This is a delicious vanilla cake made with simple ingredients, and in my head, it tastes how birthday cake should taste. This is what my mom always baked for me when I was little. After years of tweaking the recipe, it's now my favorite cake for any purpose. You can feel really confident about transforming it into stylized cakes for different holidays, birthdays or celebrations in any colors you can dream up, and as good as it may look, it will taste even better.
Technique tips: I don't recommend putting all of the cakes in the oven at the same time unless you have a convection oven. Plus, you may not have six baking pans anyway. If that's the case, cool, wash, dry and respray them before you refill them with batter. If you don't have time to bake the cake and assemble it on the same day, let the cakes cool, then wrap the whole, uncut cakes in several layers of plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to make the frosting and finish the cake.
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 16 ounces cream cheese, cold
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 32 ounces powdered sugar
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups granulated white sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1⅓ cups milk
- Food coloring
- Nonstick cooking spray
For the frosting:
Use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter until it is smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend it together until there are no lumps. Then add the vanilla. Stop the mixer and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it's all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.
Mix in the powdered sugar a little bit at a time on the lowest speed — otherwise it will fly everywhere! Use the spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it's all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.
For the cake:
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and put the oven rack in the middle of the oven (if you are using a convection oven, set it to 325°F).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until they are really mixed together. You have to mix all the dry ingredients together first, so that there are no clumps in your batter, which will create white spots. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter and sugar together, until they become fluffy. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula so it's all mixed in from the sides.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-sugar mixture, with the mixer on medium speed. Again, make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.
5. Add the vanilla to the milk and set it aside.
6. Mix about 1/3 of your dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, then blend in half of the milk, always mixing on medium speed.
7. Mix in the second third of the dry ingredients, then the remaining milk mixture.
8. Stop the mixer for a few seconds and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl as you go, then mix in the last of the flour mixture. Make sure it's all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth. You don't want any lumps, but don't overmix it — stop the mixer as soon as the batter is smooth.
9. Divide the batter evenly into six portions. They don't have to be exactly identical, but you want them to be close: You can use any small bowls that are all the same size: Just slowly pour the batter into each of the bowls a little at a time until they are all at the same height (it's about 1 cup of batter per bowl).
10. Color the batter individually in rainbow colors: We use purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and pink for our six-layer cakes. Start with a tiny drop of food coloring, stir it in completely, then add more until it is your desired color (the baked cake will come out pretty close to what you see — the outside will be a little brown, but that gets covered with frosting).
11. Spray six 6-inch round baking pans with cooking spray, then pour the colored batter into the greased pans.
12. Bake the cakes two at a time for 8 minutes without opening the oven door. Then rotate each pan so the front faces the back. Bake for another 8 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the middle of the cake (cakes are very sensitive. The less you open your oven, the better your cake will come out! I don't know exactly why, but I know it).
13. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes (when they're warm, they're really fragile, and that's when they tend to break.) Then flip them over onto a baking sheet or cooling rack and let them cool completely before you frost them.