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Have you ever wanted that classic white cake of your childhood? Very white? Very vanilla? With a great chocolate frosting?

Oh, you may not even know quite what I’m talking about. Your age needs to have a first digit that is bigger than 3, because I’m talking about a classic cake that you either got at home — baked from scratch and not out of a box — or from the corner bakery — by a little old lady who barely spoke English and got up at 4AM.

Today’s bakeries are more like factories. Most of those small mid-block bakeries are gone. At Wal-Mart or Costco or Sam’s Club, there are piles of cakes. They all look the same and they’ve come off a production line where someone is counting every penny spent on ingredients. I don’t know if the Big Box cakes taste good or not because I simply can’t bring myself to try them. I want my Small Store cake.

So here is a recipe for that cake, that very special and delicious cake. It’s from Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson. This is a superior baking book with clever organization. If you want a vanilla cake in most baking books, you look in the index. In Baking by Flavor, you look at the table of contents. There are 18 separate chapters each devoted to one dominant flavor: almond, apricot, banana, blueberry, butter, buttercrunch, caramel and butterscotch, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, coffee and mocha, ginger, lemon, peanut and peanut butter, rum, spice, sweet cheese, and, of course, vanilla. If you crave a flavor not on this list, well, you have some special needs indeed.

A journalist and cookbook author for three decades, Yockelson created this wonderful book in 2002. It’s still available. If I were you, I would head to Amazon and get my hands on a copy.

This cake is dense, yet retains some flakiness. It’s moist and packed with flavor. Baking it requires some intensified vanilla extract and vanilla-scented superfine sugar. I posted how to make those ingredients last week as “Vanilla Baking Condiments.” You’ll want to invest the time to prepare the intensified vanilla and sugar to enjoy the very vanilla wonder of this cake.

Frosting? Chocolate frosting? Please see tomorrow’s post with the ideal mate from this cake. One hint: it’s in the Chocolate Chapter of Baking by Flavor.

Very Vanilla Layer Cake

Yield: 1 two-layer 9-inch cake


  • 1 ¾ cups unsifted bleached all –purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsifted bleached cake flour
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons [5 ounces] unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups vanilla-scented superfine sugar
  • Seed scrapings from ½ vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons intensified vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk blended with ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the inside of two 9-inch cake pans with shortening or butter. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of waxed paper, grease the paper, then dust the inside with all-purpose flour. Tap out any excess flour; set aside.

Sift the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.

Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderate speed for 3 minutes. Add the vanilla-scented superfine sugar in three batches, beating for 1 minute after each portion is incorporated. Blend in the vanilla bean seed scrapings and the vanilla extract; bean for 1 minute longer. Beat in the eggs, one a t time, blending well after each addition.

On low speed, alternatively add the sifted flour mixture in three additions with the milk-heavy cream mixture in two additions, beginning and ending with the sifted flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently with a rubber spatula to keep the batter even-textured. The batter will be moderately thick and creamy [and delicious to eat!].

Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly between them. Shake each pan gently from side to side, once or twice, to level the batter, or smooth it with a flexible rubber spatula.

Bake the layers for 25 to 30 minutes, or until set and wooden pick inserted 1 inch from the center of each cake layer withdraws clean.

Cool the layers in the pans on rack for 5 minutes. Invert each layer onto another cooling rack, peel off the waxed paper round, then invert again to cool right side up. Cool completely.

Frost when cooled.

Source: Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson