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!
***UPDATE*** After several readers commented that their cake “fell” after coming out of the oven, I decided I needed to try and find out what was going on. First off, please note that because this cake is very tender it is normal for this cake to shrink back a little bit and “settle” after it comes out of the oven.
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 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.
I love to fill and ice Velvety Soft White Cake with snow-white Ermine Frosting. You can get the recipe for Ermine Frosting in my new book: Easy Baking From Scratch: Quick Tutorials, Time-Saving Tips, Extraordinary Sweet and Savory Classics . Order it on Amazon today.
Watch the recipe video to see how to make Velvety Soft White Cake.
- 2 cups (9oz, 252g) cake flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 340g) granulated sugar, 1/2 cup set aside.
- 2 sticks (8 oz, 283g) unsalted butter at room temperature (see note)
- 1 cup (8 oz, 230g) sour cream at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
- 6 fresh large egg whites (7 oz, 196g), at room temperature (do not use pasteurized egg whites or they might not whip up properly)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F convection or 350°F regular
- Line two 8 inch cake pans with a circle of parchment paper or butter and flour the bottom of pans only. Do not butter and flour the sides of the pan.
- Sift the flour, leavening and salt with 1 cup granulated sugar. Mix the dry ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds to distribute the leavening. With the mixer on low speed, add half the sour cream and toss in the butter a tablespoon at a time.
- Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer running on low speed, add the remaining sour cream and vanilla.
- Increase the speed to medium and beat about 3-4 minutes until the batter lightens in texture and becomes aerated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure there are no pockets of unmixed batter.
- In another bowl, whip the egg whites on medium high until they form soft peaks. Turn the mixer to medium low and slowly add the other 1/2 cup sugar. Turn the mixer to medium and whip the whites to full peak.
- Fold the whites into the base in 3 parts, folding just until there are no streaks of egg white.
- Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and spread so it's level.
- Bake about 25-30 minutes until the center of the cake springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- Cool at least 20 minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a cooling rack.
**The cake will "settle" a bit as it cools. That's fine.**
- Trim the brown edges off the cake, split each cake into two layers
- Fill and ice with vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream or your favorite icing.
Room temperature butter is between 65 and 70 degrees. It should be slightly pliable but not soft and melting.
The assembled cake can be kept at room temperature for several days (unless it has a perishable filling).
Un-iced, the cake can be frozen for several months.
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