Classic and easy butter cake

I’ve been spending waaaaay too much time reading Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book, The Cake Bible.  Rose explains the instructions and history of cakes and all its accessories, but then goes a few steps further and covers the science of it all in a lot of detail.   I probably read a bit too much, and even had weird dreams about buttercream vs mousseline buttercream and the correct amount of syrup to add with genoise….

I’ve been afraid to make some of these cakes since they require so many egg yolks, but I finally gave in and made a classic yellow buttercake with mocha buttercream, storing all the egg whites in a bowl in the freezer for another day.

Rose considers this cake the basis for all of her butter cakes.  It’s versatile, delicious and easy to make!  The buttercream recipe was also much simpler to make than Dorie’s recipe, and creamier and tastier 🙂  Don’t worry about all the egg yolks; there are plenty of recipes that use egg whites (angel food cake, chiffon cake, etc).  And as for the cholesterol… well, we should indulge ourselves now and then 🙂

When separating egg yolks from egg whites, I’d recommend using two separate bowls and one smaller bowl to actually crack the eggs into.  Most egg white recipes won’t bake correctly if even the smallest amount of fat is introduced into the recipe, so you need to be extra careful when separating the eggs.  I crack one egg at a time and pour all the egg white into the small bowl before adding it into the bigger one.  I actually messed up one so my egg white bowl only has 11 total egg whites 😦

Rose also uses a unique mixing technique that I’ve never read about before when making her cakes.  Most baking recipes use the traditional “creaming” method: creaming the butter and sugars together, then the rest of the wet ingredients (such as other fats, eggs, etc) before adding the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder/soda, salt, etc) and kneading sparsely to prevent too much gluten activation.  Activating gluten is good for bread and certain cookies, but would result in cakes that are too chewy or dense.

Rose’s method actually mixes the dry ingredients first, then adds the butter before anything else.  The butter has to be the correct consistency (between 65 and 75 deg, so around room temperature) for this to work.  She says that adding the butter in this method will reduce the chance of gluten activating when introducing the other wet ingredients.  Also make sure to sift the cake flour before incorporating!

All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake

from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp + 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 12 TBSP unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. In a medium bowl, combine the yolks, 1/4 cup milk and vanilla.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 sec to blend. Add butter and remaining 3/4 c milk. Mix on low sped until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to high speed ( for hand mixers) and beat 1 1/2 min to aerate and develop cake structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

4. Scrape the batter into prepared pans and smooth the surface with spatula. ( pan will be 1/2 full).

5. Bake 25-35 mins. THe cake should shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
Store: 2 days room temperature, 5 days refrigerated, 2 months frozen.
Texture is most perfectly moist the same day as baking.
Complementary adornments: A simple dusting of powdered sugar, buttercream, glaze or fondant.

I chose to make a mocha buttercream for this cake.  Rose explains how to make buttercream the traditional way, and then the “neoclassic” way, which is much simpler and gives identical results.

Neoclassic Buttercream

from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup corn syrup
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 to 4 Tablespoons liqueur or eau-de-vie of your choice


1.  Have ready a greased 1 cup heatproof glass measure near the range.

2.  In a bowl beat the yolks with an electric mixer until light in color.

3. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan (preferably with a nonstick lining) and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. (The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

4.  If using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don’t allow syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of a bowl. If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off. Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition, use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Continue beating until completely cool.

5.  Gradually beat in the butter and, if desired, any optional flavoring. Place in an airtight bowl. Bring to room temperature before using. Rebeat to restore texture.

6. (Optional) For chocolate buttercream, mix in 6 oz of melted (and cooled) bittersweet chocolate when adding the butter.  This time, instead of stupid Ghiradelli, I used Guittard and the difference was remarkable 🙂

7. (Optional) For mocha buttercream, dissolve 2 TBSP instant espresso powder into 1 tsp of boiling water, and add the mixture into the chocolate buttercream.  You can also add some Kahlua for more coffee flavor.

Assembling the cake was simple, compared to some of the 4 and 5 layer cakes I’ve been making, especially since the filling and frosting were the same.  Eh, it’s nice to have simple cakes sometimes 🙂

I first put a thin layer of buttercream on the cake as a crumb layer and chilled for 30 minutes, then piped the rest on using a star shaped piping tip.  Again, obviously my presentation skills need some work, but I guess practice makes perfect… plus I should probably take some of those cake decorating classes or something.


8 Responses to “Classic and easy butter cake”

  1. 1 karen jean
    December 15, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    oh man, that looks so delicious!! 🙂

  2. 2 JK
    December 16, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    The cake looks great! 🙂

  3. 4 Anonymous
    December 19, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    om nom nom

  4. December 20, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Coincidentally, the Minimalist at the New York Times just wrote about a what to consider using all those egg whites for: vanilla meringues!

  5. December 20, 2008 at 10:14 am

    P.S. In case the link to the meringues doesn’t show up, it’s http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/dining/171mrex.html.

  6. 7 sherry
    December 20, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    wow jin! getting fancy smancy with the decorating! it looks delicious 🙂

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