Light, Fluffy Butter Cake

October 17, 2013
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

If you love butter cake but wish the texture could be light and fluffy as a sponge cake, please try this delightful butter cake adapted from a recipe posted in wendyinkk.blogspot.com, called "Mrs. NgSK Vanilla ButterCake." Wendy, who is from Malaysia, says that she used to eat a really good butter cake that this lady called Mrs. NgSK from church used to bring, and one day she asked for the recipe which the lady surprisingly shared with her. Many other food bloggers have adopted her cake, and I think most if not all may be from Asia (which i think is known for their light cakes).

So now I am sharing it with you, my fellow Food52ers, but I have modified the recipe by replacing the self-rising flour it asks for with all purpose flour and baking powder, and converting from grams to cup. I sometimes do this recipe using my scale, and on other occasions I use the cup measurements. Both deliver an excellent cake. I don't think you will find a better butter cake than this one because it is buttery in your mouth yet light and fluffy. Please do use the exact size of pan that is required, an 8 inch square cake pan; and, ideally, of a light not dark color. —Regine

Test Kitchen Notes

Is this the most ethereally light, "rivals our favorite pillow"-level fluffy cake in our repertoire? It might just be—and we have superstar community member, Regine, to thank. The cake gets its lift from a few key components: 1) Whipped egg whites, which are beaten to soft peaks; 2) Perfectly aerated flour; 3) An uber-gentle folding process to incorporate all the batter's ingredients; and 4) A two-part baking technique that ensures sky-high puff, zero drying-out.

Because the recipe has so few ingredients, you'll want to make sure all of them are in tip-top shape: Good-quality butter is a must, as it's the flavor base. Then, room-temperature eggs and milk are necessary, too, since ingredients at a consistent temp play nicely together. And pure vanilla extract, plus organic citrus, if you go the zest route, will both accent the cake's deep butteriness wonderfully.

Last, we have to point out: A dump-and-bake cake this is not. It requires a few extra steps, but they're well worth it to achieve the fluffiest cake of your life. First, adding flour and milk to the batter in steps, instead of mixing everything together at once, will ensure a lump-free batter that's less likely to get overmixed. And the gentle folding-in of whipped eggs also a takes a second to master, but will yield a buoyant lightness like you've never seen. Cooling the cake before cutting and serving is the toughest step of them all, but also the most essential. In the meanwhile, walk the dog, call a pal, and brew some tea or coffee to enjoy with a freshly cut buttery slice of cake. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Light, Fluffy Butter Cake
  • Prep time 40 minutes
  • Cook time 52 minutes
  • Serves 10-12
  • 2 sticks (16 tbsp/8 oz/227g) good quality unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (200g) all purpose flour (my favorite is Pillsbury bleached all-purpose flour; do not use cake flour)
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon lime, lemon, or orange zest (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat oven to 335 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Spray an 8 inch metal square pan. Please use exactly what it says and preferably a light color pan. If you don't have one, invest in one. You will not regret it.
  3. Separate egg whites from yolk. Beat egg whites until soft peaks and gradually add the 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar and beat until stiff. Set aside and transfer to another bowl if you need the same bowl to cream the butter.
  4. Cream butter and the 3/4 cup (150g) sugar until and fluffy. Be patient. It may take 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the vanilla and zest if using. You can even add some cardamom or nutmeg if you so desire. Then add eggs yolks gradually beating for a few seconds after each addition. Put half the flour (which you mixed with the baking powder, and stirred with a fork for about 1 minute to aerate it) and mix on low speed. Do not overmix. 
  5. Add 1/2 the milk, mix for a few seconds, then the other half, mix for a few seconds, then the remaining flour.
  6. Put half the egg white and mix on low speed, then fold the rest into the cake batter using a spatula. Be patient. It may take you quite a few turns of the bowl to fold egg whites into flour so don't be discouraged. I've been there so I know. My trick is to turn the bowl as I fold. What I do is to do a "quarter turn" of the bowl (as if I am turning bowl from a zero minute position to a 15 minute position) and fold; then turn bowl to a 30 minute position and fold; turn bowl to a 45 minute position and fold; turn bowl to a zero minute position and fold. Repeat the turning of the bowl and folding until all egg white is well incorporated into bowl. Google the art of folding if needed.
  7. Pour batter into pan and level it with spatula. 
  8. Bake for 45 minutes at 335 degrees Fahrenheit and then 9 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Please do this exactly. A skewer inserted into middle of cake will/should come out clean. You will see that the cake has risen to the very top of the pan but the surface remains flat (don't worry if you see a few bubbles).  
  9. Let cool on rack for 15 to 30 minutes, then invert on a plate and turn it again onto rack or serving plate. I like to wait till the day after to eat it but you don't have to. But let it cool for a couple of hours before serving.
  10. You will find that the cake is so light that it almost melts in your mouth. Sprinkle the top with some powdered sugar if you want, and serve with coffee/tea, or as snack or dessert.  
  11. NOTE: When using measuring cups for flour and sugar, please do not dip the cup directly into the flour or sugar sack or container. Instead, spoon it into the measuring cup and then scrape off excess with a straight edge. Also, please note that my cup measurements are rounded but you should still have the same outcome than if you weigh the ingredients.

See Reviews

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Regine
  • Noelle Chua
    Noelle Chua
  • Phil McCaffrey
    Phil McCaffrey
  • Ann Ascalon Ledesma
    Ann Ascalon Ledesma
  • Frenchcreekbaker