High Altitude Vanilla Cake
For me, vanilla cake with chocolate frosting is the quintessential birthday cake. It is the perfect combination of two of the greatest flavors in the world of desserts. When I was in elementary school, every year my Mom made this combination for my birthday, and I remember loving it so much that I would often eat it for breakfast the next day.
I love frosting, but not when it’s too sweet. For this recipe, I have decided to use a cooled and then whipped chocolate ganache, which lends it a perfect balance of fluffiness and fudginess. I have also opted for bittersweet chocolate, but I would recommend semisweet if you plan on serving it to children.
Oftentimes vanilla cakes can run a bit dry. To offset the dryness, I’ve found that substituting a small amount of the butter for oil does the trick. This gives the cake a much needed moistness without sacrificing the buttery flavor.
High Altitude Birthday Cake
1½ sticks room temperature butter (12 tablespoons)—6 ounces—plus more for buttering pans
¼ cup grapeseed oil—1.75 ounces (or other flavorless oil)
1½ cups granulated sugar—10.5 ounces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs—room temperature
2 cups room temperature sour cream—16 ounces or 1 pint
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3⅓ cups cake flour—14.2 ounces (see note on accurately measuring flour here )
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup water—room temperature—4 ounces
Preheat oven to 360°F. Butter three 9” round cake pans, line bottoms with circles of parchment, then butter the paper.
Beat softened butter and sugar at medium speed until lightened (~five minutes). Add oil and salt, then beat for an additional two minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each is added. Scrape down bowl occasionally. Add vanilla and half of the sour cream, beating until combined. Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a separate receptacle. Add ⅓ of this flour mixture to the batter, beating until almost combined. Add the remaining sour cream, beat briefly, then an additional ⅓ of the flour mixture. Add the water and beat until almost combined. Add the remaining flour and beat until fully combined. I like to end by beating on high for 10-15 seconds until the batter is totally combined and fluffy.
Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Place in oven and bake ~25-35 minutes until it passes the toothpick test (180°-190°F). Cool completely before removing from pans.
Whipped Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate—finely chopped (so that it melts easily; I recommend a serrated knife)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream
Bring heavy cream just barely to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt and chopped chocolate. Let sit undisturbed for ~10 minutes, then stir well until completely combined. Let the mix cool completely, stirring occasionally. Beat with a mixer until ganache lightens and becomes airy. Frost cake.