Thursday, June 26, 2014

Buttermilk Vanilla Cake with Nutella Frosting

Here it is.  This is the cake I've been longing for for quite some time now.  I love coming up with unique and complex flavor combinations as much as the next person, but I think that what I love more than anything is enjoying a really, really good version of a classic favorite.  Classics are comforting and tried and true and you can approach them with confidence because you know that they will work.  There's no way they can't!  I'm a true chocaholic, but even I can't resist a slice of vanilla cake with fudge frosting.  The combination is just too perfect.

I'm definitely not a pro yet at decorating layer cakes, and I often feel that my frosting abilities leave something to be desired.  I usually think that the layers of frosting in between each cake layer are too thick or too thin, or that I took the "thin" layer of crumb coat a bit too far, or that my outer layer of frosting isn't thick or smooth enough.  I'm always trying to come up with little tricks here and there to improve every time I make a layer cake, and I think I'm making progress!  Even this cake gave me a little trouble.  I knew that I wanted a simple, fuss-free swirled layer of fudge frosting to completely cover the cake, but I was having a little trouble getting the swirls to look exactly like I imagined them in my head.  In the end though, the swirls came to be, and I was in love with the little cake sitting before me. 

The cake itself in this post isn't new to the blog.  In fact, I first shared it only a few months ago in this Buttermilk, Berries, and Mascarpone Cream Cake recipe.  I still think that that cake is the best cake I have ever, ever, ever made, so I knew that was the cake recipe I needed to use to satisfy my classic chocolate and vanilla cake craving.  Only the best, right!?  The cake comes together in a slightly unusual manner, compared to other traditional cakes.  Rather than creaming together butter and sugar at the beginning, cold butter is mixed into all of the dry ingredients, and then the liquid ingredients are mixed in at the end.  This reverse creaming method to mixing the cake together results in a cake that is light, fluffy, and moist, and boxed-cakey.  Let's not kid ourselves, we all know that boxed cakes are the fluffiest out there, and in my opinion, extra fluffy cakes are always a good thing.  The reverse creaming method might seem a little intimidating if you've never tried it before, but it doesn't need to be.  Simply take your time when adding the chilled butter to the dry ingredients.  I like to cut each stick of butter into about 32 small pieces (I slice it into 8 tablespoon-size portions, and then cut each piece in four, and then I add each piece, one at a time, about every ten seconds into the mixer.  It's a slightly tedious process, but the fluffiness of this cake at the end makes it worthwhile, I promise! 

I wanted to make a cake that was slightly smaller than the typical 8-inch cake, but I didn't feel like doing the math to figure out how to scale down the cake to make a 6-inch cake.  I ended up just making a full batch of cake batter (the recipe listed below uses the full amounts of the ingredients) and portioned out six cupcakes.  I then divided the remaining batter among three 6-inch baking pans and got the smaller cake I wanted.  The Nutella frosting that covers the cake is something extra special.  It's like a typical fudgey frosting made with melted chocolate, sour cream, and lots of butter, so it's plenty rich and decadent, but the addition of creamy Nutella just takes the frosting to a whole other level. The frosting turns out silky smooth and has a slightly nutty hint to it, which I just loved.  I made a whole batch of frosting and I ended up having about half of it left over after frosting only the cake (not the cupcakes, I ate those plain!).  You can easily divide the frosting recipe in half if you want, but I'm sure that you'll be able to figure out something to do with that extra frosting.

The combination of the rich and sweet chocolatey frosting with the more subtle fluffy vanilla cake was just magical.  It was so simple, and I knew what to expect upon the first bite- or at least, I thought I did.  That first bite of vanilla cake with rich fudge frosting was so much better than I had been expecting.  Maybe it was because I had been craving it for so long, but it could also just as easily have been because that combination is truly the best there is.  I'll take a chocolate overloaded cake any day, but sometimes, I just want to keep things simple. Fluffy vanilla cake, thick swirls of rich fudgey frosting (only made better with a little hint of Nutella), and simple, colorful ribbons as the only adornment- now that's the ultimate birthday cake in my opinion!  This cake was satisfying, comforting, and beyond delicious.  I'm already figuring out when I can make this cake again.  Enjoy!

Buttermilk Vanilla Cake with Nutella Frosting
cake and frosting recipes from Sweetapolita


For the Buttermilk Cake

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 1/4 buttermilk, shaken
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour, sifted (I used Softasilk)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, and diced into small pieces

For the Nutella Frosting

4 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup Nutella
3/4 cup sour cream
11 ounces dark chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch of coarse salt


Begin by preparing the buttermilk cake.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and position a rack in the middle of the oven.  Lightly spray 3 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and line the bottoms with wax paper. Lightly spray the pans again and flour, making sure to tap out the excess. Line 6 cupcake wells with paper liners.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk, and vanilla extract.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed, just to combine.  With the mixer running on low speed, add the cold butter to the mixer bowl, one piece at a time, about 10 seconds apart.  It seems a little tedious, but trust me, this works. Once all the butter has been added, continue mixing until the butter has been blended and there are no clumps, about another minute and a half to two minutes.  The mixture will have a very fine, crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. 

Add the remaining 1 cup of buttermilk to the dry ingredients and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl at the end to ensure that all the ingredients were incorporated.  Reduce the mixer speed to low, and slowly pour in the egg mixture; once the egg mixture has been added, increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 more minute.  Gently fold the batter once or twice to ensure that the egg mixture has been fully incorporated. 

Fill the prepared cupcake wells with batter as you normally would (about 2/3 of the way), and then divide the remaining  cake batter evenly among the three prepared pans (a kitchen scale is tremendously helpful here). Place two of the cake pans in the oven, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean , about 30-32 minutes.  Bake the final layer and the cupcakes.  Set the cakes and cupcakes on a wire rack and let them cool for 10 minutes.  Use an offset spatula to loosen the cakes from the baking pans and then invert them onto the wire racks.  Carefully peel off the wax paper liner, and let the cakes cool completely. 

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the Nutella frosting.  Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat at low speed for one minute, and then increase the speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.  Refrigerate the frosting for 15 minutes before using it to allow it to firm up a little. 

To assemble the cake, begin by leveling your cakes.  Use a sharp serrated knife to gently remove the domed portion of each cake so that they are all the same height.  An easy way to do this is to use a quarter sheet pan. Place one of the cakes on the sheet pan and position a sharp serrated knife so that it is resting on the outer rims of the sheet pan (I have a really long serrated knife that is longer than the width of my quarter sheet pan, so I can rest the blade on the rims on both sides of the sheet pan).  Using a gentle back and forth sawing motion, work your way through the cake, making sure that the blade of your knife is constantly touching the ends of the sheet pan.  This way, you'll know that you're moving the knife in a perfectly straight, horizontal direction, and your cake layers will all be the exact same height and be perfectly flat. 

To assemble the cake, place one of the leveled cake layers on a cake board or cake stand, and scoop about 3/4 cup of frosting on top of the cake.  I used an ice cream scoop for this, so that I could easily make sure I was using the same amount of frosting in between layers (about three full scoops).  Top this layer with a leveled cake, and add a layer of Nutella frosting.  Top with the remaining cake.  

To frost the cake, first apply a very thin coat of the Nutella frosting all around the top and sides of the cake.  Use this first coat of frosting to even out the sides of the cake so that they're smooth and to help seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate the entire cake for about an hour to firm up the frosting. After an hour, apply a thicker coat of frosting all around the cake as desired. Refrigerate the cake but serve at room temperature.  Enjoy! 

Makes 1 3 layer 6-inch cake + 6 cupcakes and a lot of frosting!


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