I've been on a journey to locate a recipe for a truly moist vanilla cake over the past three years. I have baked dozens of vanilla cakes from myriad different recipes, from cookbooks to baking bibles to blogs to recipe websites, all in the hopes of finding The One. Even those that promise to be The Moistest Vanilla Cake Ever left me reaching for a big glass of milk.
And of course I'm not the only one. Brilliant bakers like Rosie from Sweetapolita have done ridiculous amounts of research and testing, and her Epic Tale of Vanilla Cake is over the top. Bridget from The Way the Cookie Crumbles also did a thorough assessment of white cakes. The list goes on.
After much testing and trying of my own, I had finally landed on the Cook's Illustrated White Layer Cake recipe as my go-to, as the moistest of the bunch. Still, it paled in comparison to my chocolate cake. I was starting to think dryness was simply the lot in life of the poor vanilla cake, and I would cringe ever so slightly whenever someone requested one.
Even so, I continued to bake vanilla cakes because people continue to want vanilla cake. I have dressed up those vanilla cakes with rich, heavenly buttercream and simple syrup, layered on hand-carved fondant details, and packaged them up in crisp white bakery boxes for my friends and family to take home to their celebrations.
But, as Sarah Palin loves to tell us, we all know what happens when you put lipstick on a pig.
It's still a dry vanilla cake.
Yes, friends, I dare say I have cracked the code.
I have been baking the same chocolate cake recipe for the past two years. It's from a baker named Glory who writes the baking blog Glorious Treats. Glory calls this recipe Perfectly Chocolate Cupcakes, and she's so right. Perfect. Consistently moist and ever so chocolatey, and it adapts perfectly to two 9-inch round cakes. I have hand-written notes all over my splattered recipe print-out for how to halve it (for two 6-inch rounds) and increase it to 150% (for three 9-inch rounds), as well as exact baking times for my oven, for any size cake pan, since all ovens are a little wacky in their own unique ways.
Update: My super-smart, eagle-eyed cousin Sara pointed out to me that this recipe is actually Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake. I'm so happy to know the original source. I love being related to an engineer who also happens to be a baker.
Anyway, after all my searching and hunting and longing for a moist vanilla cake recipe, it finally dawned on me a few days ago that since I already had one perfect cake recipe in hand, maybe I could see what would happen if I just neglected to add in the cocoa powder.
Could I possibly modify a recipe on my own? Me, who follows instructions to a T and assumes the people who wrote them know what they're talking about? Me, who thinks recipes are mystical, magical things that should never be altered? Could I actually change a recipe?!
Well, sure enough, I did it. I omitted the baking soda because I read a couple years ago in the Crabapple Bakery's Cupcake Cookbook that baking soda is used when there are acidic ingredients (like cocoa), and only baking powder is required for recipes with all basic ingredients (like a vanilla cake). How I remembered that, I will never know. My memory is not exactly stellar these days.
But back to the cake, I increased the baking powder from 1 1/2 to 4 teaspoons, because that's how much was in the Cook's Illustrated recipe, and that was reason enough for me.
I mixed up the ingredients and popped them in the oven while Clara napped, and 22 minutes later, these beauties emerged:
I tasted them as soon as they were cool enough to touch. I don't want to overstate the moistness of these cakes, but in all honesty, the heavens opened and angels sang! I kid you not.
The other beautiful part of this recipe is that there is no planning ahead required. The Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for room temperature butter, milk and egg whites, all of which means that I have to get that stuff out before breakfast if I want to bake after lunch. No such frivolity required with this modified recipe!
Truly Moist Vanilla Cake
- Follow the recipe for Perfectly Chocolate Cupcakes
- Omit cocoa powder
- Omit baking soda
- Increase flour to 2 cups
- Increase baking powder to 4 teaspoons
- Bake as 24 cupcakes or in two 9-inch round pans