Perfect Yellow Cake

Well, the day is finally here. As many of you know, I’ve been on a quest to perfect the best yellow cake on the planet. And this is it. I’m sitting here wondering why the earth hasn’t stopped moving or why the President has called me personally yet (actually, scratch that, I’d rather have a call from Bobby Flay). I mean, this is a big day. Monumental, some would say. But probably only if they are a total baking nerd like me. So yeah, I’ll stop waiting around for any phone calls. While this post is a bit involved (I couldn’t help but share the testing results with you!), the truth is, the actual cake recipe is super simple so don’t let the explanations scare you. If you follow the recommendations thoroughly, you’ll end up with the fluffiest, most delicious yellow cake ever.

Perfect Yellow Cake

Sidenote

Many of you were shocked when I said I was on version #16 or something like that. Lemmetellyousomething: the perfect yellow cake didn’t just fall into my hands easily like I thought it would and I knew I couldn’t give you just an okay yellow cake. It took a ton of testing and my family and I have eaten more yellow cake in the last couple months than is probably legal. For some reason, yellow cake is a bit fussier to get just.right then, say, chocolate cake (my most beloved recipe for chocolate cake is a one-bowl recipe where you basically throw everything together without room temperaturing anything and it comes out completely divine).

I’ve been amused by all of you who have left comments and emailed me about what on earth I’ve done with all 16+ yellow cakes; apparently this is a source of much concern. There were two or three variations that honestly were inedible (either burned or so dry, even my toddler couldn’t choke them down). The others have been widely shared with friends and company and I even have a few unfrosted layers hanging out in my freezer for when we get the hankering to crumble it up and toss it on some ice cream. So rest your weary minds: the yellow cakes were well taken care of and devoured, although I don’t think anyone in my family will be requesting a yellow cake for his/her birthday for a long time. We are a little yellow-caked out.

Perfect Yellow Cake

I’d Be Lost Without Them

A special, super, huge thank you to two very important people (I kind of feel like I’m giving an acceptance speech at The National Convention for Perfect Yellow Cakes here): Nicole, a wonderful friend of mine, was the one who finally gave me the insight I needed for the last step in perfecting this cake (a huge blessing because I didn’t know if I honestly had another yellow cake in me and her advice resulted in the.perfect.cake) and Lisa, sweetest sweetie ever, who willingly tested this cake for me (multiple times) in order to provide all you high altitude dwellers with essential tips for success. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Evolution of Testing the Perfect Yellow Cake

When I first set out to perfect the almighty yellow cake, I started with three recipes popular online (David’s Yellow Cake from allrecipes.com, Deb’s yellow birthday cake from smittenkitchen.com and Cook’s Illustrated Yellow Layer Cake). I made each of them as is. While I am a fan of each of these sites and resources, respectively, the cakes were all lacking to me. David’s Yellow Cake was a little dry with kind of a weird, spongy texture, the cake from Smitten Kitchen was reminiscent of cornbread and the Cook’s Illustrated yellow cake was by far the driest of them all.

I set about modifying ingredients and amounts and methods and while someone smarter than I probably could have pared the testing down to just a couple of cakes, what can I say, it took me a while.

For all of you interested in the ins and outs of testing, I’ve included probably more details than anyone wants below the recipe. If you don’t give a hoot (don’t worry, I still love you), the recipe is below just waiting for you to make it.

Perfect Yellow Cake

P.S. If you are wondering, that adorable little cake stand in a few of the pictures is from Rita Marie Weddings. The Audrey – Regular Size and I love, love, love it. Dana, owner of Rita Marie, sent it to me ages ago and I’ve been using it like crazy during the Yellow Cake Experiment.

One Year AgoSix Recipes the World Forgot {Part 3}
Two Years Ago: Paprika Chicken Stroganoff
Three Years Ago: Naan – Indian Flatbread

Perfected Yellow Cake

Yield: Makes two 9-inch layers or three 8-inch layers

Perfected Yellow Cake

Please read below the recipe for information on specific ingredients. I made and tested this cake over 16 times and have fine-tuned the ingredients and the methods. That isn't to say you aren't welcome to substitute and change, but in my yellow cake experience, this match up creates yellow cake perfection (substituting all-purpose flour, using cold eggs/milk, overly greasy soft butter, and a multitude of other factors can result in a dense, dry cake).

If you are making your own cake flour using one of the two simple methods I posted about, don't worry about making one cup of cake flour at a time, instead, use 210 grams all-purpose flour and 45 grams cornstarch; sift twice. Then add the other dry ingredients and sift once more.

For high altitude, add an additional 2 1/2 tablespoons cake flour before sifting (that would be about 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch if using a homemade cake flour substitute).

