Vanilla layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting

Let's start the week off with cake, shall we?  At least we'll kick it off by looking at cake.  That's really all I did because I made this vanilla layer cake with chocolate buttercream for my son's school fair this weekend.  
The cake is a double recipe of the Hummingbird Bakery's vanilla cupcakes.  Last time I made them, I was impressed by their flavor as well as moist and fluffy texture using a relatively small amount of butter (3 tablespoons for a dozen cupcakes).  It's an easy, tasty vanilla cake recipe that I was happy to whip up again.

I thought I'd pair the vanilla cake with an easy chocolate buttercream.  You can't go wrong covering all the bases with both chocolate and vanilla, right?  
Once again, making this cake reminded me that frosting/decorating layer cakes is not my thing.  I had some vague notion to pipe something on top of the cake but it just didn't work out.  I think it took me longer to figure out (more like "fix") the decoration (if you can call it that!) than to make and bake the cake layers.  In any case, I believe this is the time when we bring out words like "rustic" and "homemade" to describe the effort.  Regardless of how a cake ends up looking, there's still always something special and rewarding about creating a homemade one from scratch.
I had to sneak off a bit of the batter and make an extra cupcake (okay, two cupcakes) for my fellas.  That way, we get to taste test and make sure everything is alright.
Have a great week ahead!


The vanilla cake layers

If you're looking for a simple vanilla cake recipe that turns out a flavorful, moist, tender, light and fluffy cake, this is a good one.  I doubled the Hummingbird Bakery's vanilla cupcakes recipe and baked two 8-inch round layers (with 2 cupcakes as baker's bonus).  The last time when I made just cupcakes, I added vanilla beans.  I didn't do that this time but I recommend it if you have it on hand and want to give your cake that lovely vanilla-specked look and a little extra flavor.
I actually remembered to use my baking strips!  I bought them a while back and only used them once or twice since I've taken to making smaller 6-inch cakes lately.  I think the baking strips do help cakes bake up with a more even, flat-surface - very helpful when you're making a layer cake.  And the cakes turned out moist all around, including the edges and sides.  I'd compare the texture of this cake to ones made with oil instead of butter (which is what's used here).

Easy chocolate buttercream

I had planned to pair this cake with Ina's chocolate buttercream frosting, which is very chocolaty and smooth compared to other standard American confectioners' sugar-based buttercreams.  Not being a fan of buttercream (yes, it's true), it's pretty much the only buttercream I really like.  But then I remembered a problem...that buttercream calls for an egg yolk and I thought I'd go with something else since I was packing this up for my son's school fair.

This chocolate buttercream I ended up using is pretty standard fair but you start off by whipping the butter itself thoroughly in order to give the finished buttercream a really fluffy texture.  It ends up looking a lot like a chocolate/cocoa whipped cream frosting.
It's so nice when a cake comes together!
And I managed to box it up and deliver it safely without dropping it or any other mishap on a rainy afternoon.


Recipe:

Vanilla Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream
Cake recipe adapted from Hummingbird Bakery's vanilla cupcakes; Buttercream recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

- Makes a two-layer, 8-inch round cake -

For the cake layers:
2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
Scant 1 1/2 cups (280 grams) granulated or superfine sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the buttercream:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bake cake layers:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray, line the bottoms with a piece of parchment round and lightly grease the paper.  

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on low speed until combined.  The butter should be incorporated into the dry ingredients though the mixture will look somewhat sandy.  Gradually add half the milk and beat until just combined.

In a measuring cup, whisk the eggs, remaining milk and vanilla extract together.  Pour this into the flour mixture and continue to beat until mixture is smooth and just combined.  

Divide the batter between the cake pans, smoothing out the tops.  Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, approximately 25 minutes.  Remove cakes from the oven, set on a wire rack, and let cool for about 30 minutes in the pan before turning them out onto the wire rack to cool completely.

Make buttercream frosting:
Place chocolate and instant espresso powder (if using) into a heatproof bowl and melt carefully in the microwave or set over a pot of barely simmering water.  Set aside and let cool.

Attach the whisk attachment to a stand mixer.  Place butter into the bowl of the stand mixer and whip the butter for 5 minutes on medium-high speed, stopping to scrape the bowl a couple of times.

