let there be cake

yellow cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

I should not be sharing a cake recipe with you today, this second Monday of January. Or on any day in January, for that matter.

January, according to the food magazines that have arrived in my mailbox, is a month for dietary restraint. A whole cadre of food blogs and cooking sites – and Pinterest, for goodness sake – agree. This first month of the year is the month for salads and for kale (though, it always seems to be the month for kale), for quinoa and farro, for lean proteins and grapefruit and cauliflower. It is the month for food cleanses and for juicing and for detoxing. January is the month we should be cutting calories, curtailing portion sizes, and shedding the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s Eve-weight gain.

Let me reassure you: I’m entirely okay with healthy eating. In fact, I prefer to eat healthy most days of the week.

I should clarify that. I make a point to eat healthy most days. I prefer to eat deep dish pizza (with pepperoni and mushrooms and onions, if you must know) followed by a hefty slice of three layer chocolate cake. But, most of the time, I show restraint. I have a standing, weekly date with my bathroom scale, and this helps to keep my willpower in check.

On Saturday, though, I was just not feeling January. Instead, I was feeling anxious and overwhelmed. I was feeling stressed about working the next two weekends in a row and having to arrange an elaborate babysitting schedule, one that feels like the precariously stacked blocks of a Jenga game, to cover too many of those days. I was having anxiety about a manuscript that I need to be writing but haven’t been – mostly because I’ve written a book chapter and another manuscript instead. The fact that it was predicted to rain the entire day only created more angst.

So, on Saturday afternoon, I baked a cake. I baked this cake that you see in the photos: a two-layer, yellow cake with vanilla bean buttercream frosting. I also ate pizza – thick, deep-dish pizza loaded with pepperoni and mushrooms and onions – from one of our favorite pizzerias.

I felt much better on Sunday.

January is free to resume now.

yellow cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

Yellow Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

Like all of my cakes, this is a good one for those days when you just feel the need to bake - and eat - cake. It would make a lovely birthday cake, but a birthday certainly isn't necessary.

I used vanilla paste in the frosting, which gives the frosting beautiful little vanilla bean speckles throughout. If you don't have vanilla paste, feel free to use 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. You could also scrape the seeds of a vanilla bean into the frosting to achieve the same effect.


Ingredients for Cake:
2-1/2 cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus more for pans
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cups (12-1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature

Ingredients for Buttercream Frosting:
4 sticks (16 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
5 cups (20 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
4 tablespoons heavy cream


To Prepare Cake:

Heat oven to 350°. Butter two 9" round cake pans, line with parchment paper, butter the parchment, then flour the pans.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla, and vegetable oil; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, alternately add dry ingredients in 3 batches and wet ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth tops with a rubber spatula. Tap pans lightly on counter to get rid of any large air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, 25–30 minutes.

Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans, then invert the cakes out onto wire cooling racks. Let cool to room temperature.

To Prepare Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer (using paddle attachment), beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium low and slowly add confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl as necessary. Add salt, vanilla paste, and heavy cream, and mix on medium-high until incorporated and smooth.

Frost the Cake:

To frost cakes, place a dab of frosting in the center of a cake plate, then place the first layer on the plate, centered on top of the dab of frosting. With an offset spatula, spread top with frosting. Place the second layer on top of the first, and spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.

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7 Responses to “let there be cake”

  1. 1
    Paula — January 13, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

    I try to eat healthy most of the time but I don’t deny myself treats either. Everything in moderation. I’m not one to do cleanses nor am I one to go on fad diets. A lovely slice of cake is something I would never turn away from. I just made Gail’s yellow cake recipe with her buttercream icing and it was lovely. I’ve decided it will be my go to yellow cake recipe. Having said that, I’m always open to trying a new recipe and yours look great too and definitely one that I will try. I hope your weekend shifts go well and that you saved a slice or two of this cake to take to work with you. Midnight snacks are great, especially if they include vanilla bean paste 🙂

  2. 2

    Moderation in all things. Let there be cake, indeed!

  3. 3
    Kathryn — January 14, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    I think you have a good approach to balanced + healthy eating – every diet should have room for cake!

  4. 4

    while I am trying to stick to clean eating and working out more, there is always room for dessert else life is no fun. I am so glad you were able to bake cake – hope that calmed you a little bit 🙂

  5. 5
    Eileen — January 15, 2014 @ 8:44 am

    What’s kale – lol! This is coming from a hardcore baker you know. I hate having that anxious feeling you mention. I am convinced it’s more unhealthy for us than that delicious cake you made. So, let us eat cake!

  6. 6
    Teresa, foodonfifth — January 18, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

    I just think one cannot get too caught up in this “January Resolutions” thing when there is cake to be eaten. Especially a cake so pretty as yours.

  7. 7
    Nutmeg Nanny — January 27, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

    I am so happy to see this gorgeous cake. It looks divine 🙂

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