Update: I've heard from several of you that while the cake tastes amazing, it is sinking in the middle or is baking flat. I can't analyze the why's too much because it will make my head pop off since I dedicated months of my life to this cake anyway. When I had too much leavening in the cake (2 teaspoons baking powder + 1 1/2 teaspoons soda), the cake rose too much in the oven and then deflated so I scaled it back to what worked perfectly for me. But here's the deal, if you are worried about sunken layers, increase the baking soda. My suggestion would be 1/2 or 3/4 teaspoon.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (13 ounces, 368 grams)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour, lightly measured (9 ounces, 255 grams), see note for high altitude adjustments
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk (1% or above), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (light or regular), room temperature

Directions

  1. To prep, whisk together the milk and sour cream together in a liquid measure and let come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and make sure an oven rack is placed in the middle of the oven.
  3. In a large bowl of an electric stand mixer or with a handheld electric mixer, whip the butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 4-5 minutes on medium speed. Mix in the vanilla.
  4. One at a time, add the eggs and egg yolks, mixing just until combined in between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift them together through a fine mesh strainer.
  6. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 1/2 of the milk/sour cream mixture and mix. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Add the last 1/2 of the milk/sour cream mixture and beat until just combined. Add the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Give the batter one good, final stir with the rubber spatula.
  7. Grease the cake pans and line the bottoms with a parchment round. Grease the parchment and sides of the pan again very well. I use regular cooking spray but you can also use butter or cooking spray with flour. If your cake pans tend to cause sticking, consider also flouring the pans.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Drop each pan from about 3-inches onto the counter to minimize air bubbles while baking.
  9. Bake for 25-28 minutes (high altitude: 28-30 minutes) until lightly golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Resist the urge to open and close the oven to check on the cake - this can cause the center of the cake to fall and never recover. And as with all cakes, don't overbake or the cake will be dry.
  10. Let the cakes rest in the pans for 5-10 minutes before gently turning them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
http://www.melskitchencafe.com/perfected-yellow-cake/

Recipe Source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Ok, let’s talk…

I’ve jotted down all the details of why the type of ingredients/method matters for this cake. Read on, read on!

the butter

I’ve mentioned it before, but I rarely use unsalted butter. I tested this cake with both unsalted and salted and adjusted the salt amount accordingly. In the end, there wasn’t a difference in outcome, so I stuck with my go-to: salted butter. I use the Land o’ Lakes brand mostly (sometimes the Sam’s Club brand). If you want to use unsalted butter, increase the salt to 1 teaspoon. Also, butter temperature really matters. It should be soft enough to gently slide a finger through with a bit of pressure but not sludgy, greasy or overly soft. The time I accidentally used overly soft butter (uh, it somehow stayed on the counter for, like, 12 hours because even though I love baking, my five kids still take precedence over making a yellow cake), it resulted in a greasy, weirdly spongy cake. I did not test this cake with margarine, coconut oil, shortening or the like so you’ll have to experiment with those if desired. Also, whipping that butter for a good 1-2 minutes is extra important. And beating the heck out of it and the sugar for another 4-5 is non-negotiable. Doing this creates air which helps create fluffiness in the baked cake. The cake(s) that I tested where the butter was minimally whipped were not nearly as fluffy. And fluffy = greatness.

the eggs

I know, I know. Using room temperature eggs is a total pain in the behind. I’m right there with you! I hate recipes that require it. And so when I first started testing cakes, I refused to do it. And my cakes were looking like this:

fallen cake

So I crumbled, no pun intended, and used room temperature eggs the next time I made a cake and the difference was remarkable. Light and fluffy where before the cake was slightly dense and a bit crumbly. There may have been other factors at play, but as I messed around with the recipe, it was very, very clear that room temperature eggs are important. If you are like me and often forget to plan in advance, don’t fret – place those chilled eggs in a bowl or liquid measure filled with very slightly warm water for 15-ish minutes and you’ll be good to go.

Speaking of the eggs, it was my friend, Nicole (as mentioned above in the post), who encouraged me to scale down the whole eggs from four to three and add an egg yolk or two to replace the missing whole egg – two egg yolks managed to be the perfect answer. Egg whites add structure but can take away moisture from baked goods, hence the three whole eggs + two egg yolks in the recipe. Don’t be like me and get tempted to sub a whole egg for the two egg yolks. You’ll get a pretty decent cake but not a fantastic, best-ever cake. Know what I mean? I was quite in awe of the difference two egg yolks made. However, when I used all egg yolks and no whites, the cake was slightly gummy and not as fluffer-fluffy as I wanted.

milk + sour cream

I was sure that plain old milk was the only liquid I needed in my cake. At about cake #10, I was fairly positive it needed to be one cup of whole milk, even though the thought made me cringe since I never have whole milk on hand. However, I knew perfection was the goal so I put my whole milk annoyances behind me and moved on…until my friend Nicole (yes, she’s brilliant and I want to be her when I grow up), helping me troubleshoot my cake conundrums, suggested that a bit of acid in the recipe would create the tenderness I was after. I was befuddled why I was getting a really, really good cake that was still just so, very slightly dry. In the end, it wasn’t necessarily dryness but a lack of tenderness I was noticing. And the adjustment of sour cream to compensate for the reduced milk did just the trick (plus adding baking soda in for the acidity in combination with the already present baking powder, which took a couple rounds because I misjudged the amount of baking soda at first and there was so much leavening power in the cake that it sank in the middle…badly…however, once the baking powder and soda were adjusted accordingly, the cake was magnificent). The real plus was that after I added sour cream, I used 1% milk instead of whole without sacrificing any moisture or tenderness.

weighed flour

As much as my heart wanted a fabulous yellow cake without having to use cake flour, it didn’t happen. The cakes I made with all-purpose flour were dry and dense with a much coarser crumb, slightly reminiscent of dry cornbread. And uh, I don’t want cake that tastes like dry cornbread. Cake flour is lower protein than all-purpose flour and also has a finer texture (thanks to the starch in it) which results in a much finer crumb in a baked cake. The good news is that even though the recipe requires cake flour, you can make your own (my kitchen tip from yesterday gives you two super easy methods). If you have a kitchen scale, use it. You’ll get very precise results. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, buy one. Ok, just joking. Kind of. I know not everyone can do that (but you should really put it on your wish list). If you are measuring using cups, measure with a light hand. Spoon the cake flour into the cup and gently level off with a flat edge.

For this recipe, if you are making your own cake flour, don’t mess with making one cup at a time, instead, I’ve done the math for you: you’ll need 210 grams of all-purpose flour and 45 grams of cornstarch. Sift it twice. Then add the baking powder, baking soda, salt and sift once more. Make sense?

Also, for high altitude, I’ve got your back. Ok, actually, my friend, Lisa, has your back. She tested this recipe for me – she lives at 5,400 feet elevation. She made the cake twice, the first time it fell significantly. She added an additional 2 1/2 tablespoons cake flour (if using a homemade cake flour substitute, that would be about 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch) and the cake baked up perfectly (along with a slight increase in baking time and buttering the heck out of the pans).

sift the flour

This sifting action, called for in the recipe, is in addition to any sifting you may have done if you are making your own cake flour. You don’t need to sift twice, just give the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda a quick sift through a fine mesh strainer. This was one of the last variables to add to the recipe. The last few cakes I made were so good. But just not quite there. I should have considered sifting earlier on, but again, I was trying to minimize fussiness. Once I sifted the dry ingredients prior to incorporating into the batter, the results were far superior – lighter and fluffier (let’s see how many times I can use those two descriptors in this post).

the batter

Ah, the gorgeous batter. It may look just slightly curdled and that’s ok. Spread it evenly in the pan (hasn’t been done in the picture, just so you know – don’t leave your batter lumped up like that) and give it a quick tap or light drop on the counter. When I didn’t do this, there were significant air bubbles in the baked cake. You don’t want to drop it from the rooftop like a crazy egg-drop challenge and you don’t need to tap more than once, just a quick light drop will suffice. I only ever baked the cake in two 9-inch pans to keep testing criteria similar, however, I think it could also be made in three 8-inch pans. Cupcakes and sheet cakes will have to be an experiment until someone reports back. I have them on my radar also, but it may be a little while before I actually try them.

As for the cake pans, significant greasing (with butter and cooking spray and possibly flour, too) is needed for the cake not to stick. I also line the bottom of the greased pan with a parchment round that I’ve cut out and then grease the top of it. My magic number for baking was right at 27 minutes; however, keep in mind that all ovens vary slightly. Lisa, my awesome friend who tested high altitude baking for me, needed more like 30 minutes for her cakes (she made the recipe twice).

Phew! I’m tired! If you made it this far, you seriously deserve a big huge kitchen nerd award (from one baking nerd to another).

Now, the big question…

What should I perfect next?

368 Responses to Perfected Yellow Cake

  1. Sherry says:

    I will try the cake again, but my first attempt didn’t turn out so well. My son thought it was dry (and he has a culinary degree), my husband thought it was good. Mine did something weird though, after baking the required time and testing it with cake tester, I removed from the oven and all around the edges looked kind of wet, not wet as in not done. I couldn’t not figure it out. I catered over 20 years and still did not know what the problem was. I followed the directions exactly and even using baking strips around the pan to keep cake from crowning in the center. I will try again sometime and post results.

    • Kyle says:

      Its because the ratio of flour (100%) to sugar (about 150%) is too high causing a caramelization on top of the cake. Sugar also adds some moisture to the cake making the top possibly seem more soggy then your typical cake out of the oven. All in all a good recipe if you just reduce the sugar to the same almost as the flour (9oz) its golden not to sweet but just perfect in balance. The most sugar i would ever add to a butter cake is about 125% of total flour weight.
      4 stars other than that! good job!

  2. Lari says:

    I think it’s hilarious that when people make it and it doesn’t work out that they have to mention they are an expert baker or have a culinary degree or whatever. I’m not saying they don’t but it’s almost like they have to say that to make themselves feel better or something cause heaven forbid the recipe really is right and they might have made a mistake. It’s kind of funny. I’m not a professional bake or caterer or whatever, but I just made this cake again this weekend (probably the 4th time or something) and it’s really the best.

    • Sue U says:

      Lari did you “make” the cake flour or use purchased cake flour? I am trying to figure out where I went wrong on the recipe. My cake came out very, very dense. Any help would be appreciated.

      Sue

      • Kyle says:

        The rule of thumb on changing all-purpose flour to cake flour is: 1 cup cake flour = 1 cup all-purpose minus 2 table spoons.

    • Rodney says:

      I have been baking all my life, I had a little bit of culinary experience from a class that I once took. I have read her does and don’ts to this recipe and everything looks fabulously in order. I will make one adjustment to the recipe and use buttermilk instead of sour cream to add acidity to the cake. The only reason is that I am not a big fan of adding sour cream into this recipe ( I could be wrong ). I will post my results. It looks like to me that she didn’t try using buttermilk and as butter milk will add a tender richness to the cake. Yellow cake is a very difficult cake to perfect and all of her steps should be taken and wouldn’t skip one of them.

      • Myra says:

        Rodney, I like buttermilk too in a cake and although I have made this recipe several times it always come out perfect ( I am NOT a professional baker). I wanted to try it with buttermilk. I’m curious, how did your cake turn out and taste?

  3. mira says:

    This cake looks absolutely gorgeous! Trying it soon!

  4. Jen says:

    I just made this cake for my daughter’s 2nd birthday! I followed it exactly, using the APflour/cornstarch mix. Looks just like your picture, I was so happy with it. Very moist with a light mouthfeel. One thing that did differ greatly is mine took 37 minutes to cook. I have an old uncalibrated oven but have an oven thermometer that read 350. Oh well, just glad I didn’t under or over cook and that there is lots leftover :)

  5. Anna says:

    Hi. You used to have an amazing GF flour recepie (with the pink icing recepie. Where can I find it? Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      I think you might be thinking of a different blog, Anna. I don’t remember having a recipe like that. Sorry!

      • Alan Harper says:

        About 65 years ago I started cooking cakes at home using an old cookbook and the recipe for a two egg cake. (There was also a variation for spice cake which we always iced with homemade caramel icing -my Dads favorite) Always dumped everything into the bowl and beat the daylights out of it by hand. Cake pans were greased and floured. Made very good cake that was not as dry tasting if it was not cooled too long. Fond memories using cows milk and chicken eggs with Crisco. I milked the cow and gathered the eggs. YUM!

  6. Amy says:

    Thank you so much for posting this detailed recipe. I just made the most beautiful yellow cake of my life!

  7. Dante Bullock says:

    Made this cake for the first time on Christmas Day… Best cake I ever made in my life!!! I really enjoyed making it and eating it. I love yellow cake so this will be a sure regular for me. Thanks!!!

  8. Dione Washington says:

    I made this cake for christmas and it was amazing. Easily the best yellow cake recipe I have run across so far. I did use 1/2 teaspoon baking soda as another commenter suggested and a tablespoon of vanilla but those were the only changes I made.

  9. Laura says:

    Cannot wait to try making this cake! My boyfriend absolutely loves yellowcake with chocolate frosting and my biggest pet peeve is a dry cake. Hopefully, I can make this one successfully!

    Could you provide the link for the recipe of the chocolate frosting you used?

    Thanks!

  10. Marlynn Stott says:

    How come you know longer have a “save recipe” button for your recipes

    • Mel says:

      Marlynn – Ziplist (along with the ability to save recipes is no longer available). I am exploring other options to replace Ziplist, but want to make sure it’s the best one before implementing on my site. In the meantime from what I understand you can create an account at epicurious.com to access your currently saved recipes and I’ve heard paprika is a good app to use for individuals wanting to save recipes online. I hope that helps!

  11. Emily says:

    Just took this cake out of the oven as a trial run for my son’s b-day on Saturday. Glad I did a trial because doesn’t look good. Totally sunk in the middle before I even took them out of the oven. I live at about 6500 ft. altitude, and made the adjustments recommended in the recipe…but didn’t read all the comments until it was already in the oven (silly). High altitude baking isn’t a universal thing- each 500 – 1000 ft has it’s own tricks, I guess! I will look for the “pie in the sky” chart that was recommended and try again – he needs a birthday cake after all. I have to say, it smells delicious, so I’m sure we will have no trouble eating my trial, even if it isn’t pretty. Also, he requested marble cake but i thought I’d figure out the yellow first – has anyone tried marbling this successfully yet?

    • Nikki says:

      Hey there I have made a variation of this cake several times using vanilla extract & almond extract and just vanilla. I switched to 2 1/4 tsp just baking powder using no soda and I use 2 tbsp vanilla. I experimented with preheating at 350 and once cake was in turning down to 325. It did produce a little moister crumb but both ways are ok. For me, these as cupcakes turn a little flatter than my other cupcake recipe but the flavor is better in Mel’s recipe but I think adding for extract makes it taste way better.

