Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The PERFECT birthday cake recipe

Ask and you shall receive, right?

A couple of months ago, I posted on fb that I was looking for the perfect birthday cake recipe.  Now, mind you, I already have lots of yummy, time consuming, from scratch recipes.

But I was looking for something foolproof.  Something I could recommend to a friend that usually uses boxed cake mixes.  Something that doesn't require beating egg whites to stiff peaks, but not too stiff, and folding them evenly into the matter.  Um...I do not have that kind of attention span.  It's all I can do to make sure I put 4 eggs in and not 3 or 5.  Seriously.

Here I will interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for a public health announcement.

What's wrong with cake mixes, you ask?

You would have to be living under a rock to be new to the health risks associated with hydrogenated oils, which are hidden, or right out in the open, in most boxed cake mixes.  But if you want a refresher, or just more resolve to make the switch, take a look at these reports:

Mayo Clinic weighs in on trans fats

Down with the basics and trans fats

I'm not worried about a little extra fat around the belly.  And I'm not talking about skipping ice cream so you can fit into that dress for the wedding.  I'm talking about heart problems.  Diabetes.  I'm worried about the health of my kids.  So, to me, trans fats are serious and not worth bothering with.  Yes, I know, everything in moderation.  But I feel like my family gets their moderate share of trans fats every time we eat out (yum!).  I choose to keep my house free of any trans fatty acids, so that I can relax during the times I can't control our diet- ie. every time we eat outside our own house.

I will now resume regular programming.

So..I need a whole foods based basic cake recipe that is easy enough to memorize, foolproof in that it tells me exactly what to do and when, and comes out perfectly every time.

A family friend, Andrea (who I hope will come and guest blog for us, as she is a wonderful chef), sent me the King Arthur recipe below:



Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour your choice of pan(s): one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round cake pans, three 8" round pans, or the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.
1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.
2) Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
3) Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.
4) Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.
5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.
6) Repeat this procedure with the second egg. Continue adding the eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added.
7) After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.
8) Transfer the batter to the pans of your choice. For layers, divide the batter among the pans. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a tablespoon.

For cupcakes, scoop by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tins.
9) Bake for 40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan; 27 minutes for 9" layers; 24 minutes for 8" layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes.
10. The cake is done when it's golden brown around the edges and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
11) Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool before removing it from the pan.

Recipe summary

Hands-on time:
15 mins. to 55 mins.
Baking time:
23 mins. to 40 mins.
Total time:
38 mins.
one 9" x 13" cake, 24 cupcakes, two 9" round layers, or three 8" round layers
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Recipe comments (105) »

Tips from our bakers

  • The butter in this recipe needs to be very soft. You can soften butter by placing the sticks, still in their wrappers, in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for 10 minutes. If you can leave a dent in the butter with a gentle touch, it's ready to use.
  • To warm the milk before adding it, heat it in the microwave for 1 minute. Add the vanilla after the milk is warm, then add all of the liquid to the recipe at once.
  • Never frost a cake until it's completely cool. For tips on frosting a cake, go to our cake decorating class.
  • This batter weighs 3 pounds; if you're using a scale to measure out your layers, each 9-inch layer should weigh 1 1/2 pounds; each 8-inch layer needs 12 ounces of batter.

this recipe

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Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 piece (57g) 
Servings Per Batch 24
Amount Per Serving
Calories 190Calories from Fat 24
Daily Value*
Total Fat6g
Saturated Fat4g
Trans Fat0g
Total Carbohydrate30g
Dietary Fiber0g
* The nutrition information provided for each recipe is determined by the ESHA Genesis R&D software program. Substituting any ingredients may change the posted nutrition information.

If this looks complicated, trust me, it's not.  I made 3 last night after a full day at the office.

This recipe is wonderful.  It is so easy, even I can do it in my last minute party prep frenzy.  (I tend to get a bit spastic as the party clock ticks down, which is why I plan ahead.)

To make this cake even better, Andrea suggests using a reduction sauce.  Here's how it's done- it's easier than it sounds, I promise:

All you need to do is put your sauce ingredients (Andrea suggests using 3 oranges, 2 t. sugar, and 1t. vanilla) in a sauce pan, bringing it to a boil, and letting the sauce reduce down by 1/3 over low heat.  Poke holes into the cake and drizzle the reduction sauce over the cake while it's cooling.  If you don't have oranges, you can use orange juice, or search the internet for a reduction sauce using ingredients you have on hand.

Why do this extra step, you ask?  Well, the beauty of those boxed cake mixes is that they have a long shelf life, which translates into a  long counter life once they are baked.  But made from scratch cakes can dry out quickly.  When making a birthday cake, which is often made a few days before the party, it is helpful to use a reduction sauce to keep the cake moist.

Once the cake cools, I wrap it up and freeze it until I am ready to frost it.  Stay tuned for the perfect icing recipe, along with natural icing dyes, later this week.

The reason I don't use the organic cake mixes is because they tend to dry out quickly.  My next step will be to try an organic cake mix with a reduction sauce.  I'll let you know how it goes.  For now, I am really happy with this recipe and I already have it memorized!

Anyone else have a whole foods cake recipe they love?


  1. Awesome! Too bad I just ordered WF cakes for our party on Thursday. The last cake we made at home was a Mark Bittman recipe. Not too hard to make, but was a bit dry the next day when we ate it. I'm REALLY in need of decent icing recipes - especially those that can actually *decorate* a cake! I am completely dependent on WF to decorate my cakes because I just can't deal with the icing and colors that don't work. But, I'm less happy with WF's policies now so I am in need of alternatives. Thanks for posting! :)

  2. Heather, I totally understand. I read about your WF cake debacle on fb! For me, I just can't justify paying their prices for cakes. I love the fact that they use whole food ingredients, but I cannot justify paying $60 for a plain cake to feed a group of kiddos. Well, I probably could justify it, but my husband would not be so inclined. :)

    Also...we are on a recent canola oil ban (unless it's expeller pressed) and dh is less than pleased that WF still uses the regular stuff in most of their baked goods. Ah, I often miss the days of blissful ignorance. Every day, it's something new it seems.

    The icing post will be here tomorrow, with natural dye options, too. Check back!

  3. ummmm... when you say YOU made 3 cakes last night after a day at the office....

    in other news, i can tell you the icing recipe right now off the top of my head, having made 3 and a half batches for those cakes YOU made last night... but i wouldnt want to spoil the blog. :)

    just sayin. see you tomorrow.