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Classic White Cake with Buttercream Frosting

piece of cake

White cakes are very much underrated. It’s often hard to find them and many people seem to be under the impression that they will unfailingly be dry and not worth eating. I, on the other hand, love them. Which is why I was so pleased with class today, where we made a beautiful, layered, wedding-style white cake.

Most great cake bakers will have one great recipe for chocolate cake and one great recipe for white cake. Instead of continually modifying the flavoring of the cakes themselves, which could adversely affect the texture, they will create many different syrups, mousses and frostings to add flavor to their cakes. Sponge cakes and genoises, which are not typically used for wedding cakes, will often be dipped in or generously brushed with syrup, both for moisture and for flavor. They will often be filled with a flavored mousse or whipped cream, as these cakes can be stored in the refrigerator because they do not have any (or have very little) fat in them that will solidify at a low temperature. Butter cakes inherently have more flavor than sponge cakes due unsurprisingly to the presence of butter. Because of the added fat, butter cakes are more moist than sponge cakes and will not need syrups for flavor and moisture. They will typically be paired with things like fruit and frostings. If you are layering a butter cake, as we did today, you will probably want to brush it with a simple syrup – a 1 to 1 ratio of sugar and water – as a crumb coat. The syrup can be infused with a flavor, which will have a subtle presence in the finished cake.

We made white cakes and buttercream frosting today. Despite the name, there is no cream in a buttercream. I’ve never made a true buttercream before, where boiling sugar is added to whipped egg whites, beaten until fluffy and then beaten with butter until smooth. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but it had to be beaten in the electric mixer for over 20 minutes, so it was quite noisy. The basic recipe makes a frosting that is not too sweet and very buttery.

Once we made the basic buttercream, we divided and flavored it. You can flavor it with any kind of extract, zest, liquor or puree. We mixed several tablespoons of raspberry puree in to 40 percent of the batch and 1/2 cup lemon curd into the remaining 60 percent. The raspberry buttercream was used in the interior and the lemon curd buttercream went all over the cake. In class, we also made vanilla, lime and coffee buttercreams. If you’ve only had storebought buttercream, make this one and you’ll wonder how they can get away with calling their stabilised sugar mixture “buttercream”.

Of course the buttercream tasted fabulous – so fabulous, in fact, that one woman decided to start munching away on the demo cakes and cupcakes that our instructor made. This was odd because lunch had been prepared for us just moments before. Needless to say, the consumption of some of the cupcakes intended for her children prompted the instructor to hide the rest of the cupcakes away. I might also mention that the muncher is the reason that we all have to label our pans now. She was a late addition to the class and seems to feel that anything not labeled is fair game for the taking. We learned that the hard way when she attempted to claim a tart that looked better than hers.

The highlight of the class was the white cake. It was easy to make and just delightful. A white cake should taste like a cross between an angel food cake, with a light almond-vanilla flavor, and a pound cake, without the heaviness. Simply flavored, sweet, moist with a medium crumb. This is the quintessential white cake. It exceeded all the expectations for cake that I’ve been carrying around since I was a child, the memory of the way that a Betty Crocker cake should have tasted in a perfect world. Frost it with buttercream or serve with with whipped cream and fresh berries.

I took home one cake box with my cake and a cake box filled with scraps from the cut-off tops of cakes and rejected layers, which I ate in the car on the way home.

another piece of cake

White Cake

1 cup milk, room temperature
6 egg whites
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter (6 oz), softened

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease two 9 inch cake pans with vegetable shortening, line the bottom with parchment paper, grease the parchment paper and flour the pans.
Combine milk, eggs whites and extracts in a small bowl with a fork. Set aside.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in an electric mixer and mix at slow speed with a paddle attachment. Add butter. Continue beating at slow speed until mixture looks like wet sand (If you’re doing this by hand, sift the dry ingredients together and rub in butter).
Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat for an additional 30 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. Do not overmix.
Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and gently shake to smooth batter. Bake 30-35 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes then invert onto racks to cool completely before frosting. Unfrosted cakes can be frozen for 1-2 weeks.

Serves 12-16.

1 pound unsalted butter, soft and cut into one inch pieces
3/4 cup and 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
5 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place egg whites, with cream of tartar and 1/4 cup sugar nearby.
Heat 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved. When sugar reaches 230F on a candy thermometer, turn mixer on medium high. When egg whites are frothy, add cream of tartar. Gradually add the 1/4 cup sugar. When egg whites begin to form soft peaks, turn the mixer down to medium low and begin to drizzle in the boiling sugar mixture (which should be at approximately 245-250F, firm ball stage). When all of the hot sugar is added, turn the mixer up to medium high and beat until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch. Add the butter one lump at a time and continue beating until mixture is smooth and fluffy, approximately 12-20 minutes. It will look rather like ricotta cheese for a while – just keep beating!
Once it is smooth, stir in flavorings, if desired.
Keep at room temperature – do not refrigerate.

Makes enough to frost one 2 or 3 layer, 8, 9 or 10 inch cake.

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  • Niki
    April 29, 2005

    I can’t stop giggling thinking about ‘the muncher’. What a great story, and a fascinating character!
    I’ts funny reading about the quintessential wedding cake being a plain white cake. Everything in my culture says that a wedding cake is a heavy fruitcake, topped with marzipan and white fondant icing! The small top layer is kept frozen to cut on your first anniversary or baptism of your first child. (although nowdays it’s become more popular to have a chocolate mud cake or croquembouche…people will actually eat those!)

  • Nic
    April 29, 2005

    Niki – As the 19th century drew to a close, the victorians popularised using white cakes and frostings instead of fruit cakes. Most people skip the tradition of fruit cakes, but still stick with the fondant “icing” on the cake. I think that this is because often people place a higher priority on the look of the cake than on the taste. But recently, it has come into fashion for wedding cakes to look textured, more like my cake, and less like plastic coated boxes. I think it’s a good thing to move away from fruitcakes and fondant. Tradition is lovely, but I also like to be able to eat (and enjoy!) the cakes at weddings!

  • Alice
    April 29, 2005

    Well, you’ve got me sold…I’m now hankering for white cake! 🙂 And, that classmate of yours sounds unbelievable!

  • Nic
    April 29, 2005

    Alice – You will definately not be disappointed if you make this white cake. Even plain!
    And I think that we should have known it was too good to be true when we had a whole class with only 6 students that got along. At least everyone will leave with some funny stories about “the muncher”.

  • Ana
    April 29, 2005

    Haven’t made white cake in ages and this recipe looks wonderful. I’ll have to bookmark it for later though. Just arrived from a 4-day workshop where besides being overworked we were overfed.

  • Alicat
    April 29, 2005

    Thank you for the congrats!!

    I can’t believe I’m married now… OMG! 😉

  • Nic
    April 29, 2005

    Ana – Conferences and long workshops are always like that!

    Alicat – I’ll eat a piece of my wedding cake here in your honor!

  • Paul
    May 9, 2005

    I discovered you blog after updating my own. I love it. I love your photographs . . . they make the food look so appetizing.

    I made the white cake and buttercream for my wife and son for Mother’s Day. We all loved it. (Who’d have thought that Kroger sells lemon curd.)

    I was surprised that the batter kept its shape so well. I didn’t level the top out when I placed it in the pan. I figured it would flatten out in the oven, but I was wrong. It made for an uneven cake but I ‘fixed’ it with about a half inch of buttercream. (I have tried trimming cakes before and have made nothing but a mess, so adding extra frosting was a great way to go.)

    For the raspberry buttercream, I strained out all the seeds (I have never like raspberry seeds, they always end up hurting my teeth when I bite on them.) and added a bit of raspberry jam to sweeten it up a little. As I mentioned above, I was glad to find lemon curd at the store. I had never heard of it before, but there it was on the bottom shelf by the jellies and jams.

    Thank you for your blog. It is the only one I have found worth book-marking. Best of luck in cooking school and keep those recipes, pictures, and ideas coming.

  • Nic
    May 9, 2005

    Paul – I’m flattered that you’re enjoying my site! I think that this cake was a perfect choice for a Mother’s Day cake, too. It’s great that you were able to get ahold of lemon curd without too much of a problem. And I’ll keep the recipes coming – thanks!

  • julie
    March 10, 2006

    I made your cake for my daughters 2nd birthday and it was phenomable. It was dressed as strawberry shortcake. Just wanted to say thank you so very much. I’ll post a pic of the cake.

    If anyone wants a great chocolate cake recipe just let me know.

  • Rebekka
    July 1, 2006

    GORR-geous!!!! Love it!!! That recipe is very similar to the one I use for white cake, it’s much more tender than the creaming method.

  • Anonymous
    April 20, 2007

    I made u r cake. It came out very well. Thanks a lot for the recipe.
    Can u suggest me a recipe for buttercream without using eggs.

  • Liza
    June 15, 2007

    Hi! This cake looks delicious, and I can’t wait to make it for my boyfriend’s birthday. One question: I don’t have access to a very good mixer. We only have a hand-mixer, no frills. Do you have any hints for bakers with minimal kitchen supplies?

  • denise
    October 10, 2007

    hi i made this cake today & it is amazing..best recipe ive tried so far.

  • susan
    March 18, 2008

    I tried this white cake recipe with all purpose flour and buttermilk and it was phenomenal! I was out of the correct ingredients and didn’t have my electric mixer, so it was mixed by hand. It was so perfect, I was going to use the recipe for my son’s wedding cake. I tried it again with a mixer and it fell short. The third time I made it, I used cake flour and whole milk….still not as good as the first. This last time I went back to my original with the buttermilk and all purpose flour, but, in a 14″ pan. Better, but not as good as the first. This is making me crazy! My friends (who haved worked with Wolfgang Puck as well as other accomplished chefs) were really impressed with the first cake and I would like to continue with it. I think the secret is in the mixing. The crumb was not as light and tender in the following cakes as in the first one. Any suggestions?

  • Felicia
    April 16, 2008

    i am makeing my best friends wedding cake and i tried this cake out to see if it was the right texture that i was looking for and it is amazing i love the flavor and the texture but i would like to make a chocolate cake also so i was wondering how i would make this recipe in to a chocolate cake as well

  • Tiffany
    July 17, 2008

    I’m thinking of layering this with a chocolate cake…considering the texture and taste, what recipe would you suggest?

  • lisa
    November 11, 2008

    Hi. Can we substitute butter to Crisco?

  • lisa
    November 11, 2008

    hi… it’s me again. i better get it straight for my first question. The substitution is for the buttercream not the cake. Can i use Crisco instead of butter. I am afraid that the buttercream might melt in a high humidity country.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  • Ron, San Francisco
    January 10, 2009

    WOW! is all I can say about this cake. I am a average experienced baker and cook in the kitchen and LOVE doing it. I thought I’d try this recipe for a friend’s birthday. It’s an easy cake to make IF you have some experience in the kitchen. I would not recommend this cake for beginners, as the entire process is nearly three hours in length, start to finish. I made one error in the icing by combining the sugar and cream of tartar and since it was only a 1/4 cup to throw out, figured I’d rather do it right than chance messing up the best part, the amazing icing. I used the lemon curd direct from the supermarket in the jellies and jams section and layered with butter cream mixed with raspberry jam, in the center. I couldn’t wait to taste the cake and icing so saved crumbs and icing from the bowl to taste along the way. Even the crumbs were out of this world. This cake is high end restaurant or bakery quality, costs about $20 to make but you’d easily pay $50-$60 for this cake in a high end urban bakery like San Francisco. I’m very sure it’s going to wow the birthday girl tonight. After eating a LOT of my mom’s cake made from a box, now I know what the real thing should taste like. Definitely use the almond flaving in the cake batter, it truly made all the difference in the world. Thanks for posting this recipe. Cheers!!!

  • Libby
    February 22, 2009

    I just wanted to let you know I made this cake for my friends party last night and it was a great hit. I really like the idea of the almond flavor to it. I will be making it again. Thanks a lot!

  • Lourdes
    May 24, 2009

    What exactly is the difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour? I can’t find cake flour in my supermarket. How would I substitute it for normal flour?

  • Donna McDowell
    September 1, 2009

    I noticed a lot of questions on this site. I have to recommend that anyone interested in baking, as I am, should buy Sherry Yard’s cookbooks. She is pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck and is fantastic. Her books answer any baking questions about ingredients and has several pages of places to buy ingredients you can’t find locally. She will also answer e-mails if you have question about her recipes. Her Buttermilk birthday cupcakes are the best tasting ever. I had to have both of them. “The Secrets of Baking” and “Desserts by the Yard”. You will learn so much.

  • Nakale L.
    October 4, 2009

    Niki, this is the best white cake recipe I have ever made and tasted. After baking countless dry white cakes, I was about to give up, before I found your recipe. Thank you very much.