  12. Emily says:

    More high altitude tips here!! I just took the second trial out of the oven – and they look AMAZING! Perfectly golden and rounded – can’t wait to try it!
    Here are the changes I made (I live at 6500 ft.):
    Increased milk by 1 T
    Increased flour by 2 1/2 T
    Decreased baking soda to 1/8 tsp
    Decreased baking powder to 1 tsp
    Decreased SUGAR by 2 T (I measured 1 3/4 cup and then scooped out 2 T).
    My first cake was totally flat in the middle, and crusty/sugary around the outside. I have had success with decreasing sugar in other recipes, and thought it might work here.
    Also, my son really wanted marble cake, so I went for it. I used about a cup of the finished batter, and mixed it with an ounce of semi-sweet chocolate chips, then just dropped in on top and swirled with a knife.
    I guess the taste is yet to be determined…hoping the missing sugar won’t have a huge effect, or that the chocolate makes up for it. I will post again after we eat it!

  13. Linda says:

    I made this cake for my daughter’s 13th birthday New Year’s Eve. It was amazing. This will now be a tradition. I used 3 4″x2″ pans (filled with batter about 3/4 of the way) and still had enough for a nice 8″ layer. We ate it with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Yum. The next day we had it slightly warmed in the microwave with a scoop of ice cream. Another winner. Thanks for the great recipe. How about tackling Madeleines next? I’ve tried a couple of recipes but I found them too dense and eggy. Seems a slight variation on this recipe might work. Thanks for the memorable cake!

  14. Sue U says:

    Thank you for the wonderful recipes. :-) I made (or am in the process of making this cake). I ran into a dilemma. When I weighed out the flour/cornstarch it made almost 4 cups of flour after sifting. I wasn’t sure what to do. So, I measured out the 2 1/2 cups of sifted flour rather than using the measured (grams) amount. Now, I’m not anywhere near an expert and may have made a mistake somewhere, but I doubled checked my weight (grams) twice. I didn’t know if you might have an answer for this.

    • Sue U says:

      The cake came out very dense. I am re-reading your recipe and wondering if I didn’t cream the butter and sugar enough? Any other hints or help would be greatly appreciated. I love the flavor just need to lighten the cake.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Sue – Sifted flour will always measure more (using cups) than unsifted because it’s essentially just been fluffed up while sifting so that’s probably why it seemed like a lot of flour. The safest method is to use the weight measures given in the recipe since they are foolproof (as opposed to cup measures which can vary widely depending on how people scoop the flour and also, as you saw, if they measure before or after sifting). I think the reason your cake may not have turned out is because of the flour issue. If you make it again, weigh the dry ingredients and use that amount even after sifting. Hope that helps!

  15. Mimi says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe! I made this cake with cream cheese frosting and stored it in the fridge the night before my party. The flavor was very good, but the cake was slightly dry after I left it in room temperature before serving. Some cakes seem to taste better the next day, but is it better to make this cake on the day you’re serving it so I don’t need to refrigerate it, worrying that the cake will turn hard? Can you tell me the best way of dong it? Thank you!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Mimi – I don’t refrigerate this cake and I think that might be the reason it dried out a bit. I usually store it well-covered in a cake dome or cake carrier at room temperature.

  16. Heather says:

    Just put it in the oven (fingers crossed)!! I added an extra tsp of almond extract to the vanilla, the batter was deeeelish. Hoping this birthday cake to myself is as yummy on the first try as yours was on the 14th. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Chris says:

    I used your recipe to make a slow cooker cake; I did vary an ingredient .. .. .. instead of the sour cream called for, I used a full cup of hm applesauce

  18. Marguerite says:

    I too, have been searching for the perfect yellow cake recipe. I googled “best yellow cake recipe” and I came across your blog. I’m so glad I found you! My search for the perfect yellow cake is now over. This cake is so delicious and the texture is beautiful! I just made it for my Dad’s birthday and my family raved about it. Thank you, Mel!!!

    PS. I found you just before the holidays and the timing was perfect. My family also enjoyed your Chocolate Pretzel Pie, Yellow Cupcakes and Favorite Sugar Cookies!

  19. Kathryn says:

    Hi Mel,
    Came across your site while looking for yellow cake recipe.
    Would love to reproduce my Tennessee grandmother’s yellow cake which was always super moist and fluffy. She did not use cake flour as she didn’t usually have any. I’m talking back in the 40’s & 50’s. She had those giant yellowware bowls, and whipped all by hand without a mixer. I was enthralled as she hummed along as she worked. Or told me stories or riddles.
    No one ever had her recipe as she never wrote things down. It was all in her head. She did have a scale and a multitude of gadgets as she also put up her whole garden and orchard in jars for the winter. Her cake batter was altered slightly to make her own style of “Madeliene’s” which we called “Granny Cookies”….they were just little round “tea cakes”. Delicious. But they weren’t really as eggy or creamy as real Madeleines. She changed them up with coconut or lemon from time to time. The cake she made was altered depending on who it was for or the holiday season. But there was a yellow cake every Sunday after church! For dinner dessert. I think your recipe must be something like hers.
    Often there was more then one cake as she had 24 grandchildren. (I was the eldest girl and got to hang out in the kitchen a lot) I have the Granny Cookie recipe which one of my aunts wrote down while watching Granny whip it up. But it’s not quite right, of course. I have another whole story about her pumpkin pie. (very dark, and shiny like custard)
    Anyway, she just had a knack. Which I do not. Which you do!!

