The Cake Secret

My quest to find the perfect cake recipe has ended. I shall never again feel that dreadful sinking feeling at the first bite of ill-textured cake.  For after six years of trying out recipes that turned out dry and biscuit-like, I have discovered the two ingredients that make a cake perfect.

The first step in the right direction came from Alton Brown, who stressed the importance of using the right kind of flour when baking. Cake flour has a very soft texture, and really is necessary if you want a good textured cake.

The other ingredient essential to a moist, delicious cake is buttermilk. The discovery of how important buttermilk really is happened almost by accident. It was my birthday and I wanted a chocolate cake. We had a recipe for chocolate cake that was heavenly, but at the last minute we realized we didn’t have any buttermilk, which the recipe called for. We substituted regular milk instead, and what a disappointment we had when we tasted it!

So, on Joseph’s birthday I went hunting for a yellow cake recipe that included cake flour and buttermilk, and spent less than two minutes looking for one. It was incredible. The perfect balance of lightness and density, and very, very moist. It had a taste reminiscent of a Betty Crocker mix without the tell-tale boxed flavor.  Here is the recipe:


4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated. 

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.


I used a 9×13 pan and adjusted the cook time accordingly, and it was just a little on the sweet side so I’ll probably cut the sugar back a little next time. Other than that, you couldn’t ask for a better cake. Here’s the recipe for the previously mentioned chocolate cake also:


5 ounces (115 grams) semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 1/4 cups (270 grams) cake flour

3/4 cup (70 grams) unsweetened cocoa (preferably Dutch processed)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (240 ml) lukewarm coffee (or water)

1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk

1 1/4 cups (280 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

2  cups (450 grams) granulated white sugar

5 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Lightly butter and flour (or spray with a nonstick vegetable/flour spray), and line the bottoms of three – 8 x 2 inch deep (20 x 5 cm) round baking pans with parchment or wax paper, .

In a heatproof bowl, placed over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a small bowl, combine the coffee (or water) and buttermilk.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is fluffy (about three to five minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine. Then add the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated. Add the coffee/ buttermilk mixture and flour mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat only until the ingredients are mixed together.

Divide the batter evenly among the three prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for about 30 – 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly pressed. (I like to rotate the pans about halfway through baking to ensure even baking.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes. 


Enjoy! and try not to eat the entire pan at once. : )



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