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All-American, All-Purpose Yellow Cake

No recipe image available.Most American-style cakes are variations of a basic yellow cake, the 'yellow' referring to the use of egg yolks in the batter, as opposed to 'white' cakes, which use only the whites. This simple recipe can be slightly varied to create spice cake, lemon cake and orange cake, to name just a few.

Recipe Ingredients:

Butter and flour for preparing cake pans
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (see tips)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cooking Directions:

  1. Remove butter and eggs from refrigerator about 2 hours before starting recipe. Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Adjust oven rack to the middle position. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, cover the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment, butter the parchment and coat the pan with flour, shaking out the excess.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed for 30 seconds. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar. Beat until light-colored, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. The mixture should appear thick and dull. If it appears separated or grainy and shiny, the butter and/or eggs were too cold. To remedy this, wrap the bowl with a kitchen towel soaked with hot water and continue mixing. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary.
  4. Add about 1/3 of both the flour mixture and milk and beat on low speed or by hand until just incorporated. Add the vanilla and then the remaining flour and milk in two batches, beating between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir by hand to finish.
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Twist the pans back and forth on the work surface to distribute batter and then smooth surface with a rubber spatula. Place pans in oven a few inches apart, and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans 180 degrees after 15 minutes. Check the cake after 22 minutes. The top of the cake should be golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center, and a cake tester should come out clean. The cakes should start shrinking back from the sides of the pan.
  6. Remove the pans to a cooling rack. Let rest for 5 minutes. Run a small knife or metal spatula around the sides of the pans and invert cakes onto lightly greased racks. Remove parchment paper. Reinvent cakes onto cooling rack. Let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours or until completely cooled.

Makes one 2-layer cake; serves 12.


Spice Cake: Follow the master recipe, making the following changes: Sift together with the dry ingredients 2 teaspoons Dutch processed cocoa, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. Reduce vanilla to 1 teaspoon.

Lemon Cake: Follow master recipe, but reduce vanilla to 1 teaspoon. When adding the vanilla, add 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest from 1-2 lemons and 1 teaspoon natural lemon oil or extract if you cannot find the oil.

Orange Cake: Follow master recipe, but reduce vanilla to 1 teaspoon. When adding the vanilla, add 1 tablespoon finely chopped orange zest and 1 teaspoon natural orange oil or extract if you cannot find the oil.


  • Make sure that the butter is at the proper temperature before creaming.
    If you have an instant-read thermometer, the butter should read 67°F (approximately 20°C). If not, bend the stick of butter. It should be malleable but not soft. Cold butter will not cream properly, and the batter will appear separated when the eggs are added.
  • Cake can be baked in a 13x9x2-inch cake pan for 30 to 40 minutes or for cupcakes, bake for 15 to 25 minutes.