Saturday, January 30, 2010

Yellow Cake and Fudge Frosting

I love birthday cake. I really do. Making it AND eating it (of course). And I love feeding my friends. So if I ever offer to make a cake for you, do not feel obligated to accept my offer, but do know that it is a sincere gesture of friendship.

Having grown up in the home that I grew up in, I can't help but to see food as love, and a birthday is a natural occasion for this expression of affection. Just mention "rainbow jello"* around my mom, and you'll suddenly have this appear on your birthday:

Somehow this jello developed into a birthday tradition in our family, and I can't argue with having another dessert like this in addition to cake on any occasion. Plus it's so pretty! Add this to the fact that I have a brother who at the age of 5 turned down playing games at a birthday party with the remark "I just came for the cake," and you know that birthday desserts are essential in our family.

Anyways, this digression on rainbow jello really is meant to illustrate the relationship of food to affectionate birthday celebrations in my life. A friend's birthday happened this past week, and since she took me up on my offer of a cake and told me what kind she likes, I got to make one!

This yellow cake comes from smitten kitchen, a blog that has given me consistently great recipes. The blogger raved about this as THE yellow cake recipe to have, so I had to give it a try. I'm hard to please when it comes to cakes made from scratch, which means that I only try a cake recipe when I've been convinced that it will turn out well.

I liked this yellow cake; it is fairly firm, but not dry, and has a nice vanilla flavor. I LOVED the frosting, though, so I most definitely would make that again. It's basically a buttercream icing with melted unsweetened chocolate added in, but it has great chocolate flavor and fluffy texture. The perfect match for yellow cake.

Yellow Cake
from smitten kitchen

Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake

4 C plus 2 T cake flour (not self-rising)
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 C) unsalted butter, softened
2 C sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 C buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray with cooking spray cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter or spray and flour parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Fudge Frosting

Makes about 5 C (more than enough to frost a 2-layer 9" cake)

6 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 C confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 T half-and-half or whole milk
1 T vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth. Alternatively, cream all ingredients together with a hand or stand mixer until smooth.

Frosting tips: Be careful on hot days to make sure the frosting isn't getting melty; if it's getting soft as you are frosting the cake, you can stick the cake and the bowl of frosting into the fridge to firm up before you continue frosting. It's also a good idea to freeze cakes before frosting them in order to prevent crumbs from coming off the cake as you frost it, and to keep the frosting cool.

If you're planning to write on the cake, you can combine all of the frosting ingredients except the melted chocolate in the food processor or mixer until smooth. Set aside a half-cup of the white frosting for tinting and writing, then add the chocolate to finish making the frosting.

Happy birthday celebrations to all!

* For those who are judgmental about gelatin-based desserts, I must say that:
1. My Scandinavian family has midwestern roots which requires holiday jello consumption, and my Californian Chinese side enjoys some good jello from time to time. It's not my favorite thing, but this rainbow jello and jello with some good fruit in it definitely are nice sometimes.
2. There is a long tradition of using gelatin in desserts in French cuisine (see my posts on gelatin sheets here and here), which many would see as "refined." There are some light and fluffy desserts that are very difficult to stabilize without some kind of gelatin.
3. This layered jello takes more skill than most jello dishes. See how even those layers are? Doesn't happen on its own.
4. Gelatin is necessary to make good marshmallows, and I couldn't live without those!


  1. I made this cake for Byrd's birthday and really liked it, too. I think the buttermilk keeps it moist. I want to try the Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting that she pairs with this cake on the blog. Love your comments for the jello-judgers out there!

  2. I agree about the buttermilk, especially since there aren't whipped egg whites in this recipe to keep the texture light. I also am interested in the sour cream frosting; I wanted something more traditional to keep folks happy at the birthday party, but I'm wondering if the sour cream frosting would be something like the chocolate cream cheese frosting I've made before - and that turned out well!

  3. The Jello looks yummy. (The cake, too, of course!!)