Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 8" or two 9" round cake pans. For extra protection against sticking, line the bottom of the pans with parchment rounds.
Beat the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract (or fruit zest) and optional almond extract into a smooth paste. The sugar will stay granular.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating at medium speed just until they're incorporated, and scraping the bottom of the bowl after each addition.
Add the flour alternately with the milk, mixing at medium-low speed and beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape the bowl a few times during this process. Once the last of the flour is added, mix briefly, just until smooth.
Divide the batter between the pans. Cakes will self-level in the oven, so there's no need to smooth the top with a spatula. However, it does help to remove any large bubbles by banging the cake pans firmly on the counter 7 or 8 times.
Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, until evenly browned and a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
Remove from the oven, and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a spatula around the edges to loosen, and turn out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting.
Tips from our Bakers
- The cake is tender, so be sure to let it rest for at least 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan.
- You might recognize this as a variation of a treasured old recipe that's been around for years: the 1,2,3,4 cake (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and 4 eggs). Because our King Arthur Unbleached Self-Rising Flour is so soft, we increased the amount of flour a bit so the cake would hold together; we think of it as a softer version of an old friend.
- If you're used to using cake strips, don't use them here; they'll delay the cake setting, and it'll fall.
- Avoid over-beating the batter; keep your mixer speed at medium or below. Add the flour and milk at medium-low speed. If the batter separates when you're adding milk, don't worry. Just mix until you can't see any unincorporated milk, then add the next portion of flour; the batter should smooth right out.
- Don't have self-rising flour? Try our recipe for Golden Vanilla Cake using all-purpose flour.
- To match the photo for this recipe, bake the cake in two 9" round pans. Once the layers are completely cool, split them in half horizontally, to make four layers. Prepare a batch of our Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, using the larger yield of frosting offered in the recipe's "tips" section. Frost and stack the layers, then frost the outside of the cake.