ok, this is gonna be a long one. i’m happy to wait if you’d like to get a cup of tea, perhaps a snack.
let’s start with some fun facts:
fun fact #1: my husband’s birthday is in january.
fun fact #2: my birthday is in august.
fun fact #3: my husband and i both know the truth: yellow cake with chocolate frosting is the best kind of birthday cake. of cake, period.
as you may know, you calendar wizards you, january and august are not terrifically close together. as in, by the time august rolls around, you have probably forgotten *exactly* what something, say, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, that you ate in january tasted like. you’ve probably forgotten it at least enough that you can’t precisely determine if this cake that you are eating right now is, in fact, definitively better than the cake you ate in january. i mean, clearly the fact that it is here in front of you right now is better, but the cake itself? hard to say.
such has been my struggle over the past few years. i have been on a protracted quest to find The Best Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting and yet, up until now, my method has been flawed: i would make one cake and one frosting, we’d celebrate a birthday, and unless the cake was truly not good, we’d file it under “it’s good but…” and by the time the next birthday rolled around, exactly what was not quite ideal about the last cake would have blurred a little in our memories.
i finally realized what i had to do: i had to spend an entire weekend baking a bunch of (half) cakes, one right after the next. and there would be taste tests, and comparison grid sheets created in excel, and tinkering. and a winner. there would be a definitive winner.
and there was. well, at least kind of. we did select a favorite cake but the perfect frosting still eludes us. or, rather, it is more dependent on your personal preference. without further ado, here is what we learned:
the first cake i made was one that i had eaten and enjoyed before. the recipe comes from a friend who loves to bake and is super good at it, so i knew we’d have a solid start. taste testers unanimously agreed that this cake had the best flavor of the four yellow cake recipes that i made. the only downside was that the cake was a smidge drier than the moistest cake.
the second cake i made i expected to love, as i basically always love the recipes on the blog where i found this recipe. and yet. did. not. love. i think this cake would be a solid choice if you were baking it into a t-rex mold and wanted to make sure rexy’s arm didn’t fall off because the cake was too delicate. aside from that, we found this cake to be the driest and densest of the lot. i likened it to a non-sweetened cornbread. each to their own preferences, this just wasn’t ours.
cake numero tres was from another popular food blog (we’ll call this “blog two”). this yellow cake easily won best texture: it was super moist and had a nice lightly caramelized “crust” without being dry, even at the edges. magic i tell you. the only downside was that the cake flavor wasn’t quite as good as the first cake from my friend.
the last cake i made used a recipe from a reputable authority on recipe development. their massive cookbook contained more than one recipe for yellow cake and i had previously made another yellow cake of theirs and didn’t love it so this time i tried a different yellow cake recipe from their cookbook. didn’t love that one either. my husband and i had basically opposite opinions of this cake on each individual measure (he thought it was sticky, i thought i was dry) but we both agreed this was not the one.
at this point, we had totally eliminated two of the cake recipes and i was down to tinkering with my friend’s recipe and blog two’s recipe. because baking secretly = chemistry and relationships and because i <3 excel, i made a comparison grid to tease out the relationships between the wet, dry, and tasty ingredients to see if i could create The Cake. i knew that i wanted the flavor of my friend’s cake with the moisture/texture of blog two’s cake. after all of my complex calculations, in the end, it came down to increasing the milk in my friend’s recipe by 1 oz. hardly rocket science.
but it worked! when i made frankencake #5, it had the great flavor from my friend’s original recipe and a moisture level closer to the blog two recipe. yum! even though i was using ingredient ratios based on my friend’s recipe, i opted to use the method from blog two since i liked the final texture of that cake better.
finally, the chocolate frosting conundrum. as i alluded to earlier, my taste tester and i didn’t agree on which frosting was objectively better. he liked the chocolate buttercream, which i found too sweet. i liked the intense chocolate flavor and balanced sweetness of the chocolate sour cream frosting but my taste tester wasn’t digging the sour cream flavor. so for now, until we find that elusive chocolate frosting that we both prefer, we’re using the buttercream for his birthday and the chocolate sour cream frosting when it’s my turn. i’ve included the recipe for the chocolate sour cream frosting below but if you’d like the buttercream, just leave a comment – i’m happy to post it.
phew! i hope this was helpful. and what i really hope is that you don’t wait too long to put this information to use. some quick googling indicates that july and august are peak months for birthdays but even if you don’t have any birthdays coming up, this is a great graduation celebration or “just because” cake, so whatever your (non-) occasion, enjoy!
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