Search for All-Occasion Go-To Cakes

On the heels of George Washington's birthday, several of you wrote asking for a good made-from-scratch layer cake recipe for your own family's birthdays.  Although I have a cache of recipes, in all kinds of flavors and sizes, you were pretty specific about the kind of cake you were looking for. Most of you were after something fairly simple to bake, with readily available ingredients and minimal instruction.  The greatest number of requests was for yellow butter cake, with chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, coming in second.  Nearly every request was accompanied by the words "fluffy" or "moist," sometimes both. This sounds like a pretty easy assignment, but truly, as any avid baker will tell you, finding that perfect "go-to" cake recipe, can be elusive. Some search years for a homemade yellow layer cake that hits the mark. We want it rich and buttery, tender and downy. So, too, do we have expectations about our chocolate cakes.  Here we want a dark, rich and moist cake, with a creamy, intensely chocolate frosting  to go along with it. In my own quest to capture these qualities, I've made hundreds of cakes through decades of birthdays, holidays and more before deciding on the cakes presented here.  For now, these are my "go-to" cakes, unless, of course, something  easier, fluffier, moister or more chocolaty comes along.  I suppose that could happen, but I'm kind of hoping it doesn't. It's good to finally find what you've been searching for, especially when it's cake.

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at

Perfect All-Occasion Yellow Layer Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 cups Swans Down Cake Flour, or White Lily All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups full fat buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9 x 2-inch round baking pans* and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until yellow disappears. Mix in flour mixture, alternately with buttermilk. Add vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn cake onto the  rack to cool completely. When cool, frost with chocolate frosting (recipe follows).  For a chocolate cake: Substitute  1/2 cup unsweetened  natural cocoa for 1/2 cup of flour.
*Kitchen Ade Note:  To assure release of cake from pans, line greased pans with parchment paper. Makes one (2-layer) 9-inch cake.

Hershey's Black Magic Cake

Recipe Source: Hershey Company
2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (measure flour by spooning it into a measuring cup, then leveling it off with the flat end of a knife)
3/4 cup Hershey's natural, unsweetened Cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
1 cup strong black coffee, or 2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee plus 1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans* (or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan). Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (batter will be thin). Pour batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost as desired. Yield:  10 to 12 servings. *To sour milk: Use 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup.
*Kitchen Ade Note:  To assure release of cake from pans, line greased pans with parchment paper.

No Egg, No Milk Magic Chocolate Cake

The formula for "No Egg, No Milk Magic Chocolate Cake" works like magic. Give it a try and see.
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose Gold Medal or King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend (measure flour by spooning  it into a measuring cup,  then leveling off with the flat end of a knife)
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons natural, unsweetened Hershey's cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar (don't be afraid to use it, you won't taste it)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cold brewed coffee
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.* Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl of an electric mixer.  In a 4 cup measuring cup, combine the oil, vinegar, vanilla and coffee. With the speed set to low, add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cake tests done. (A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean.) Do not overbake. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto to wire rack to cool completely. When cool, fill and frost, as desired. *Kitchen Ade Note:  To assure release of cake from pans, line greased pans with parchment paper. Makes one (2-layer) 9-inch cake.

Creamy Chocolate Frosting

3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons whole milk or half and half, plus more, if needed
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more if needed
6 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, scald 6 tablespoons milk. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted; set aside to cool. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, with the mixer set to medium speed, beat butter and vanilla until creamy.  Lower speed to low and blend in 3 1/2 cups of the sugar, a little at a time, until well mixed.  Add chocolate mixture to creamed mixture, mixing until smooth and creamy.  (If frosting is too stiff, add a little more milk to the mixture, until desired consistency is reached. Conversely, if mixture is too soft, add a little more sifted confectioners' sugar to the bowl.) Use immediately to spread on cooled cake layers. Makes enough frosting to fill and frost one (8 or 9-inch) layer cake.

Flour Power - All "all-purpose" flours are not created equal

If you're an experienced baker, you already know that flours labeled "all-purpose"  are anything but.  Although all-purpose flours are designed to handle a number of purposes, it does not mean that a particular brand is suited for your purpose. In general, all-purpose flour is made up of hard and soft winter wheat, with hard wheat flour containing more protein and gluten than soft wheat flour.  It is that protein that provides structure to our baked goods. Hard wheat flours containing a high percentage of protein, is good for making chewy breads and cookies. For this task, King Arthur's all-purpose flour, with a protein content of 11.7 percent, is exceptional.  Next, in terms of protein content, would be flours such as Gold Medal and Pillsbury brands. With a protein content in the 10.5 percent range, they are well-suited for general all-purpose  baking tasks.  All-purpose flours with the lowest protein levels, such  as White Lily brand, made with soft winter wheat, are especially good for making  tender cakes, pie crusts, pancakes, muffins, scones, popovers, cream puffs and more.

Fine textured specialty cake flours, like Swans Down and Softasilk, with protein levels of 8 to 10 percent, undergo a special bleaching process (different from the bleaching process of regular all-purpose flours) which helps to set cakes faster, resulting in greater rise and volume. For best results, it is always best to use the kind of flour called for in a particular recipe. In instances where a cake recipe simply calls for "all-purpose flour," you may expect satisfactory results by using Gold Medal or Pillsbury all-purpose unbleached flour.  For detailed information about choosing the right kind of flour for baking, visit the Fine Cooking, Taunton Press website at,


About being afraid of big bodies of water and boats

Year: 1969, North Kenai, Alaska, now Nikiski, Alaska

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