As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I've never been much of a baker. Oh, I've baked things, and I make a mean chocolate chip cookie, but I just don't have the patience for it. And it makes me nervous to serve something I haven't been able to taste first. When you're cooking, you can taste as you can normally taste as you go and add a little of this or a little of that, but with baking, once it's in the oven, there's no going back.
And so I was understandably nervous to make a birthday cake for my daughter. Sophie's 3rd birthday isn't until the end of the month, but by then, all of the college students will be back in the U.S. We're planning a trip to a zoo on her birthday with her aunt who will be visiting, but I wanted her to have a bigger group sing "Happy Birthday," so I decided to make a cake for her a little early while the students were still here.
Since I've never made a cake from scratch before, I turned to two trusted sources: Recipezaar and Twitter. Unfortunately, my computer died a long, agonizing death** before I realized that I had some great suggestions from Twitter friends, so I went with a recipe I found on Recipezaar for Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Birthday Cake and Frosting. I wanted something basic, and this fit the bill. I used the buttercream frosting recipe that was listed with it, but I wasn't impressed by the results and ended up adding a lot more vanilla to hide the sugar taste and out of desparation to make it something spreadable, added a lot more butter. The results were pretty good, but I'll be looking elsewhere next time I have to make frosting. I added a layer of fresh strawberry filling between the layers because my daughter absolutely loves strawberries, and it was a good fruity addition to the rich cake.
The cake itself was dense, rich, and not too sweet. My husband, who doesn't care for cake all that much, even liked it and ate a second piece later in the evening. The recipe makes a huge amount of batter--enough for three layers--but I made a two-layer cake and 12 cupcakes. I'm looking forward to tweaking the base to make some flavored cakes in the future.
I think the decision to make an early birthday cake was a good choice:
Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Birthday Cake
found on Recipezaar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups self rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and lightly flour three 9 inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract, beating well after each addition.
Divide batter among the cake pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. If you're making cupcakes, line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers. Spoon the batter into the cups about three-quarters full. Bake until the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20 to 22 minutes. (Mine took about 18 minutes.) Remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on a rack before icing. When cake has cooled, ice between the layers, then ice top and sides of cake.
I made this the night before and stored the cake and cupcakes in the refrigerator. I took them out the next morning to let them come to room temperature before serving, as many of the comments on Recipezaar suggested that the cold cake is a bit dry.
**Since my laptop is now officially dead, I might be a little slower to post, respond to comments, or comment on your blogs than normal. We're trying to work out a solution, but it might be a little while until that happens...