    Thank you for explaining the variables in the flours and the adjustments which must be made with the other ingredients. I’m going to have my granddaughters read this recipe as it will give them a great understanding of and respect for the chemistry of baking. Especially cakes. I don’t think they have a clue as to how it works. For them it’s sort of magical. Well, truthfully, for me, too.
    Thank you for this recipe, and though I’m a bit intimidated by it, I surely will try it. Best regards to you, Kathryn
    PS. To make it go around better for a crowd, Granny served by cutting cake in half and then slicing 1″ slices from the center cut out on both sides. So all the slices were parallel. Yes, out to the curve, the slices got smaller, but those got more frosting, or icing as Granny called it. I never saw anybody else do it that way. Thanks again! KH

    • Mel says:

      I love your detailed comment, Kathryn! So much of cooking and baking is emotional when tied to memories like you have with your grandmother. I love that! It sounds like such a treasured time when you were able to spend time with your grandma in the kitchen.

  20. Pirate says:

    I made this cake this morning following your recipe almost exactly. The one thing I changed was I use 1 cup whole milk instead of half sour cream. I also used a 13X9 oblong pan, and baked for 40 minutes. It came out perfect. And it didn’t sink in the middle. I frosted it with butercream frosting (my husbands favorite). It was the best tasting yellow cake I have ever had. My husband loved it!! You can eat this cake with nothing on it because the taste is great, fluffy, tender and moist. Thank You So Much

  21. Pirate says:

    I meant buttermilk, not sour cream.

  22. Rebecca says:

    This cake was AMAZING!!!!! Best yellow cake from scratch I have ever had. Way better than the boxed junk. I have tried many yellow cake recipes without success, and the last one I had been making was temperamental, and seemed to shrink and sink in the middle. Not this cake! Awesome perfect crumb, not too crumbly,spongy and fluffy, and very moist. I did use regular flour with cornstarch, and weighed ingredients. I did have to increase baking time, since I used a bigger pan and increased the recipe by a half. The best part about this cake, is that it is a no fuss cake! No making egg whites to fold in at the end. Thank you so much Mel. My search is FINALLY over!!!

  23. Lacey says:

    This cake was FABULOUS! I made it for my birthday yesterday, along with the Whipped Chocolate Buttercream Frosting!! I will say it was so great it didn’t need the frosting, except to make them prettier! This was my first cake from scratch and it will be my “go-to” yellow cake! Thank you so much for your hard work critiquing the recipe. I followed the recipe to a T (which I have a very hard time doing, haha!) I did use AP flour plus the corn starch to substitute for cake flour, I also weighed it. After weighing I measured (before sifting) just to see how many cups/tablespoons it ended up using. My measurements were approx. 1 1/2 cups very lightly packed AP flour and approx. 4.5 tablespoons of very lightly packed cornstarch. I sifted these together twice, then added other dry ingredients and sifted one more time. I used whole milk and regular sour cream. I generously buttered the two 9″ rounds then lined the bottoms with a parchment rounds (I cut myself) and generously buttered the top of the parchment paper. I had a little bit of a hard time with the sides of my cake sticking to the side of the pans, so I think next time I will test with cooking spray. Although I will say, the buttery cake that I got to eat from the sides was amazing! One cake was ready at 25 minutes, the other needed 28 minutes, maybe I got more batter in one pan than the other. Both of my cakes sunk a little where I stuck a toothpick in, but not tremendously. I just filled them in with more frosting in those spots ;). Thank you so much once again!

  24. Mary ann says:

    I made your last night and it turned out good . Now I need a recipe for the chocolate frosting asap

  25. Jessica says:

    I am a cake nerd, too, and have tried 10 different yellow cake recipes. I am so excited to have found this and can’t wait to try it out!!

  26. Kim says:

    So first and foremost, thank you for testing out so many different recipes. Time and resources I’m sure it wasn’t cheap to come to the final product. I followed the recipe but I had to sub out due to food allergies (sorry). I used earth balance butter and for milk and sour cream I used 2 tbsp of vinegar to 1 cup of Soymilk. The cake was light and airy. It sunk but I can’t complain because the cake in itself was incredibly moist and just perfect. The batter looked a little runny but it came out really tasty and I made cupcakes so I baked for 21 minutes.

    Thank you!!!

  27. joanna says:

    Hello, Is there any way I could make a marble cake with this recipe without compromising flavor and texture?
    Thanks,

  28. Gina says:

    Made this cake for superball Sunday. It’s a bit fussy- but I love fussy. If I want easy I’ll buy a box. Anyway- loved the process did everything to direction then left it in the oven a bit to long. Didn’t hear the timer bc I watch watching the game. Anyway- I thought it was a touch dry but my husband loved it! (I’m very critical). Overall is was still light and yummy. Going to make it again for my moms birthday.
    A question: how long to bake for cupcakes?

