I turned into an alchemist while receiving unemployment checks. I burnt caramel the first time I tried my hand at it, which led me to throwing the pot away. I dropped a cake trying to get it out of the oven. It smashed against the linoleum of the two bedroom apartment we rented in California. It was three dollars wasted on the milk and sugar and eggs, back when I had to put that on a credit card and hope I could pay it off the next month.
I baked when I thought I could save money and I was scared I’d mess up. I did my research, and I practiced daily. I wanted any excuse to bake, from making pancakes for my boyfriend, to bringing cakes to Saturday hangouts with friends. It was a learning experience, an escape, a purpose. It was all I could do to pass the stagnant hours, avoiding the phone, the mailman, and my parents for hours or days at a time. They all brought bad news. I didn’t want bad news. I just wanted to bake and write.
So I started a blog. I began with a mixing bowl and a few tools—a whisk, a spoon, a few mismatched measuring cups. We’d moved around and I’d bought it all from the 99 Cents Only Store. So I started with the basics and worked my way up. With simple cakes, malleable in flavor and a blank canvas for my increasing imagination. With sweet, sweet icings and a cake that was vaguely orange-scented. And I’m sharing it all with you now, to encourage you to bake, to have a purpose, and to keep working at your passion. For The Chef can make that even easier for you with their Mixing Essentials Kit, a 15-piece collection for a starting point, for when you’re lost or lonely or just starting out. For when you have nothing to lose and a whole day ahead of you.
Basic Yellow Cake
Makes two 9-inch cakes
- 2 ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cup whole milk
- ½ tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoon orange juice
- 8 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ cup vegetable shortening
- 2 cup white sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Prep your cake pans by coating the interior with softened butter or cooking oil then line them with parchment paper.
- In a bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder and set aside.
- In a large measuring cup, whisk together milk, vanilla, vinegar, zest, and juice until fully emulsified. Set aside for later.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream your sugar into your fats. Continue to cream on medium-high until butter mixture is a pale yellow and light.
- Add the eggs one at a time starting with the yolks and ending with the egg whites. Make sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Your mixture will look slightly curdled at this stage, but it will come together in the proceeding steps.
- Now, with mixture speed on low, alternate between adding your dry ingredients and your milk mixture, ending with your wet ingredients
- You should now have a buttery, yellow batter. Turn the mixer off and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl to ensure that all ingredients have been fully mixed into the batter.
- Divide the cake batter between the two pans and gently tap base of cake pans against your table to allow any excess air pockets to settle and escape.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden. To ensure that the cakes are fully baked us a toothpick or a clean knife to poke the center of the cake and if it comes out clean the cakes are fully baked. If there is some wet cake batter allow to bake an additional 2 minutes or so.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool before turning out of pan and decorating
Simple Vanilla Buttercream
Makes 2 cups
- 8 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoon heavy cream
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, mix together butter, shortening, vanilla, and salt on high until light.
- With the stand mixer on low, add confectioner’s sugar, one cup at a time. Do not add your subsequent cup until previous is thoroughly incorporated
- Now, your icing will be slightly clumpy and maybe a little dry. To fix this, whisk on a medium speed and slowly add your cream, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a spreadable and light buttercream.
- Use the frosting immediately or store for a day in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week
Frosting the Cakes
- Once the cakes have cooled start by adding a dab of frosting to the cake stand or plate that the cake will be served on. Adding a dab of frosting will prevent the cake from sliding.
- Set the first cake layer on top of the frosting right-side up so that the flat bottom sits on the stand. Using an offset spatula, put a large dollop of frosting, about 1 to 1½ cups, in the center of the bottom layer and spread outwards just beyond the edge of your cake. Any overhang of frosting will help you frost the sides of the cake.
- Once the bottom layer’s top is completely and evenly frosted place the second cake layer on top. Gently press it down to make sure it sticks. Take a moment to step back and check that it is level and centered. If not, do so by gently maneuvering the layers.
- Add about 1 to 1 ½ cups of frosting to the center of the second layer and spread it out. You might catch some crumbs in the frosting, simply scrape the dirty frosting off your spatula into a separate bowl.
- Next, frost the sides of the cake in small sections, gently turning the cake stand as you frost. Completely frost the cake and then go back over it with your spatula smoothing out the cake, removing any excess frosting.
Slice, serve, and enjoy!
Learn more about Brett and his blog here.