pantry staple: basic vanilla birthday cake

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I think a killer, basic white vanilla birthday cake is a ‘must-have’ in every baker’s repertoire. Hence, I decided to experiment with various recipes to obtain the best result. For this post, I tested the All-Occasion Downy Butter Yellow Cake recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible cookbook. It is the kind of cookbook that is wordy with few illustrations, but it is very technical and offers useful tips especially for those just starting out. I remember it being the very first cookbook in my possession. Until now, I still refer to it for reliable cake recipes.


Unlike the lighter Japanese sponge cakes I’m fond of making, this is slightly more dense. Classic American, they call it. It’s still delicious and soft; and it is also sturdy enough to hold up even the most elaborate of decorations and frostings.

What’s different about this particular recipe is that it employs the ‘reverse creaming’ method, also known as the ‘one bowl’ method. Unlike the traditional creaming method, you don’t whip the butter with the sugar which creates a more fluffy texture due to the air incorporated. Thus, the reverse creaming method yields a more velvety and dense cake.


I made this cake for no special occasion at all, other than to experiment with a basic vanilla cake. In fact, I usually bake for no real occasion and end up giving them away to my friends and family. So yes, if you know me, you will be very well-fed!

I found that this cake was good by itself yet also versatile enough to accommodate a wide range of frostings. I also like that it uses whole eggs as it produces a rich yellow colour, soft texture and I can save the egg whites for the frosting.

Ingredients for cake (makes two 8-inch layers):
6 large egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon + teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (must be softened)



Preheat the oven to 175°C. Prepare two cake pans by lining them with baking paper.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the yolks, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl,combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed and beat for about 2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides again.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. The pans will be about half-full. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.

Let the cakes cool in the pan on racks. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up and cool completely before wrapping airtight.

The cake was frosted with a classic Italian Meringue Vanilla Buttercream. Refer to this link for the recipe. Alternatively, you can use your favourite buttercream recipe!

Serving tips: It is best to serve the cake at room temperature, and it should not be kept refrigerated for more than 2 days to prevent the cake from drying out.

Now you can have your cake and eat it too!

// A short update: I’m currently in Seoul for summer school at Korea University. In a blink, two weeks have passed. It is a lovely city and I’m enjoying student life abroad. Will be sharing more about my travels in my subsequent blog posts. Meanwhile, follow my Instagram (@vickiima) for more updates. Please leave a comment if you have any recommendations on what to do and things to see/eat xx.