Store-Bought Cake Shows Me Up!
I consider myself to be a very good baker, and I'm proud of what I make. However, I never like my yellow cake as much as the kind you can buy in the store. The store-bought cake has a really nice, dense, fine crumb and is fairly substantial, yet still fluffy and (dare I say...) moist.
I know that stores often use preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup and such, but does anyone know of a really, really good recipe whose finished product would have results similar to those of a store-bought cake? The key to me is texture: I like a dense, fine yellow cake, rather than a more open texture.
(FYI, I have not yet tried Cooks' Illustrated's latest Yellow Cake, but if you suggest that, I do, in fact, have the issue and will try it right away.)
This is a really excellent basic butter cake (yellow cake).
Vanilla Butter Cake
Yield: 6 cups batter
Unsalted butter, softened 8 oz (½ lb)
Sugar 2 cups
Large eggs, room temp 4 ea
White vinegar 1 Tbsp
q.s. vinegar w milk at room temp to 1 cup
Vanilla paste 1 Tbsp
AP flour, unbleached 2¾ cups
Baking powder 2¼ tsp
Salt ¾ tsp
Preheat oven to 350°F
Grease and flour pans, and prepare parchment liner to go in over that
Cream room temp butter and sugar together on medium speed until fluffy, ~3 min
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition
Add vanilla bean paste to creamed mixture
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in separate bowl, whisking to integrate
Add the dry ingredients in thirds alternately with the milk-vinegar liquid in halves to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
Divide batter into prepared pans
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until it tests done
Round pan Amount of batter Time to bake
6” pan ~2 cups 35 minutes
8” pan 3 cups 40-45 minutes
9” pan 4½ cups 40-45 minutes
10” pan 6 cups 40-45 minutes
12” pan 9 cups 45-50 minutes
14” pan 11 cups 55 minutes (I use baking core)
16” pan 13-14 cups 60 minutes (I use baking core)
I don't know about the CI yellow cake recipe, but I use their yellow cupcake recipe regularly--it's from maybe two years ago, and the ingredients are diff. Its crumb is more open than a commercial cake's. Commercial bakeries get that close crumb by using emulsifiers; I don't know how a home cook could duplicate their ingredients and techniques.
What I've found is that boughten and home made cakes, like many other foods (tomato soup, mac and cheese, choco chip cookies) are simply two completely diff things. It's just not possible for one to replicate the other. I have fam members who only eat commercial cakes and think that like scratch cakes taste funny. These are the same folks who prefer Cool Whip to whipped cream. Part of it has to do with what you grew up with--what shaped your tastes? And part of it has to do with being adventurous enough to try alternatives.
I once brought two home made apple pies to a fam dinner. A couple of people complained about the peels that I'd left on, while another person enthusiastically asked for seconds, commenting "This is almost as good as Marie Callendar's, and that's my favorite!" Yet another asked how I'd made the pie crust, as she usually mixed Bisquik and milk and used her fingers to pat it into the pan. The moral: no one's right and no one's wrong. I still try to expand my fam's range by introducing foods made from ingredients rather than from other foods (e.g., using bread crumbs on chicken instead of Shake and Bake or corn flake crumbs). My nephews were amazed you could make an apple crisp from individual ingredients such as apples and oatmeal.
You might try experimenting with diff fats to see how they affect the crumb. My guess is that shortening will make a tighter crumb, as it doesn't hold as much air as butter when you cream it. The flavor will be very diff, though--maybe amp up the vanilla?
I LOVE Sarah Phillips' 1234 buttermilk cake. It's a yellow cake that melts in your mouth. Fine crumb, dense and fluffy at the same time. This recipe is available on her site, baking911.com. My absolute favorite yellow cake. It never lasts more than a day or two in my house.
Another winner is Flo Braker's Classic Butter Cake, also a yellow cake, from her book, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. Delicious! I don't have the ingredients/instructions readiliy available, but if you're interested, I'll check back another time and share.
The CI recipe results in a somewhat dense, fine crumb cake. I baked/assembled the cake early in the day and served in the evening. I thought the cake was a bit tough and dry at first but the cake flavor and texture improved the next day.
I also recommend using high quality butter when making the cake to improve the flavor.