If someone asked me to choose a cake flavor that I loved the most, it would definitely be the good old butter cake. This butter cake recipe (that I still use)is what I grew up eating. This was my very first bake as a little girl and I baked it at every occasion. I started helping my Mom when she baked this cake (she was a busy working woman and didn’t have the luxury of free time to bake) once in a while. It was the Sri Lankan New Year that we baked this cake mostly. I was no baker back then, nor was my Mom but this cake taught me a lot of techniques.
Years later at the bakery school when I actually got the chance to learn the science behind baking, I could not stop but think how accurate my Mom’s lessons were. A butter cake may sound easy to make but trust me, there are many things that could go wrong if you didn’t pay attention to details. I get a lot of question like, how to achieve a soft moist crumb, how to get the most flavor (cos no one likes a bland cake?), how not to burn the bottom or top, how to bake an even cake (without the dome in the center).
So this post is about answering all those questions and more. I will mention all the important steps with pictures as usual. And like I always say, recipe accounts for about 30% of the success. The rest is the baker!
So let’s get started;
I always use salted butter, so I don’t have to add salt later. If you use unsalted butter you will have to add 1/2 tsp of salt to the flour mix. Feel free to adjust the salt to your taste, you can taste the final batter and decide.
The important thing is that butter should be at room temperature. It should not be melting nor rock hard cold. Best way to achieve this is by leaving butter out of the fridge for a few hours (depending on the temperature of your kitchen).
Next is sugar. I use regular castor sugar. What I buy has a very fine granule. If yours is corse, blitz it in a grinder to get finer particles.
Fine granules dissolve easily and makes creaming process faster.
Sift the flour along with baking powder a couple of times. This not only removes lumps but also incorporate air which helps give volume to the batter/cake.
I use all purpose flour for this recipe.
Like all other ingredients eggs have to be at room temperature too. If you keep eggs in the fridge, then you can leave them out for a few hours. A little trick is to submerge them in warm water for 10-15 minutes.
Either use full fat milk or buttermilk. Buttermilk yields a slightly more softer crumb. But I often use milk. You can add a splash of lemon juice to milk or use a few tablespoons of yogurt to get the same results. Make sure the milk/buttermilk is at room temperature.
First step is to cream butter and sugar. Use either a stand mixer or a hand beater. I prefer a stand mixer as it does a good job in mixing even a large quantity.
Use the paddle attachment and beat at a moderate speed. Make sure to scrape the bowl from time to time.
Keep beating until you get a nice airy batter. It should be lighter in color (much paler) and voluptuous. At this stage you can start adding eggs one at a time.
I never break the egg straight into the batter. Break it into a small container first and then add it to the batter. This way you can make sure you won’t get any egg shells in the batter. Also, you’ll save the batter from a rare case of bad egg.
Trust me this will make your life a lot easier.
Beat the batter in a consistent speed after every egg until the egg is fully incorporated.
The batter should be creamy, silky and fluffy without any curdling. If you feel like the batter has started to split(sometimes once you have added the last egg), add a table spoon of flour and mix on low speed or fold by hand.
Then it is time to add the flour and milk. Milk/buttermilk will help loosen up the batter as you keep adding flour. Mix on the slowest speed on your stand mixer. You can also fold by hand.
Add flour and milk alternating, starting and ending with flour.
Add only a splash of milk at a time and mix that well before adding flour.
Scrape the bowl every now and then to make sure everything is fully incorporated.
Lemon zest, optional but recommended. Oil in the lemon zest gives the cake a nice scent.
You can even add the zest to the sugar in the beginning so that the oils are extracted better.
Finally add vanilla. Avoid using artificial/imitation flavoring if you can. Good quality vanilla essence does wonders to a simple cake like this.
Final batter should look like this. Super silky, smooth and lump free. It should have a considerable volume. If your batter does not look like this(if it has split or runny), then likely, the case is one of the ingredients was either too cold or too warm, or you did add eggs too fast or did not fold the flour correctly (over mixed)
It takes a little practice, experience and patience to make a great cake.
Let’s talk a little bit about the tin/pan you bake the cake in. I always use good quality pans, that are steadily built and heavy. These pans transmit heat all around evenly helping the cake to cook and rise evenly.
While you can just get away with spraying the pan, it is always a good idea to line the tray with parchment. This will help removing the cake from the pan later.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Make sure to leave no gaps or air pockets. Level the cake using an offset spatula. Finally, drop the tin on the kitchen counter a couple of times to force any air in the batter to come to the surface. This will prevent big holes forming in the crumb.
Your oven should be preheated by now. Never let cake batter sit in the pan for too long. I usually start preheating the oven when I begin to cream the butter and sugar.
Bake the cake in a preheated oven.
Conventional – 165°C | fan-forced – 145°C
May take about 50-55 minutes. But always check at 45 minute mark and decide. Every oven is different.
Once baked, leave on a wire rack. You can brush with sugar syrup to retain moisture. This is optional.
When cool enough to handle, lift the cake off the pan and leave to cool completely.
Some important things
- Use an oven thermometer, always!
- Preheat the oven at least for half an hour
- Use the center rack
- Conventional – 165°C | fan-forced – 135°C
- Do not open the oven door in the first 30-40 minutes
- Check the doneness using a cake tester at 45 minute mark
- If the top is browning faster, cover with foil (do not let the foil touch the cake)
- Remove the cake from the oven as soon as it is done, excessive baking will dry out the crumb
- Let the cake cool completely before wrapping it or storing it away
If you plan on brushing the top with sugar syrup, make a simple syrup while the cake is baking.
Simple syrup: 1 part sugar 1 part water – boil and then simmer for a minute or two until slightly sticky. you can add flavoring to the syrup like lemon, vanilla, honey, strawberry etc.