    • Mel says:

      Hey Gina – several people have commented that they’ve made cupcakes with this – I’m not sure of the exact time but I’d start checking around 15 minutes.

      • Gina says:

        Thanks!
        I’ll be sure to hang in the kitchen this time so I don’t leave it in to long. I’m sure thats why it seem a bit dry the fist time. Otherwise delish!

  29. Irina says:

    Last night, my husband and I got a craving for something sweet. Since I recently received a silicone baking dish that has pockets for individual slices to bake, I decided to try it out. didn’t want to make a whole cake so there wouldn’t be a temptation to eat too much cake (yay portion control!) So I made 4 slices by reducing the recipe to 1/4 of the original. While it was baking, I was so worried that the batter would go over the top (it looked almost like muffins while baking), and I was thinking that maybe I put too much batter in the forms. Thankfully it all stayed in place and even steeled down during the cooling process to give me perfectly flat tops! I filled the cake slices with a blueberry and blackberry compote I made while the cake was baking and topped it with a merengue frosting and sprinkles. Came out delicious! It all went from craving to eating it let that and hour and a half.

    Thank you for sharing the recipe!

  30. Raymond says:

    Mel, I’m making this cake next week and I’ve never actually made yellow cake before. I like to add mayonnaise to my white cakes. I was wondering what ratio would I decrease the sour cream, (if I decrease at all) to add the mayonnaise…or would this not be a good idea?

  31. Tammy says:

    Would like to try baking this cake for a wedding cake. Will it be compatable with fondant? Thanks

  32. Abbey says:

    I made this cake and it was perfect! Except I had one minor issue: it didn’t have that yellow cake flavor. I made chocolate frosting and you could barely taste the cake! I mean I tell you tho the texture was PERFECTION, it was so light and fluffy and moist. But do you have any suggestions for the flavor ?

  33. Latasha says:

    Made the cake and it was good! I just might make it again for my daughter’s birthday.

  34. Brianna says:

    I made this cake as cupcakes and used full-fat greek yogurt instead of the sour cream, and it was so delicious in texture and taste! I think I’ll reduce the sugar next time for personal preference, but thank you for trying 16 times to find the perfect recipe!

  35. Claire says:

    Hi Mel! Thank you for this awesome recipe. It is beautiful. I see in your notes that you mention several people have had the infamous sinking cake after baking it completely. Your suggestion to increase the baking soda was good, but I also wanted to pass on a tip that I recently learned. When mixing ingredients in, every step beyond softening the butter and creaming the sugar should be at the lowest speed possible. Yes it will take a little longer, but it will also avoid too much air being incorporated into the batter. That air may be harmless at first but it expands in the heat of the oven and then deflates as it cools, like a delicious balloon. Someone may have already mentioned this (I confess I did not sift through all 300+ comments!) Thank you for all of your hard work- I trust and use your blog for lots of my baking and will continue to do so. xo

  36. Sandy B says:

    This is the best yellow cake recipe. Your instructions were easy to follow and spot-on. Thank you.

  37. NIJA says:

    I tried this cake out today… must say it really boosted my morale! polished it off by dinner time! Mel, this is one outstanding recipe…Thank you so much…

  38. Kay says:

    This recipe is perfection. Growing up in a Greek household, I had no point of reference as to what a good yellow cake should taste like. We had fancy torte birthday cakes but, I was just a bit envious of a good American cake. Now the I am a parent making birthday cake for my toddlers, I was in search of that illusive yellow cake. I tried Cook’s Illistrated, Smitten Kitchen and coutless others. There are so many claims of the “perfect” cake on the internet but, this really delivers.

    I followed the recipe exactly as written. It is meticulous but, not complicated and it turned out exactly as the picture. I filled it with a barely sweetened raspberry whipped cream and topped with a chocolate swiss meringue buttercream. When I make it again I will decrease the amount of sugar (personal preference as I find most cake too sweet). I hope that doesn’t throw anything off.

    Thanks so much for sharing this gem of a recipe!

  39. Tamboosh says:

    I’m a food blog lurker. I never ever comment ever. It’s how I maintain an air of mystery. :) I have made many-a yellow cake from Smitten Kitchen to Magnolia to recipes from old and new cookbooks. I always felt like they were off somehow until this cake. I baked it today and, I kid you not, I tasted it with my mom and it was so utterly perfect that l whispered “I found my recipe”. There might have been a happy tear, but then I do have some flair for drama. In a long winded way I want to thank you from the bottom of my cake loving heart for this paragon of ultimate recipes. This made me SO happy!

  40. zeh says:

    Hi, Can i bake this in a 9×13 pan? What should be the temperature? Thanks a lot :)

    • Mel says:

      There are several people in the comment thread who baked this in a 9X13 so it might help to scroll through the comments. I’d keep the baking temperature the same – just keep an eye on the time.

