On December 31st, King Arthur unveiled their Recipe of the Year. A yellow layer cake generously iced in swirls of chocolate frosting, the cake taunted from my phone screen. Every time I clicked on King Arthur’s site, there was that cake, begging me to bake it. I’ve always been more of a chocolate cake girl, but I do have a deep appreciation for a well-baked yellow cake. Yellow cake and I go all the way back to my pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey days.
Some yellow cake recipes swear by whole eggs and cake flour. Others insist on separating yolks from whites, taking care not to beat the whites into a frenzy. My preferred recipe beats way too many egg yolks into a thick, cholesterol-laden batter. Yet something about King Arthur and his band of merry bakers has been haunting my dreams, taunting me at work, interrupting my pie schemes. After five long months, I finally quit cake stalking and got serious.
Walking past the kitchen cabinet, I noticed the freshly opened box of Trader Joe’s graham crackers raising an eyebrow in my direction.
“Still rhapsodizing over that King Arthur Recipe-of-the-Year-Cake?” it sneered. “It’s only been five months, but who’s counting.”
“Watch it graham crackers, or I’ll make a pie crust outta you…” I replied.
The final push came from a subliminal message sent from the bottom of my yellow-lidded Tupperware flour canister. Exhausting the last fumes of King Arthur all-purpose flour, it seemed to say, buy more flour so you can finally bake that damn cake. Who am I to argue with an empty flour canister and a box of wise-acre graham crackers?
I thought about yellow cake enroute to the less than super market, and all the way home. Moving the oven rack from bottom to middle shelf, off-key choruses of Happy Birthday echoed in my head. Without a birthday on the calendar to celebrate, it seemed perfectly reasonable to bake a quintessential celebratory cake. Deciding to drop the King’s title, I returned to Arthur’s website for cake pan directives. The pans needed to please Arthur and his baking team are not springforms and are not 9” x 1½” pans, but are deep-sided 8” pans. The very pans I purchased in 1990-something because a recipe in a now-defunct baking magazine told me were critical to my baking success.
Ten years in the restaurant business acquaints you with more cake pans than you will need in a lifetime. Yet when you are desperately seeking just the right pair of cake pans, they prove elusive. Odds are good that I own a pair of 8” cake pans with a depth of at least two inches. Buried somewhere in the labyrinth of the garage is an unopened cardboard box with the two pans I need.
Wading through boxes, a very tall box scrawled in black Sharpie announces, ‘wedding cake pans and more.’ There were enough cake pans in that cavernous box to outfit every single season of the Great British Bake-Off. Wrapped in an antiquated edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, I found what I was looking for.
Cracking four large eggs into a mixing bowl, I relived my yellow cake childhood. Yellow cake provided the candle-blowing centerpiece at most birthday parties. Sometimes it was merely a vessel for a despondent Barbie, waist deep in cake crumbs, drowning in a sea of blue and white buttercream ruffles. Often it was baked in a 9” x 13” rectangular pan, covered with frosting that was generous on the top but a little skimpy by the time it turned the corners. Yellow cake cupcakes were toted to school on your birthday to share with the entire class. They traveled in a cardboard box void of cupcake dividers. If any of our classmates were allergic to anything, we didn’t know about it. Had you asked our mothers for an exhaustive list of cupcake ingredients, they probably would have said, “It’s a cupcake made with what cupcakes need to be a cupcake."
The King Arthur folks promised a recipe that would cater to our nostalgic cake hankerings. Slightly skeptical at the addition of oil and the use of all-purpose flour and not cake flour, I followed the recipe to the letter, even the addition of almond extract. I divided the golden batter between the two serious cake pans, set two oven timers, and hovered by the oven to keep a close eye on things.
The cake baked up as promised; moist and tender and reminiscent of all things celebratory. The frosting was dark chocolate-y, swirly in all the right places. It tasted the way I remembered a happy cake to taste and was so well deserving of its title. With a weekend of pie shells staring me down, I can finally cross the Recipe of the Year off my ‘To Bake’ list and move it over to the 'Bake Again and Again' list.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm