Thursday, February 20, 2020

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake
In working through this year's goal of updating and adding to my index of classic cake recipes, I revisited the most popular and beloved recipe on my blog, Vanilla Cake.  There is just something about a simple vanilla cake that everyone loves.  It's quick and easy to mix up, always tender and moist with both oil and buttermilk in the batter, and it can be customized with any flavor of buttercream or filling that you like.  Personally, my favorite cake on my site is my snowy White Velvet Cake, which takes a bit more time to mix up, though, and requires a stand mixer to beat the butter and sugar for 10-12 minutes.  But if you're looking for an easy, great-tasting vanilla cake that you can whisk up by hand, this is the cake for you.

You might be wondering why I'm updating my vanilla cake recipe, because, after all, if something's not broken, why fix it?  Well, because I am a cake perfectionist.  And even when something is really, really good, I still wonder if it can be improved upon.  For those of you who regularly bake and love this recipe, not to worry, the original recipe and post will remain on my blog, too.




Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake




The changes I made are slight, but sometimes a minor tweak here and there can make a big difference in the end result.  One change was simply to note in the recipe that I used buttermilk instead of whole milk + vinegar, since that debate seemed to always confuse people that the two are pretty much the same thing.  So, yes, I use whole (full-fat) buttermilk in this recipe (but you can substitute a milk and white vinegar combo as noted in the original post).

Next, I addressed the amount of oil in the recipe. With a whole cup of oil in the cake, it was very moist, but I felt like the flavor of the oil (depending on the brand used) sometimes overwhelmed the cake - since vanilla is such a delicate flavor - so I reduced the oil from 1 cup to 3/4 cup, then increased the buttermilk from 1 1/2 cups to 1 3/4 cups.  It has the same amount of liquid in the end, and is still wonderfully moist, but with less of an oily flavor.

The next experiment was in regards to the oil again, by substituting melted butter for some of the oil.  You should know that the two are not interchangeable, despite what some articles will claim.  The reason they will not produce the same type of cake is that butter is solid at room temperature while oil always remains liquid, which is why oil has the reputation of producing very moist cakes.  A butter-based cake will still be moist and tender, but is slightly more dense and firm since the butter solidifies and tightens the cake crumb as the cake cools.  When comparing flavor, though, butter will always come out on top.  So instead of the 3/4 cup oil, I used 1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter along with 1/4 cup oil.  This version with both butter and oil ended up being my favorite, and is the cake that I photographed for this updated post.  The flavor was a wonderful balance of vanilla and butter, with a soft and fluffy, very tender crumb that was still perfectly moist.

I thought about eliminating the two eggs + two egg whites and just using 3-4 whole eggs, but I really do like the addition of the egg whites, as it makes such a nice light, tender cake.  So even though it leaves you with two extra yolks to use up in another recipe, is that really such a bad thing?

In testing the updated recipe, I also had trouble with my cake sinking just a bit in the center (a common problem when baking cakes at high altitude, since baked goods rise more quickly, and then fall).  To compensate for this, I increased the flour a bit and cut out the baking powder completely, relying on just the reaction of the baking soda and the buttermilk to give the cake its beautiful rise.  I also believe that how much batter is baked in the pans can affect this as well.  Usually, I bake my cake batter in three 8-inch cake pans and rarely have a cake that falls, but for this one, I divided the batter between two pans (intending to later split them into 4 layers), since I think that's probably what most home bakers have and use.  It could be that the greater amount of batter also has a harder time not sinking at high altitude, so it's just one of the challenges that high altitude bakers have to keep in mind and work with.  I found that I really don't like baking that much batter in two pans; since it takes the center so much longer to cook, the edges get darker.  Maybe that doesn't bother most people, but it's an aesthetic thing that I don't care for.  Also, splitting cakes is kind of a pain, and I'd rather just bake less batter in more pans for the number of layers that I want, so going forward, I would bake this in 3-4 pans rather than 2.

I used cake flour instead of all-purpose flour, because it gives cakes just the most beautiful, soft texture with its lower percentage of protein.  But all-purpose flour is still perfectly fine.  Actually, if you compare photos of the texture of this cake to the original cake in my older post, the newer version looks a bit more airy and bubbly and fluffy, which is likely from using cake flour as well as a little more buttermilk.




Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake




Lastly, I decided to add some real vanilla bean, in addition to the vanilla extract.  Now, I know that vanilla beans (and good-quality real vanilla extract) are incredibly expensive right now, and have been for several years.  So don't feel like you have to splurge on vanilla beans (vanilla bean paste is a great substitute as well) if it's not in your budget.  My husband gave me a few vanilla beans for Christmas, and I've been using them sparingly, but what better recipe to use them in than a vanilla cake where good, pure vanilla should be the starring flavor?

So since vanilla beans are so pricey, I used the whole bean, including the pod and not just the seeds.  Did you know that the pods are edible, too?  They are often soaked in alcohol to make homemade extracts, or tucked into a canister of sugar to flavor the sugar over time.  For this cake, I scraped the seeds out first, reserving those for the buttercream, and then used my spice grinder to grind up the pod into fine bits.  Those finely ground pod bits went into the cake batter and they give the cake a really wonderful vanilla flavor.

If you want to use just the seeds in both the cake and the buttercream, you can really work the flavor of the vanilla bean into the cake by using your fingers to rub the vanilla seeds into the granulated sugar, before mixing up the batter.  Doing this perfumes the sugar with vanilla, and ensures that you're getting the maximum effect of the vanilla beans, rather than just mixing them right into the batter.

I ended up baking four vanilla cakes in two days to test all these variables and below is my updated recipe with the changes.  We have a lot of vanilla cake in our freezer now...

If you've baked and loved the old recipe, I welcome you to try this one, and would love to hear in the comments which one you prefer!




Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes, White and Gold Cake

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake, Vanilla Bean Cake, High Altitude Vanilla Cake, Vanilla Cake Recipe, Vanilla Cake with Butter, High Altitude Cake Recipes




Baking Notes.
  1. As with everything I bake, my cakes are baked at high altitude (I live in Denver), and to achieve your own perfect results, you may need to make a few slight adjustments if you live at a lower altitude or sea level.  Please read this post and this post for all of my baking FAQs.  There are many articles online that can offer advice on how to adjust your flour, sugar and leavening for various altitudes.
  2. As noted in the recipe below, it's important for the eggs, buttermilk and butter to be at room temperature.

Vanilla Bean Butter Cake
printable


Cake.
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod
  • 3 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 2 large whole eggs (room temp)
  • 2 large egg whites (room temp)
  • 1 3/4 cups whole buttermilk (room temp)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Buttercream.
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (for a whiter buttercream, use 1 cup butter and 1 cup vegetable shortening)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk or cream, if needed
Cake.
Preheat the oven to 350 and spray the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans with 3-inch high sides with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, measure out the sugar.  If using vanilla bean seeds, scrape the seeds from the pod and use your fingers to rub the seeds into the sugar until very fragrant and the seeds are evenly dispersed throughout the sugar.  Alternatively, you can save the seeds for the buttercream, as I did.  Take the empty pod, grind it into fine bits with a spice grinder, and then add 1 teaspoon of the ground vanilla pod to the sugar.  Save the rest of the ground pod in a small glass jar for other baking.

Set a fine mesh sifter over the bowl of sugar, and sift in the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients well.

In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract for one minute until thick and smooth.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk to combine the ingredients, then whisk vigorously for 30 seconds for a smooth, mostly lump-free batter.  Divide the batter between the cake pans.  Tap a few times against the counter to pop any large air bubbles.

Bake the cakes for about 28-30 minutes (two 8-inch pans) or 22-25 minutes (three 8-inch pans), until a cake tester or a toothpick comes out clean or with moist crumbs clinging to it.

Set the pans on a wire rack, cover them loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely before frosting.  When ready to frost and assemble the cake, remove the cakes from the pans.  If you like, split each layer so that you have four layers of cake.

Buttercream.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds for 1 minute until smooth.  With the mixer running on low, add the powdered sugar by spoonfuls, the meringue powder and the salt, mixing until thick and combined.  Add the vanilla and the milk; increase speed to medium and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down several times, until light and fluffy.

Fill and frost the cooled cakes with the buttercream.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

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