  • mathew and saffron
    March 20, 2010

    well we had a complete disaster, i was aying during the cke making pride comes before a fall, for we thought we were good bakers, still we love baking and a challenge,,,,,,it was frothing the whites for the first time but i will say this that there is something about you or this cake making that is very funny we have not laughed like that for a long time,

    a very giggliy cake indeed…he he haha hu hu hee

  • levern
    June 24, 2010

    I read Susan comments dated March 18, 2008. The first cake she made without a mixer turn out great. The other cakes she made did not do well. I had this problem a few years back. I didn’t have my mixer and was having about 15 family member from out of town and some from in town, I made a coconut cake. Keep in mind I have made many coconut cakes and the one time I made one without a mixer turn out to be the best cake ever. I think when you make it by hand you don’t over mix it which makes for a lighter cake. I think back in the day making cake without a mixer was the best way, hard as it maybe.

  • Julia
    December 18, 2010

    Hi, I tried this cake and it was the best I’ve ever made. (note that I’m only 13) but I’ve loved baking since i bought my first box of cake mix. I love this recipe, It’s very simple and delicious. I also made the buttercream, it was a perfect match with the cake. But I wanted to make a chocolate cake and wondered how to make the coffee flavored buttercream?

  • Monica Bravo
    March 12, 2011

    I made this cake today and it was delicious.
    It was really moist and sweet, since I didn’t have almond extract I used 2 tsp of vanilla extract.

  • Julia
    April 29, 2011

    Hi! It’s Julia again. I was wondering if you didn’t mind the cake being not being all white, you could just use 3 whole eggs instead of 6 egg whites. Because last time I made this cake, I forgot to use the egg yolks and they spoiled. Since I hate wasting food this was practically a catastrophe to me and my mother.


  • Yadie
    June 6, 2011

    I used this recipe to make a 2 tiered communion cake and was super pleased with the results. The cake itself was soft and moist but held up to the stacking process without any troubles. The only change I would make for the next time would be to use less almond flavoring, but that was just a personal preference because everyone else had only good things to say.

  • Caterina
    June 8, 2011

    Hi! I made the cake and it was fantastic!
    Do you think I can use this recipe for a tiered cake covered in fondant? Can the frosting stay no refrigerated for 2 or 3 days?
    Thanks a lot!

  • Ellen
    September 3, 2011

    I used this recipe for strawberry cupcakes for my 3 yr old grandaughter’s birthday party. I made a practice batch first, using strawberry gelatin for my cake flavor. For the frosting, I used Hersheys Strawberry syrup for the flavoring (and color) and added a little strawberry extract. OMG, how delicious!! This was the BEST recipe that I have found for the moistest and most delicious cake and creamiest, melt in your mouth frosting. The directions are excellent too! Thank you Nicole.

  • Tirtzah
    November 13, 2011

    I tried the cake recipe, except I used 2 tsp of vanilla instead of 1 vanilla and 1 almond. The cupcakes I made turned out moist and very good. I made an 8 in layer cake, and it fell while cooling. I will try a different cooling method next time. Good recipe, overall!

  • Stella
    December 14, 2011

    I am celebrating my 30 year Anniversary this December and this sounds like a good recipe. I will be baking my own cake so I hope this comes out great!

  • Debbie
    December 20, 2011

    I followed the directions but my cake did not rise. Any ideas why. I do live in Colorado.

    January 23, 2012


  • Danielle
    February 5, 2012

    This is the best cake recipe by far. I don’t know if I messed up on the frosting or if I just didn’t like it. I’m thrilled to have found such a great cake recipe, but I’m still on a quest for a frosting recipe.

  • Kathleen McGuirk
    March 2, 2012

    I have made this cake and it is delicious! I want to try to convert this into a chocolate cake. I am thinking about adding 3/4 cup of cocoa and taking out that same amount in flour. Do you think this will work? Thanks.

  • christy
    May 9, 2012

    Ah! what a treat! I no longer live in the states, and I wanted a classic white cake for my wedding here in Europe next year, I needed a recipe! here it is and I thank you. I LOVE the classic white wedding cake and I have not eaten one in so long I can’t remember, so I will try baking this and give the recipe to the person who will bake my wedding cake next year! Many thanks.

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