My goal was to make a yellow birthday cake with chocolate icing. I tried. I really did. But I failed. And I’m not unhappy about failing, not one little bit.
The test kitchen here at King Arthur Flour is a bastion of failure. Like baseball players, our theoretical goal is to bat 1.000, but it’s an impossible dream (like the ’67 Sox, for all you members of Red Sox Nation out there). Once in a blue moon does any of us think up a recipe, write it down, bake it, and WOW—instant success!
To continue with the baseball metaphor, we have a “three-strike rule” in the test kitchen, as in “Try a recipe three times and if you’re not pretty darned close, forget it and move on.” So the process is usually something like this: “Man, that was pretty bad,” followed by “Better, but it could still use…” followed by “Pretty good. Now, if I just increase the (cinnamon, butter, yeast…) a teeny, tiny bit…” And the fourth time should be—SHOULD be—perfect. (Sometimes we cheat and go to bat a fifth and sixth time, but we try to sneak such efforts past our fellow test bakers, lest they consider us truly lame.)
Thus did I start honing in on a really great yellow cake recipe iced with perfect fudge frosting. First attempt: dry and crumbly. I tried to salvage it by brushing vanilla syrup on top, but the result was “dry and crumbly with a 1/8” soggy layer of vanilla syrup on top.” I tried another recipe: better, but still kind of dry. I went back to the first recipe, subbing in some sour cream, tinkering with the sugar, the eggs… blecchh, worse than the first attempt.
So now I’d tried three times and “struck out.” But yellow cake—c’mon, EVERYONE can make yellow cake. Why can’t I? I researched my cookbooks, looking for something different; an old-fashioned, oil-based chiffon cake, perhaps. Tried it: moist, but dense and heavy. Tried a hot milk cake; OK, but too spongy. On and on it went, as I fussed and fussed and FUSSED with this project, covering my futile attempts with chocolate ganache and leaving them in the lunchroom for unsuspecting fellow employees (whose standards might not be as high as those we set in the test kitchen—cake is cake, after all).
And then finally—at last!—I gave up.
Why? Because my fellow test baker/blogger, Susan Reid, started working on the very same project (yellow cake) for a new recipe section, Guaranteed Classics, we’ll be posting online this summer. And Susan, being 20 times the cake baker I’ll ever hope to be, will no doubt nail this sucker in about 35 minutes (in a preheated 350°F oven) flat.
Thus, emotionally sucking my thumb and pouting, I retreated back into my safe haven of yeast bread. But first, I assuaged my feelings by going into the test kitchen and baking my favorite cake, a recipe my mom gave me years and years ago, one that never fails to elicit raves, one that’s simple to make, utterly delicious, and is my default office birthday party cake… Why was I fooling around with yellow cake when I could make a Blitz Torte?
When you want to make absolutely, positively certain that your cake won't stick in the pan, line the pan with parchment paper, the baker's best friend. First, put your cake pans on a sheet of parchment, and trace their bottoms with a felt-tip marker.
Cut the circles out, and put them into the pans, which you've first sprayed with non-stick vegetable oil spray. My favorite is Everbake, since it doesn't leave that annoying brown, sticky goo on your baking sheets. Spray the parchment, too.
This recipe calls for four eggs, separated. That means you have to separate the yolks from the whites. The easiest way is to crack the eggshell in half, and pour the yolk and white from one side to the other.
Spread it towards the edges of the pans. Don't be too fussy; it's OK if the batter doesn't quite reach the edges.
Next, go back to that bowl of egg whites. Beat them, gradually adding the sugar, till they're glossy and starting to mound. There's no need to beat them till they're stiff; they just need to be pillowy. Hey, how do you like that? You've made meringue!
...then gently settle down as they cool. Use a spatula or table knife to loosen the edges of the cakes from the pan.
Put one layer on a serving plate, and spread it with your favorite filling. Mine is instant vanilla pudding, enhanced with extra vanilla extract and made with half and half (or even heavy cream) instead of milk. Tastes just as decadently rich as the best pastry cream, and it's a whole lot easier to make.
Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Blitz Torte.