It’s easy these days to become bogged down in the day to day – worried about school schedules and job applications and how we’re going to ever afford to go on vacation again. Sometimes it’s nice to throw myself into a project, shift my focus to something else for a change. As I set out the ingredients for this cake yesterday, listening to the whine of the grain mill as it ground the flour, I was completely immersed in creating this celebratory gateau. Nothing else mattered for a few hours, except making the perfect birthday cake.
You see, yesterday was my husband’s 37th birthday.
I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, and he told me yellow cake with white frosting. It’s his favorite. In fact, I shouldn’t have even had to ask, but I always feel compelled to do so. Like maybe one year, he’ll choose something different. But no, yellow cake with white frosting it was. I chose to shake things up a bit by adding some strawberry jam to the mix, but ultimately it was still a yellow cake. With white frosting.
There’s something sort of magical about taking raw ingredients and creating something beautiful and delicious. Whole grains get ground into flour, then combined with leveners, fat, sugar, eggs and liquid, and suddenly you have cake. It’s really an amazing process. And then you take it a step further and layer it with homemade strawberry jam and thick and creamy cream cheese frosting, and you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands.
This cake comes together fairly quickly and easily, with little effort. It does require you to separate your eggs, and whip the whites to soft peaks with cream of tartar, but for the most part, it doesn’t require much in the way of baking prowess. It helps to have a stand mixer, but you could do it with a hand mixer and a couple of bowls. I used freshly ground soft white wheat flour, so I imagine you could do this with a conventional white whole wheat, or even all-purpose and achieve the same results.
You’ll end up with a moist, rustic cake that soaks up all of the wonderful strawberry flavor from the jam and stands up nicely to the weight of the cream cheese frosting. The tang from the yogurt and sour cream provide a nice balance for what could be an overly sweet cake, with all of the sugar in the frosting and the jam. I imagine if you wanted something even more simple, you could leave the frosting off all together, and just give it a light dusting of powdered sugar. Or, you could use fresh seasonal fruit in place of the jam (ooh, wouldn’t figs be lovely here?) and keep the frosting for some sweetness. The possibilities are really limitless here.
Vanilla Sour Cream Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 20 minutes
yields: 2 8-inch layers
- 1 3/4 cup sifted flour
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 Tablespoons butter
- seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (I used 4 oz. of yogurt and 4 oz. of sour cream)
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup good quality strawberry jam
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 4 oz. softened butter
- seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean
- 1 lb. powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and vanilla seeds until creamy
- Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy
- Beat in the egg yolks
- Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the yogurt or sour cream in two parts, beating until smooth.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks.
- Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites, taking care to deflate them as little as possible.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
- Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly
- Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely
- Once cooled, carefully cut each of the layers in half, creating a total of four layers
- to make the frosting, combine the cream cheese, softened butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high to combine.
- Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the powdered sugar until completely combined.
- To construct the cake, place one layer on a cardboard cake round or cake plate. Spread half the jam evenly across the layer.
- Add a second layer of cake, and spread frosting evenly across layer.
- Add a third layer, and add remaining strawberry jam, spreading evenly.
- Add the final layer, and frost with remaining cream cheese frosting.
- Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.