Follow these instructions and you'll have an impressive, towering dessert without having to worry about burning a meringue, shaving down layers of cake to make even lines, applying a crumb coat, or dirtying more than two bowls. Because not even "the best" is good enough for me (yes, I'll bring this up with my therapist later), I added banana, toasted coconut, and ground cinnamon and cardamom for even more elements of flavor and texture. Paul suggests adding sliced fresh strawberries, but I like the creamy, soft banana slices; the coconut and spices add some mental interest to the purely physical pleasure of eating a large slice of cake.
Is it the world's best? I can't say it is, but I also can't say it isn't. It's up to you to decide that for yourself.
Slightly adapted from Sweet Paul Magazine: http://www.sweetpaulmag.com/food/worlds-best-cake-from-sweet-paul-eat-amp-make. —Sarah Jampel
Preheat the oven to 350°F and place a rack in the middle. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing some to drape over the sides of the pan.
In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 2/3 cup of the sugar until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.
Working on low speed, add the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt and mix well.
Mix in the egg yolks and the milk until combined, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Clean and thoroughly dry the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Pour in the egg whites, making sure there are no specks of yolk, and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat to soft peaks—be patient, it will happen. If the egg whites aren't reaching soft peaks, wait until the mixture ribbons back onto itself. Spread this carefully on top of the cake layer.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown and puffed. About 15 minutes through baking, cover the meringue with coconut flakes (this way, the coconut can adhere to the still-damp meringue but it will not burn in the oven.)
Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream: Pour the cream into a medium bowl and scrape in the vanilla seeds, discarding the pod. Beat to soft peaks with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.
Carefully transfer the cool cake to a cutting board. Cut the cake in half crosswise with a serrated knife. Place one half of the cake on your serving tray of choice and cover with the cream and banana slices. Place the other half, meringue side up, on top.
Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill and soften for 1 hour before serving.
A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.