Before I get to the recipe, let me talk about just a couple of things. First, I use what is known as the reverse creaming method, or 2-stage method, in all of my cakes. You will see that reflected in the recipe below. This is by far the easiest method to baking cakes from scratch. I always start by weighing each of my dry ingredients directly in the bowl of my stand mixer, making little piles of each ingredient, somewhat separated from each other, just in case I add to much and need to remove a bit. This eliminates a lot of potential baking errors. Did you know that a single cup of flour measured into a dry measuring cup can differ in weight by up to 1 or 2 ounces depending on who is measuring and how they are putting the flour into the cup? This can lead to a very dry cake and inconsistent results. So, always weigh your ingredients! It really does make all the difference in the world. And it's easier, too! Can't beat that!
While I'm on the subject of flour, in this recipe I use both cake flour and all purpose flour. The cake flour, with its lower protein level, is what will ultimately give the cake it's fine, tender crumb, which in my opinion is the sign of an excellent cake. All purpose flour strengthens the cake a bit, making it easier to stack, carve, and otherwise manipulate into a fabulous decorated cake. You can use only all purpose flour (keep the weights the same), but the crumb of your finished cake won't be quite as nice. You can also use only cake flour, which I often do. My favorite is King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour that I buy at my local Meijer grocery store. You can also order it online directly from King Arthur Flour.
After you mix the dry ingredients together, you add the butter. The butter gets broken up into little pieces and coats the flour, which in turn keeps the flour from creating protein bonds, the gluten, that toughen the cake. Of course, some gluten will develop and you do want this so that the cake holds together. But the butter added to the flour first keeps the batter from developing too much gluten. It helps to protect the batter from being overworked. You add your liquids next and then the eggs.
This batter comes together super fast. It bakes up perfectly moist with a nice, tender crumb and lovely soft vanilla flavor. If you want to make it a "rainbow" cake, like I did for Kate's birthday, just mix about 1/2 cup of rainbow-colored jimmies or other sprinkles into the batter before putting it in the pans.
Let me know if you try this cake and what you think! Enjoy!
Velvety Vanilla Cake
1-1/2 cups (5-1/4 ounces) cake flour
1-1/2 cups (5-1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups (10-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs*
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup (4 ounces) buttermilk
1/4 cup (2-1/8 ounces) crème fraiche**, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 2-inch tall 8-inch round pans by greasing the bottoms and sides with shortening or butter, then lining the bottom of each pan with a greased round of parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Mix on low for at least 30 seconds. Add the butter and mix on low until combined and butter is broken up into pea-sized pieces. Add the buttermilk and crème fraiche. Mix on low until dry ingredients are moistened, then mix on medium-high for 1-1/2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract. Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, adding each part on low speed and then mixing on high speed for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and pour into prepared cake pans. Bake until top springs back when touched with a finger and toothpick inserted in the center comes back with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35-40 minutes.
*This makes a vanilla cake that is somewhat yellow in color because of the butter and whole eggs. If you prefer a cake that is lighter in color, substitute 6 eggs whites (6 ounces) for the whole eggs. If you would like a more traditional yellow cake, substitute 6 egg yolks for the whole eggs.
**Crème fraiche is wonderful in this recipe and I recommend making the effort to use it. You can easily make your own crème fraiche by adding 4 tablespoons of cultured buttermilk (homemade or store-bought) to 2 cups of heavy cream. Mix well and cover. Let sit at room temperature for 6-8 hours, or up to overnight, until it has thickened. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.