, which also affects flavor).
Picking between #3 and #5 was difficult. They were so similar. In the end, I felt #3 had a few less air bubbles and a more even texture and appearance, so I picked it, but really, both were great. My inner-nerd is satisfied once again.
For information on butter vs margarine vs oil vs shortening, check out this blog post from Half Baked on the subject.
Yellow butter cakePublished: February 20th, 2013, Cook time: 35 minutes
Makes one 8-inch cake (can be split between 2 pans)
- 200 grams cake flour
- 200 grams granulated sugar
- 1/2 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 115 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
- 125 mL milk (3.25%fat), divided
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg white
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare an 8-inch pan by greasing and flouring it, then lining it with a parchment round. Set aside for later.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the dry ingredients.
- Beat in the butter til the flour mixture forms a sandy texture. Then add half the milk, and beat the mixture til it's smooth (about 1 minute)
- Meanwhile, combine the other half of the milk with the other wet ingredients (eggs and vanilla) in a large glass cup measure (or bowl with a pouring spout).
- Add half the liquid mixture to the mixer bowl, and beat for about 20 seconds, then add the rest, and beat again for 20 more seconds on medium.
- Transfer the cake batter to the prepared pan and smooth it with an offset spatula. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles.
- Bake the cake til a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean (about 35 minutes).
- Cool for 15 minutes before flipping the cake out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool completely.