This yellow cake with chocolate frosting is a nod to the ubiquitous 50s-era boxed cake mix and canned frosting yet relies on real, recognizable ingredients—including flour, butter, eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla—that you probably already have on hand. Easy to make with all the familiar taste, simplicity, and foolproof results yet without the mysterious-sounding ingredients. And exponentially more spectacular.
Of course something this delicious comes from Caitlin, the genius pastry chef behind the cookbook Modern Art Desserts. This humbler cake is a tribute to Caitlin’s single dad, as it re-creates the flavors of the store-bought cake mix and canned frosting he used to make her birthday cakes. Caitlin says the cake can be baked ahead of time, but the frosting should be made right before icing the cake.–Claudia Wu
HOW DO I MAKE A THREE-LAYER CAKE?
To make an even more towering version of this cake, use one deep-sided 8-inch (20-cm) cake pan with 3-inch (8-cm) sides. Only make one cake—you’re going to bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes. Trim the top of the cake as indicated in the recipe instructions above and then use a serrated knife to slice the cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place the bottom layer on a cake stand and frost the top of it. Stack the middle layer on top and frost it. Stack the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake. Or, if you prefer, you can even make 24 cupcakes (reduce time in the oven to 18-20 minutes) and let them cool 10 minutes before frosting.
Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting
For the yellow cake
- 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (5 oz) unsalted butter cut into pieces, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
- 2 cups cake flour plus more for the pan
- 5 large egg yolks at room temperature
- 3/4 cup milk preferably whole, at room temperature
- 1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the chocolate frosting
- 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate coarsely chopped
- 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup milk preferably whole, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
Make the yellow cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Butter and flour two standard 8-inch (20-cm) round cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper cut to fit.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of the milk, and the vanilla.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed, mix the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt for about 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk and mix until just moistened, about 15 seconds.
- Add the butter and beat on medium speed until smooth and aerated, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the egg mixture in 3 batches, mixing on medium speed for 20 seconds and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans once during baking, until the cake springs back when gently pressed in the center or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Let the cake cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then run the spatula around the edges of the pans. Invert the cakes onto the wire rack and remove the pans and parchment paper. Let cool until you can handle them, about 20 minutes.
- Gently turn the cakes again so they’re right side up. Let cool completely, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before assembling.
Make the chocolate frosting
- Place the chocolate in a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, with the bottom of the bowl close to, but not touching, the water. Wait until the chocolate melts.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
- Add the melted chocolate, milk, and vanilla and mix until all the ingredients are combined, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and mix for about 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Add the butter and mix on medium-high speed until the frosting is light and free of lumps, 2 to 5 minutes. The frosting is best when used immediately.
Assemble the yellow cake with chocolate frosting
- Place the cooled cakes on a flat, stable work surface. Using a long, serrated knife, slice off the rounded top of each cake so the top surface is perfectly level. Place 1 cake on a cake stand and frost the top of it. Stack the remaining layer on top and frost the top of it as well as the sides. Slice, serve, and devour.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
A perfect cake and frosting recipe to have in your back pocket for homemade birthday celebrations. I was keen to test this recipe since my favorite cake mix has always been the Betty Crocker Yellow Cake mix. I would sometimes buy the mix just to eat the batter. I loved the batter even more than the finished cake (which I always paired with a can of creamy chocolate frosting and sprinkles and the leftover frosting was great for dipping pretzels, etc.).
I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted this batter. No lie, it tasted exactly like the box mix batter in a non-fabricated way and that's a total compliment! The frosting recipe is 10 times better than a canned version and that small addition of kosher salt is perfect and made it that much more scrumptious.
The only thing I'd change next time is to simply make it into a 2-layer cake. The cake pan I used was a springform pan measuring closer to 9 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 inches in height. My layers ended up slightly thinner than if I had an 8-inch pan that was 3 inches deep, as recommended in the recipe, but the thin layers allowed for more frosting in every bite. This also eliminated the need to run a spatula around the edges of the pan as they naturally separated.
The cake was so easy to slice and maneuver. It made me feel confident in my cake layering abilities. The frosting was very easy to spread and provided the exact amount I needed to cover each layer and the entire cake. (Don't be concerned about the brain membrane look to the top of the cake. This part will be trimmed off later to get a nice flat top.)
What fun! This yellow cake with chocolate frosting is meant for celebrating. The chocolate frosting yields to a moist yellow cake. It tastes as delicious as it looks. The frosting is lovely and rich with subtly sweetened chocolate. The vanilla cake and chocolate frosting complement each other perfectly. You’ll want a forkful of both cake and frosting in each bite.
I used two 8-inch heart-shaped pans. I don’t have a cake pan with 3-inch sides so decided to use 2 pans. I baked the cakes for 30 minutes. The tops were smooth and a toothpick came out clean. I let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes and then out of the pan for 30 minutes and then wrapped them in plastic and froze them for 1 hour rather than refrigerate them as I didn’t have 3 hours to wait.
Since I used 2 pans and they came out with a nice smooth top, I didn’t need to cut the cakes. The icing went on easily and would have had enough if I had made 3 layers.
Originally published June 09, 2019