Yellow Layer Cake

CATEGORIES: Cakes and Cupcakes, Kate


confetti cake-12 squareYou guys…this was the cake that almost didn’t happen. It was like the forces of evil were trying to prevent me from sharing the cakey goodness. Maybe that’s a tiny bit dramatic. But everything just seemed unnecessarily hard, you know? As it turns out, I almost jumped ship halfway through the baking process, then I ended up coming back and finishing it, then making it again 12 hours later to make sure I hadn’t messed things up. In the meantime, Sara and I are in the throes of developing recipes for our next cookbook (eeeeek!! Also, those of you who are concerned about our shortage of dinner recipes lately, that’s because we’re throwing all our dinner-making energies into that book–it’s going to be a big-time dinner book!), so I had a cake on my counter, a cake in my oven, and a pot roast slow cooking, which you’d think would make me the happiest girl in the world, but really, it just made me super grumpy that I had about 10 million dishes to do, that my big kids were running wild, that Will had watched Frozen at least twice, and that I hadn’t showered at 4:00 pm.

A really awesome yellow cake has been on my list for a long time. It’s become a more urgent situation because I’ve always fallen back on our doctored up cake mix recipes, but within the last year or so, all the cake mixes, even my beloved Duncan Hines Supreme, have reduced the amount of cake mix per box, and since math is not in any way my forte, I can’t figure out how to accurately reduce the extra ingredients.

The problem is that yellow cakes are notoriously finicky. They are just hard to make well. I don’t know why. Mine have always come out either eggy (ew) or super dry.

I heard good things about the Cook’s Illustrated yellow cake, so I started making it and taking pictures along the way just in case.

Now. I love and respect Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country. A lot. But as I was working my way through the recipe, I found it uncharacteristically difficult to follow–some things were unclear and other directions got lost along the way. In an attempt to clarify a particularly tricky egg yolk situation, I got online and started reading about how this was a terrible, dry, flavorless cake. And I got spooked. I left everything on the table, grabbed my daughter, and we went to get cupcakes because I had cake on the brain and this cake wasn’t gonna happen.

By the time I got home, my head had cleared a little. I started wondering if other people had been just as confused by the recipe, particularly the egg yolk situation, and that’s why their cakes were dry. So I took a leap of faith that would inevitably end in a lot of dirty dishes and added all the extra egg yolks. Thankfully, it worked. It was delicious. Amazing. Flavorful, Moist, but not too moist, firm but not dry, it cut like a dream. Of course, all that happened at, like, 10 pm, so I slapped on some frosting from the Tim Riggins Brownies and did a lot of dishes (side note: anyone who says that homemade cakes are just as easy as cakes from a box are not telling you the truth. Boxed cake mixes use 1, ONE bowl. This was a harsh reality.)

So I figured I’d try again the next day, bake the cakes in the morning and then frost and photograph it in the afternoon.

And I woke up to blackness. There was a massive rainstorm and I had, like, zero natural light. Which meant I had to lug out my tripod and hope for the best.

The good news is that the second cake was just as delicious, so I know it wasn’t a happy accident. But. it’s really important to follow the recipe exactly as it’s written. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, I can’t make you buy one, but it really gets more than use than just about any kitchen appliance I have, large or small.

I haven’t really adapted much of the actual recipe (I tweaked some salt and vanilla, nothing major). But I did try to make the directions more clear. I’m not sure if how I did things was how they meant for them to be done, but I’ve had really good success twice with this method.

Yellow cake with buttercream icing and sprinkles!

You’re going to need cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, buttermilk, butter, vegetable oil, vanilla, eggs, and cream of tartar.

yellow cake ingredients

Adjust oven racks to the medium position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 9″ cake pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar together. Set aside.

dry ingredients

In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, vegetable oil, vanilla, buttermilk, and (this is where I gave up the first time around) 6 egg yolks. Set aside.

Place 3 egg whites (discard the others, or use them for something healthy like an egg white omelet to negate the cake. Or something.) in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add a pinch of cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-low for about a minute or until they become frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the whites are glossy and stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl.

Place the flour mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer and slowly add the butter mixture, mixing over low speed. Scrape down the bowl and then mix on medium-low until smooth and fully mixed.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to fold in 1/3 of the egg whites, fold in another 1/3, mix, then fold in the remaining 1/3  of the egg whites and gently fold until no white streaks remain.

Divide the batter evenly among two pans and tap the pans on the counter gently to release bubbles.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into each pan comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes,

baked cakes

then remove from the pans and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place 1 cup salted butter, 6 cups powdered sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low until the butter and sugar start together. Add enough milk to reach a frosting-y consistency and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add additional milk if necessary.

To assemble the cake, place four strips of paper on the plate, forming a square.

cake plate

Place one cake layer on the plate

cake on plate

and add a dollop of frosting.

frosting on cake frosting on cake

Smooth it out, then add the second layer

frosting on layer cake

and frost the top.

frosted cake

Carefully frost the sides. Smooth it out with a frosting knife or a butter knife.

smoothed frosting

If desired, cover in sprinkles (add about 2 tablespoons at a time and gently press them into the cake.

Yellow cake with buttercream and sprinkles!

To sprinkle the sides, pour them into your palm and gently press it into the sides.) Carefully remove the paper strips and voila!

yellow cake with fluffy buttercream and sprinkles


Makes 12 servings.

confetti cake-13 copy



  1. Could the shrinkage of the cake mix size be why when I made your easy cupcakes they turned out tiny? I thought I did something wrong–although it’s easy so I don’t know how I could have messed that up. Huh. I am really glad to hear that cake mixes changed so I know why they looked like they shrunk!

  2. OK, I just wanna say that the strips of paper on the cake stand is freaking GENIUS. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that? I sort of want to make a cake now just to see how easy the cleanup is. Haha!

  3. This looks SO great. I kind of want to make it right now. 🙂

    Also, do you recommend a particular kitchen scale? That is definitely the next gadget to add to my kitchen.

  4. I have a couple of recipes that are now ruined because of the smaller cake mix sizes. BOO! I bet you guys have enough pull that you could convince them to go back to the original size. Start a petition! I’ll sign it! I hate when they do that with stuff. I would much rather pay a little more than to have to adjust all my recipes to work with a different amount. Anyway, end of rant. This looks delicious! I’ve never tried a yellow cake from scratch, but I just may do it now!

  5. I am soooo excited for another cook book. I use your other two books all the time.
    I also ADORE yellow cake and am excited to try this recipe!

  6. Kate, this is beautiful! I’m a long-time reader/first time commenter … I just couldn’t resist, it’s just so perfect. Even down to the shortcut of using cardboard rectangles (so much faster than making a perfectly sized circle)! I’m going to find a reason to make this! Photos are gorgeous as well. Thanks for doing all the hard work for us! ~ Rainey

  7. You just made my day. “… it just made me super grumpy that I had about 10 million dishes to do, that my big kids were running wild, that Will had watched Frozen at least twice, and that I hadn’t showered at 4:00 pm.” That might be my favorite sentence you’ve ever written. The cake sounds great, too, but it makes me so happy to know that other people get grumpy about having dishes to wash and let their toddlers watch full-length feature films more than once at a time.

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