Years ago, I discovered the ultimate chocolate cake recipe and never looked back. This simple combination of ingredients produces an exceptionally dark and moist sponge that has become my go-to whenever a chocolate cake is needed – black forest, German chocolate, even an ultra-rich red velvet. Full confession – this sponge is not one of my recipes. I found it on the internet and would give credit if I could find the original recipe/author. My contribution is the addition of coffee/espresso which gives chocolate a richer flavor.
For over a decade, I’ve been searching for the vanilla equivalent to this chocolate version – a tried-and-true vanilla cake that is rich, moist, and flavorful. I’ve tested a handful of recipes, always disappointed with the result, until now. Since bakers and tasters have different ideas about what makes a “perfect” vanilla cake, I’ve found it difficult to find a recipe that matches my own aesthetic. Many people look to boxed cake mixes as the “classic” vanilla cake, but I usually find them too light and delicate, often dry and lackluster, with an artificial vanilla taste. Consequently, I’ve called this cake “My Favorite” versus “Ultimate” or “Best” since my cake holy grail may be miles away from your ideal.
This sponge is a combination of a few recipes and calls for a mixture of browned butter and room-temperature butter for a rich flavor as well as oil which adds a tender texture. I also used vanilla bean paste because I like to see the little specs of vanilla beans, but real vanilla extract works as well. No imitation vanilla, please. This recipe results in a buttery and moist sponge – luxurious, but not quite as heavy as pound cake. If you are looking for a fluffy, light, butter-free cake, this recipe is not for you.
For testing, I paired the sponge with a classic chocolate buttercream frosting, but found the chocolate overwhelmed the delicate vanilla bean and browned butter flavor. This sponge would be best paired with a vanilla Chantilly cream or Seven-minute frosting and layered with fresh fruit to ensure the flavor of the cake shines through.
MY FAVORITE VANILLA CAKE RECIPE
This recipe results in a rich, buttery, and moist sponge – luxurious, but not quite as heavy as pound cake.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
- 1 ⅔ cups whole or 2% milk
- 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
- 3 ⅓ cups sifted cake flour
- 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 ⅓ cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or real vanilla extract)
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- Place ½ cup (1 stick) butter in a small saucepan. Melt butter over medium-low heat. Swirl butter frequently. Continue swirling until melted butter turns light brown in color and smells nutty. Remove from heat and let cool. In a liquid measuring cup, combine milk with white vinegar and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease bottoms of three 8″ x 2″ round cake pans and line with parchment. Grease and flour parchment and sides of pans. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together cooled browned butter, room temperature butter, vegetable oil, and sugar until light, fluffy, and no longer grainy, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla bean paste.
- Beat in eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated. Be sure to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl a few times to ensure ingredients are fully combined. Beat in flour in 3 additions, alternating with milk in two additions (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour).
- Divide batter evenly between the baking pans and smooth the tops. Bake cakes for approximately 25-30 minutes, swapping position of cake pans halfway through. The cakes are done when internal temperature in the center of the cake registers 190ºF or a toothpick inserted comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Cool 5 minutes, remove from pans turn out onto cooling racks, remove parchment, cool completely, and frost.