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This Cake is Very Vanilla (In the Best Possible Sense)

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Posie Harwood, who finds the best back-of-the-box recipes in the grocery store, shows us why more vanilla is always better. 

I spent the week baking cake. I wanted to bring you something that you’d get excited about. Maybe it would be a towering layer cake, enrobed in fluffy frosting, or a decadent and fudgy chocolate mocha cake. The baking gods were conspiring against me, however. I pulled flop after flop out of my oven.

One was too airy. Another had grainy frosting. One had a slightly rubbery texture, another was tooth-achingly sweet. I was like the Goldilocks of cake, searching for just right.

And then I happened upon this double vanilla butter cake. The recipe comes by way of Nielsen-Massey, and if anyone knows how to showcase vanilla, they do.

It’s such a simple, lovely cake: the sort you imagine the French have been baking for generations on a weekday morning, because when cake is this good, why wouldn’t you bake it daily? And since the recipe calls for melted butter, it doesn’t even require the foresight of taking your butter out to soften ahead of time.

A word about vanilla: This cake is extremely moist and bursting with vanilla flavor. You’ll need two types of vanilla: vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste. Use the finest vanilla you can get your hands on. Its sweet, creamy, distinctive flavor is the high note in this otherwise delicately-flavored cake.

Vanilla bean paste (pictured above) is basically the scraped-out interior of a vanilla bean pod added to extract to create a thick, syrupy paste. It’s excellent for recipes where you want those pretty flecks of vanilla (like an ice cream), or where you don’t want the thin liquid of extract diluting your batter.  

The paste is more concentrated in flavor than extract and gives the batter a gorgeous speckled appearance. If you can’t find vanilla bean paste, substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract. The cake will be fantastic and heavily perfumed with vanilla either way; the vanilla bean paste is simply a way to elevate the flavor profile more. 

I’ve topped the cake with Chantilly cream—a sweetened whipped cream flavored with even more vanilla—but many toppings would work here. Think of your favorite flavor to pair with vanilla and run with it: lemon curd, sliced fruit, chocolate ganache, vanilla pastry cream, caramel glaze, and so on.

Double Vanilla Butter Cake

Adapted from Nielsen-Massey

Makes one 8-inch round cake 


For the cake:

1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting the pan
3 eggs, warmed slightly (see step 2)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
14 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

For the Chantilly cream:

1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Posie Harwood 

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Tags: Vanilla, Dessert, Bake