Yellow Cake with Chocolate Icing


This past weekend, the hubby and I spent hours chasing my son around a university campus I called home for two years.  A place grounded in traditions and full of so many memories for me, my sister and my two cousins who have all graduated (or will this spring) from there.  And now it is a town full of memories for my own son  – his first football game, his first ice cream pop and his first real word . . . blue.


The hubby and I thought through a lot of things when we decided to start our family.  Do we move to the burbs or stay in the city? What kind of parents should we be? And the list goes on. But I don’t think either of us realized that we were really starting a family of our own, separate from the one’s we grew up with, and with our own traditions.  Some traditions we have stumbled on, like this past weekend, and others we have tried to force, unsuccessfully, like our staycation Christmas (never again!).



When my son’s first birthday came around a few months ago, I initially was going to treat it like any other weekday. But as the day drew closer I knew that this day would never again be like any other day, nor should it be.  We had all survived our first year together and that was something to be celebrated, but more than that, it was something to remember and it got me thinking about traditions.

My birthday falls on a holiday weekend.  Growing up, we were rarely home, or if we were none of my friends were home to celebrate it with me.  I always felt special on my birthday but never really had any tradition tied to it.  My sister on the other hand always got a Carvel cake for her birthday with the chocolate crunchies and when I married my husband, my mother-in-law gifted me her recipe for his “birthday icing,” a recipe given to her from her mother-in-law. I loved this idea of a birthday tradition, probably secretly because I never had one of my own, and decided I was going to create one for my son.



When his birthday finally arrived, I took the day off from work to spend with him, taking him to a children’s museum and for a ride in his new toy car, but I also took it off to bake him his first cake.  The pressure was on to find the perfect recipe and I think I got pretty close. My baking skills were beyond rusty, failing to read the recipe in full before I started, which resulted in starting over a few times.  The result, however, was as close to perfect as I was going to get.  He devoured the slice we gave him and even asked for more. That was all I needed to know that I had successfully created a birthday tradition, well until he insists for birthday icing like his dad.


Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting 

Serves 4

For the Cake:

1/4 cup cake flour (you can make with 1 cup of flour, remove 2 tbsp and substitute 2 tbsp of cornstarch and sift several times)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 large egg white, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


For the Icing:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

pinch of salt

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ounces chocolate, melted and cooled slightly


Place rack in the middle position of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees

Grease and flour two 6-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, 6 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, egg yolks, oil and vanilla together in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whip the egg white with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until foamy, 30 to 60 seconds.  Gradually whip in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form 2 to 3  minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on low-speed, gradually combine the butter mixture with the flour mixture until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), 15 to 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to medium-low and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds longer.

Using a rubber spatula, stir one-third of the whipped egg white in the batter to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining egg white until not white streaks remain.

Divide the batter between the prepared pan, smooth the tops and gently tap the pans to settle the batter.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs attached.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes.  Run a knife along the end, flip them out on a wire rack, remove the parchment paper and then flip right side up.  Let cool for at least an hour and a half before icing.

To make the icing, process the butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa and salt in a food processor until smooth, about 10 seconds.  Add the corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, then add the chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 5 to 10 seconds.

To assemble place one of the cakes on a cake platter and spread 1/4 cup of the icing over the cake, right to the edges. Place the remaining cake layer on top and press lightly to adhere.  Frost the cake with the remaining icing.

From America’s Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2009


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