  41. Julie says:

    How many cupcakes would this recipe yield, and it would work for cupcakes?

    • Mel says:

      Others in the comment thread have made cupcakes with this recipe (I haven’t) so feel free to scroll through and read their advice.

  42. Leah says:

    I just wanted to say “Thank You!!!”! I have also made about 16 different yellow cakes in my quest to find one that I and my family likes. My son’s birthday is coming up and he has decided on a vanilla cake (aka yellow) for his party so the pressure is on to find a good recipe. I tried two others this week already and both had issues. I’ve been disappointed so many times by the promises of “the best yellow cake”, but this one delivered!! The only adjustment I made was to up the vanilla extract to 1T and I also put in 1T of vanilla bean paste as he really wanted a good vanilla flavor and it turned out amazing! The flavor is great, it is super moist and tender and it has the perfect crumb. Thank you, thank you!!

  43. Katie says:

    Mel, this ones a winner! I made it this morning for Easter. Important to emphasize the need for parchment rounds that cover the whole bottom, made the mistake of sloppily cutting the paper, leaving a small crescent shape on the edge of the pan uncovered, when I turned the cake out that part stuck on the pan, leaving me with the incredibly unfortunate consequence of having to taste what remained in the pan! Though a benefit for me if trying to make an aesthetically perfect cake, could have been quite the bummer. Absolutely adore the texture of the cake, buttery, light and just absolutely delicious. Followed every step to a ‘T’ weighing the flour and sugar. Can’t wait for tomorrows’ guests to try it! Does anybody have any tips for storing it?? I read not to refrigerate, in that case should I wait to frost it till tomorrow? Or can I frost/decorate today and leave the whole thing at room temp? Maybe just a crumb coat? or does it matter at all?? Any input would be appreciated!!

    Overall a truly phenomenal recipe, will definitely be making again!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Katie – this cake does do best at room temperature although if the frosting needs to be refrigerated, then my advice is to frost the entire cake and refrigerate it (covered by a cake dome or something of the sort) but be sure to take it out of the refrigerator several hours before serving. If you can wait to frost it, simply cover the cake rounds well in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature until you frost. Glad you liked it!

  44. Alinda Green says:

    This is the best yellow cake recipe I have come across in years.Thanks for sharing.

  45. Celia says:

    I followed the recipe exactly. The layers came out crumbly and baked unevenly. This cake will be great with fruit, but it is not a good cake to decorate with buttercream as it falls apart easily. So we will enjoy it for dinner with fruit and whip cream! Thanks for sharing.

    • Mel says:

      Sorry this didn’t work out for you, Celia. From the way you described the cake, it sounds like it might have overbaked a bit. Good way to salvage with the fruit and whipped cream. :)

  46. Tinly says:

    On my first attempt for this cake it sunk in the middle and poured over the sides.
    I followed the recipe exactly. I don’t know where I went wrong.

  47. Tinly says:

    They are 9″ by 2 3/4″

  48. Rachael says:

    The most delicious, moist, fluffy, heavenly yellow cake I’ve ever had! When I put it in the refrigerator for the night (because I didn’t read that I shouldn’t-oops) it came out the next day as the most delicious pound cake I’ve ever had! Weird.. But I feel like I don’t lose out either way. ;)

  49. Janean says:

    I just made this cake, and wanted to tell you how great it was. I did need to bake it a bit longer then listed (about 34 minutes), but the texture and moistness were perfect. I think the only thing I might try the next time I make it, is to add a touch more vanilla.
    Thanks for your countless hours of perfecting this cake…..my family really appreciates it.

  50. Rabia says:

    Hi! Thanks for this lovely cake! I have been hunting for yellow cake forever and it’s the hardest cake to perfect for odd reason.

    The problem is, I followed everything exactly. My oven isn’t that great so I put it on fan forced. Which means the sides cooked too quickly and te middle didn’t cook as I had to take the cake out before it overcooked/burnt.
    So my question is how would you vary the temperature & time for fanforced grill cooking?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Rabia – I’m sorry but I’m not familiar with that type of oven and can’t give you any good advice. Good luck experimenting! Sounds like you might need to lower the temp but again, I’m not completely sure since I’ve never used that type of oven before.

  51. Bri H. says:

    It truly was perfect. Best yellow cake I’ve ever tasted! Thanks for working so hard to perfect it for us!!

  52. Gigi says:

    You have never failed me Mel so I’m going to say I screwed up somewhere. I have an oven thermometer which read 350 but it took close to 40 minutes to cook. It didn’t sink and looked great but it was pretty dry. I used room temp everything and beat the heck out of the butter and eggs. I checked them at 20 min and the middle was no where near done so I rotated them. Maybe should I just cook one at a time ? I really want this to work haha.

    • Mel says:

      Hmmm, Gigi, not sure why it was so dry! It is pretty important to not mix too much at the end (after adding the dry ingredients). You could try baking one at a time and see how it goes – even a few extra minutes of baking can dry out the cakes – any chance they would have been done around 36 or 37 minutes?

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