Have you ever taken a bite of a beautiful white layer cake only to be disappointed by it’s rubbery texture and bland taste? With the proper ingredients and mixing technique, White Cake can be soft and velvety with a perfect vanilla flavor. Yes, even from scratch in your very own kitchen it is possible to make a melt-in-your-mouth white cake.
Once again, I’ve created a new recipe inspired by a reader’s question. I love it!!
A lovely reader asked me recently how she could turn my Vanilla Butter Cake recipe into a white cake. She’d gotten some bad advice on the internet (shocking!) about making substitutions in a cake batter, so her first attempt at white cake was a failure.
I gave her some suggestions to adapt my Vanilla Butter Cake recipe and she got a better, but not perfect, result. So of course this got me thinking that it was time to get in the kitchen and run a few experiments. Yipee!
I love a good kitchen experiment, so I’m always happy to have an excuse to take apart a recipe and tweak it to get the desired outcome.
To develop a great White Cake recipe I already had half the work done. Over the last year I’ve done extensive research and testing for my “Cake Batter” series. I knew that information would help me create a really soft and tender white cake that still had good vanilla flavor.
Obviously, I would start with the eggs. Most of the yellow color in a vanilla cake comes from the egg yolks. My Vanilla Butter Cake recipe has extra yolks, which gives that cake great moisture and flavor. So, the question was, how to eliminate the yolks without making the cake rubbery and tasteless.
I won’t go into all the details here. Any of you baking geeks who want in depth information about how eggs work in cake batter can visit the “Eggs in Cake Batter” class.
The synopsis: Eggs whites are full of protein, which helps create the structure of a cake. But too much structure can make a cake rubbery or tough, which is most often the problem with cakes made with only egg whites. Also, yolks have fat, so eliminating the yolks could make the cake taste drier.
The first change I made to the Vanilla Butter Cake recipe was to eliminate the yolks and use more whites; 6 egg whites instead of 6 yolks+3 whites. I added an extra ounce of butter to make up for the loss of fat from the yolks. Otherwise the ingredients were the same as the original cake, for now.
For the first 3 test cakes I changed how I mixed the ingredients together. Mixing technique can make a BIG difference in a cake’s texture. Check out the “Cake Batter Mixing Methods” class to find out why I use the “Reverse Creaming” technique for my butter cakes.
For the first cake test I mixed the ingredients with the Reverse Creaming method, and I added the liquid egg whites directly into the batter.
For the second cake test I mixed half the egg whites into the batter as a liquid, and whipped and the other half of the whites and folded them into the batter.
For the third cake test I whipped all 6 egg whites and folded them into the batter.
You can see the difference in the first three cakes in the photo. The cake made with liquid whites had a very tight crumb and the cake with whipped whites had a lighter, more open crumb. But even more importantly, the cake made with the whipped whites was much softer and more velvety than the other two cakes. That’s not really surprising.
Whipping egg whites has the same effect as cooking whites- the proteins unfold, reattach and trap water. Since whipped whites are already partially “cooked” they don’t contribute as strongly to the structure of the cake. In my testing for the “Eggs in Cake Batter” class, I found that a cake has a softer texture when the whites were whipped and folded into the batter.
Ok, now that I had the technique down, I wanted to see if making changes to some of the other ingredients could change the color or texture of the cake. Next I would focus on the other “yellow” ingredient in the recipe, the butter.
For my last two tests I made one cake with 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening and the other cake with all shortening and no butter. As you can see from the photo, there really wasn’t much of a difference in color by substituting the butter with shortening. The textures were also pretty similar.
I definitely preferred the taste of the all butter cake to either of the cakes with shortening. But I know I have a deep love for butter which might have colored my opinion. So I had my husband do a blind tasting of the three cakes and he also liked the butter cake best. He described the flavor as “more creamy”. Well, yea!
So it’s butter for the win, again!
(If your butter has a very yellow color you can substitute all or some of the butter with shortening to get a whiter crumb. The butter cake tasted better, but the others tasted good. Once they’re filled with buttercream the difference would be less noticeable.)
Finally, I did try using vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract to see if that would affect the color or flavor of the cake. The flavor was good with both, but there really was not a noticeable difference in whiteness without the vanilla. In the photo above, the first and last cakes were made with vanilla extract and the others were made with vanilla sugar. So you can use either and get good results. I never recommend “clear” vanilla since it’s not really vanilla at all.
So, there you have it! A beautiful white cake that tastes as good as it looks.
Keep those questions coming! I love them!
Because my biggest beef with whites cakes is that they tend to be rubbery, I added tenderizers to the batter so the cake crumb would be soft. The good news is that the tenderizers create a nice melt-in-your-mouth texture. The bad news is that the structure of the cake is not quite as strong as it would be without the extra fat and acid so it will not rise as high.
For me, the trade-off is worth it. I don’t care how high the cake rises if it doesn’t taste good. All that being said…
I had a suspicion that there might be something else going on here. So, time to bake another batch of White Cake.
As I mention in this recipe, and in my other layer cake recipes, I NEVER BUTTER A CAKE PAN. Yes, you read that right. I always use a parchment round at the bottom of the pan and no pan grease at all. I let the cake cool in the pan and then I run a small spatula around the sides of the cake to release it from the pan.
I prepped one pan in my usual way, with just a parchment round, and I buttered and floured the other pan. Even before the cakes came out of the oven I could see that the cake in the greased pan was already pulling away from the sides of the pan. Of course, that’s the purpose of greasing the pan, right?
The advantage of not greasing the sides of the pan is that the cake will stick to the pan, so there is less shrinking. You can click through the slider below and see the difference between the two cakes. I measured the cakes after they cooled, and the cake baked in the greased pan was almost a 1/2″ smaller across than the other cake. Both cakes did settle a bit, but the cake from the greased pan was a little shorter as well.
I trimmed the tops off the cakes and both has a nice soft crumb with no gumminess. So I am changing the recipe to note that you should either use a parchment round or just butter and flour the bottom of the pan, not the sides.
Watch this video to see how to make Velvety Soft White Cake:
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