On low-speed, gradually add the confectioners' sugar.  Once incorporated, add vanilla and whip on medium-high speed until incorporated.  Add chocolate and continue to whip, scraping the bowl as needed, until frosting is light and fluffy, another minute or two.

Assemble:
Set one cooled cake layer onto a serving plate and tuck pieces of wax or parchment paper under the cake for easy clean up.  Place a couple of large dollops of buttercream on top and spread with an offset spatula to coat.  Place second cake layer on top and frost the top and sides with the remaining buttercream.  Decorate as desired.  




52 comments:

  1. I think this cake looks beautiful Monica! The layers came out perfectly and I can imagine what a great hit this was at your son's school fair :) Hehe, I usually scrape off most of the icing and decorations on my slice anyway so if it were up to me - I always choose the "homemade" one :) And you definitely can't go wrong with vanilla and chocolate - sounds so tasty and totally wishing I had a slice now!

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    1. You are always sweet and kind, Kelly! I'm like you...I'm all about the cake in these types of layer cakes. With buttercream, I also usually scrape off most of the icing (seriously - how can I say that with a "baking blog" but it's true...except for ganache...I could eat a bowl of that!).

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  2. A very beautiful layered cake, Monica. I would love to taste one of cupcakes :-))

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  3. What a BEAUTIFUL cake, Monica! I bet this blew everyone away at the school fair!!

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    1. haha - not at all! There are far better cake-bakers than me at school. The theme is actually colorful (think lots of colorful icing and m&m's) on these cakes but I always seem to miss the memo and do a 'boring' traditional cake. : )

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  4. I think it came out so pretty Monica! I'm not the best cake decorator either and I always end up getting frustrated that it doesn't look like what I dreamed up in my head : ) I bet it tasted wonderful!

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    1. You are very kind, Ashley! The bad thing is I don't even really have a concept before I start...I just assume I can squeeze the piping bag and something decent will come out of it...but not so much this time! : )

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  5. What an absolutely perfect cake! I love a good ole fashioned cake like this.

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  6. Awww Monica - it is a beautiful cake and I was just thinking how much I like the little decoration! I like it, and love buttercream, and cake, and dessert - so thanks for making me drool at lunchtime! Hope you have a great week too.

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    1. haha - appreciate it, Tricia! I love your love of dessert...it's a beautiful thing and I can relate.

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  7. Such a beautiful cake Monica, I am sure it went down a storm at the bake sale!! Love the vanilla cake and light chocolate buttercream frosting :-)

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    1. I doubt it, Jo. I think the minion cakes and m&m-laden ones were way cooler.

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  8. PS meant to say, don't you find the baking strips brilliant?!

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    1. yes!! I was impressed at how it keeps the cake layers flat! I need to find one for 6-inch cakes! Thanks, Jo!

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  9. Monica, this cake is gorgeous! That fluffy chocolate buttercream is calling my name. Especially since I made my first successful layer cake recently, I'm really tempted to try this! Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Georgia. I need some cake-decorating lessons for sure. I bet yours would be beautiful. You seem most certainly like a lady who would excel at cake decorating! :)

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  10. I LOVE yellow cake with chocolate frosting!! Great idea to make extra cupcakes, too!

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    1. Yeah...had to skim a little off the top...no one will notice 2 cupcakes, right? ;)

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  11. Hi Monica, wow, some lucky person will win this cake at your son's school, I bet it is delicious!

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    1. I don't know about "lucky"... thank you, Cheri.

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  12. What a delicious sounding cake and I like that pretty swirly piping detail you've added too! :D

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    1. I think of it as a little "hair clip" for my cake. ; )

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  13. What adorable cakes! I love the way you decorated the cake, it seems like a really easy but elegant way to go.

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  14. What a beautiful cake , Monica! I bet everyone loved it at your son's school!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Balvinder...as always...

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  15. Monica, this looks delicious! I'm not a great cake decorator. I aspire to be one someday, but I'm far from that. Yes, fancy decorating makes it look...well fancy but taste is what matters most. :D I'm sure it was loved by all. You just can beat vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.

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    1. Decorating cakes/bending down and staring/inhaling frosting gets me kind of cross-eyed and dizzy! I don't think I could ever get much "better". Thanks, Cindy!

