making a from-scratch cake is almost as easy as making a box cake — and the incremental extra effort it takes is nothing compared to to the total fucking deliciousness you wind up wtih. a few extra steps and you’ve got a cake that is buttery, vanilla-y, and just so happens to also be the perfect vehicle for from-scratch chocolate buttercream.
here’s a hack, ps — if you absolutely must use box cake, add a little vanilla to yellow / white / spice cakes and a little instant coffee (mixed with whatever water the recipe calls for) for chocolate cake to make them more yummy.
this recipe makes one 9×13 or two 9-inch cake rounds — all my references here are for the 9×13 version.
– butter (softened, ½ cup)
– sugar (cake sugar if you have it, granulated is fine too — 1 1/2 cups)
– eggs (3)
– flour (all purpose, 2 1/4 cups)
– salt (fine-grain sea salt, 1 teaspoon)
– baking powder (3 1/2 teaspoons)
– milk (dairy or substitute all work, 1 1/4 cups)
– vanilla (1 tablespoon)
preheat oven to 350F. grease or spray your pan, with whatever method you prefer (spray, butter wrappers — it all works) and dust lightly to coat with flour (optional).
beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light, then add eggs. once blended, add all dry ingredients, and wrap it up by adding the milk and vanilla. as everything incorporates, shift the beater to high and let it run for a solid two to three minutes, but don’t exceed three.
as a rule, always remember to not over-mix once the eggs come in to play, as too much egg-beating will leave you with a tougher product.
pour into your prepared pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the tops spring back lightly when pressed. in dealing with newer apartment ovens in the past, I’ve had to compensate for heat fluctuations by baking for exactly 30 minutes at 325F, so be sure to keep an eye once that 25 minute mark hits to make sure you don’t overbake. a few minutes long won’t ruin the cake — the worst thing that happens is a bit of dryness that you can easily compensate for by adding extra frosting! once you’ve made this cake a few times, you’ll get a feel for how your oven prepares it best.
this recipe is pretty straightforward, and I tend not to mess with it — one step I have done when making this for an intense chocolate-lover was to spread mini-chips on top of the cake fresh out of the oven, and as they melted I gently (so as not to rip off the top cake layer) spread them out with a spatula. once frosting was added, this made a bit of a ganache-type layer that took the chocolate element to a whole new level!
another spin you can try, depending on taste preference, is experimenting with adding various spices to the batter — cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, citrus zest, and ginger all blend well with the yellow cake / chocolate frosting combination.