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  16. What a beautiful cake! Love all your little pretty touches! Good and clever mummy your are!

    ela
    Gray Apron

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    1. I tried my best...as inadequate as it was... : )

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  17. that cake looks so beautiful! very classic, chocolate and vanilla together: everyone loves the combo so you're totally safe! and if your cake is going somewhere, it's like a requirement you squeeze a cupcake or two out of it (for quality control.) ALWAYS. :)

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    1. You guys are too kind. Thank you, Shannon. And I'm glad you agree on the need to skim a couple of cupcakes in situations like this.

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  18. Beautiful cake, love the classic flavors and it's really perfect way to start a week in book ;)

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    1. It is nice to think about chocolate and vanilla cake at the beginning of the week, I think. So far, it's going well! : )

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  19. To be honest, your frosting troubles might have been from the recipe. When I started doing more of the meringue buttercreams, I had a much easier time frosting cakes. So, don't blame yourself. :) The cake sounds delightful, though--fluffy, light, and I love chocolate frosting on vanilla cake.

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    1. I know what you mean about meringue buttercream - I've only made it a couple of times but I know it's a lot smoother - *but* I've once colored it and had trouble with icing it for cupcake...so...I think it's me!

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  20. Aww don't be so hard on yourself - I think the cake looks great!! I most certainly wouldn't be able to turn down a slice.

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    1. Who needs a pretty cake, anyway, right? ; ) Thanks, Joanne.

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  21. Monica, my friend, I think you are delightfully crazy! This cake not only sounds and looks delicious (the most important thing in a cake) but it looks simple and elegant, sure to be enjoyed by all. It reminds me very much of cakes we used to purchase at a French bakery in Florida near my grandparents' home to celebrate special occasions. The more I bake from scratch, the less I enjoy packaged cakes and artificial flavors. I NEEDED a good vanilla cake recipe. Thanks!
    This past weekend I was in Wisconsin visiting a friend on her birthday. Her husband baked two layers of cake then made a double batch of frosting. To my dismay and surprise he then turned the project over to me to complete! I hate making layer cakes. Mine always look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I did my best and my friend seemed pleased but I was stressed! Believe me, your layer cake impresses me! :)

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    1. ha - thank you, Wendy. Everything is relative. I think I have visions of wedding-cake pretty cakes and when swirls just don't much swirl and you run out of frosting in your piping bag, I just kind of stand there wondering what I was thinking! I wasn't thinking enough, I suppose. : )
      I'm sure you did a fantastic job on your friend's cake. Homemade is definitely better...some bakery cakes just have a generic "bakery" smell and taste to them that's off-putting. That said, there are also plenty of amazing cakes we can buy so I take advantage of both!

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  22. I don't see anything wrong with the piping of the frosting, in fact, I absolutely loved it!!!!! And that buttercream looks DIVINE!!!!!! And did I tell you that vanilla sponge looks soooo incredibly soft; all I want is a nice massive slice of that cake and I'll be a happy girl! :D

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    1. Thank you, Samina. I appreciate it.

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  23. I so need this right now. Sipping away my morning coffee. This would be perfect!
    It's beautiful!!

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    1. Ha - Asmita, I think I want to duck my head at the idea of *you* seeing my cake-decorating attempt!

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  24. Haha yes indeed, "rustic" is the perfect cover-up word to use, but you know the most important thing about any cake is that it tastes good. No matter how pretty it is, a cake has to taste delicious in order to be worth making. And your cake looks lovely! I love the little chocolate swirl and the chocolate beads (?).

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    1. Yes, they're little chocolate beads and they're crunchy (like a little teeny crunch ball). Love them though haven't had much chance to use them.

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  25. Your cake looks like one from a very nice pastry shop! You're very talented, Monica! The cupcake swirl looks so professionally done. I love how detailed you are when you make desserts!

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    1. I don't know about that but thank you. ; )

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  26. Aw, I wish I had seen this a couple weeks ago as my friend was asking me for a good vanilla cake recipe for her son's 1st bday :) This one looks so yummy! You totally have me craving a good, moist cake now. What brand are those baking strips? I've heard of them and wanna give them a try...

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    1. Mine are Regency Even-Bake Cake Strips from sur la table. Good thing I went to look because I thought they were Wilton ones! I am always looking for something to buy at sur la table. : )

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