Yellowest Yellow Cake With Fudgy Chocolate Frosting


Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: Yellow cake should be tender, moist, vanilla-forward, and, well, yellow. These buttermilk-based layers are inspired by a contest-winning upside-down cake by Jessie Sheehan. I called in butter for extra richness and added a pinch of turmeric for color. The chocolate frosting is a riff on Hershey's famous one, which our site knows and loves. To make the chocolate even more chocolaty, I swapped coffee in place of milk.Emma Laperruque

Food52 Review: Featured in: The Best Yellow Cake Borrows a Trick From the BoxThe Editors

Makes: 9-inch, double-layer cake
Prep time: 3 hrs
Cook time: 40 min

Ingredients

For the yellow cake

  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cubed, plus more for the pan
  • 3 cups (384 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3/4 cup (145 grams) canola oil
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups (467 grams) buttermilk, room temperature

For the chocolate frosting

  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup (85 grams) natural cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 1/2 cups (513 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup strong, cold coffee, plus more as needed
In This Recipe

Directions

For the yellow cake

  1. Make the cake layers. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with circles of parchment. Butter the parchment. Add a spoonful of flour to each pan and tap around to distribute; toss any extra.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and turmeric in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and set to medium-low. Let that go until the butter is completely incorporated and the mixture is pale yellow. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in another bowl and whisk with a fork until smooth.
  3. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Stop partway through to scrape down the bowl and paddle attachment, to make sure the dry ingredients aren’t clumping. Mix until the batter is completely cohesive and smooth.
  4. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cake pans (a scale really helps here). Bake for 37 to 40 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and a thin knife inserted in the center comes out completely clean.
  5. Cool in the pans until they’re cool enough to touch, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. I like to do this with the parchment on the bottom as sticky insurance. Just remember to remove before building the cake.

For the chocolate frosting

  1. Make the chocolate frosting. Combine the butter and cocoa in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix until smooth, scraping down as needed. Add the vanilla and salt. Mix again. Alternately add the powdered sugar and coffee, beating until light and fluffy. (If it doesn’t start to fluff up, it may be too warm. Chill for a little while until thicker, then beat again.)
  2. Psst: A couple tricks to make cake-frosting easier: Chill the layers, either in the fridge or freezer, for 15 to 30 minutes beforehand. Make sure the frosting is spreadable, but fairly firm.
  3. Set the first layer on your serving platter or a rotating turntable if you have one. Add about 1 cup frosting on top and spread evenly (I like an offset spatula best here). Top with the second cake layer. Add another 1 1/2 cups frosting to the top and spread evenly over the top, then the sides. Add more frosting as needed. Use the offset spatula or a spoon to create swooshes. Slice and eat or refrigerate until you’re ready to eat.

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Reviews (33) Questions (1)

33 Reviews

ew20611 October 26, 2018
Both times we've made this, the frosting has been so runny. The first time I figured it was the hot and humid weather of summer. But made it again, and it was so runny - nothing like the texture of the icing pictured. I even added more confectioner's sugar (almost a cup more) and still, my top layer was slipping off the bottom layer as I iced and all the icing pooled up at the bottom (I even chilled for a while and then chilled the icing again after mixing). Anyone else have this problem? (The picture looks the texture of traditional buttercream, mine has been the texture of a very wet whipped frosting, definitely doesn't hold a peak!). Flavors are delicious though.
 
stephanie H. August 16, 2018
I just finished baking this cake. This is the second time I have made this in the last few weeks. The reason?...it is delicious. The instructions are simple and the cake is amazing. I like to bake from scratch but will confess to enjoying a boxed cake now and again. This recipe, however, will be my go to for yellow cake from now on.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 16, 2018
So happy to hear that, Stephanie—thanks!
 
Sarah P. August 13, 2018
I was really excited about the idea of a scratch cake with the tender and fluffy texture of a cake mix cake. This cake was tender and tasted okay. Fluffy it was not. It was dense and bordering on gummy. I have made cakes using the reverse creaming method, in which the fat is blended with the dry ingredients first. In those recipes the batter is beaten for a while with part of the liquid ingredients to "develop the structure," as Rose Levy Berenbaum would say. The instructions in this recipe aren't very explicit about how long to beat the batter. Is that maybe why some of us are ending up with something so dense?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 14, 2018
Hi Sarah—I'm sorry it didn't turn out as you were hoping! I've added an additional sentence in step 3 to further clarify when the batter is ready: "Mix until the batter is completely cohesive and smooth." That said, it is a dense, rich cake. I personally prefer a close-crumbed, moist yellow cake (versus an ultra-fluffy one) but everyone has their own preference.
 
Carlton I. August 14, 2018
Interesting. I did beat my cake for what I thought was a long time, and when the cake turned out dense and as you said, almost gummy, I wondered if I had over-beaten the batter. So I don't think beating time is the key here.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 14, 2018
Over-mixing is possible, too! Cakes are super sensitive, which is why troubleshooting them can be tricky. If it didn't turn out right, it might be the mixing. Or it might be the baking (our ovens aren't as honest or reliable as we'd hope). Or it might just be personal preference as I mentioned above.
 
CHeeb October 17, 2018
My cake was the same. It has a great icing,but somehow the cake lacked something. May be the fact that is an oil cake,not butter. Has anyone else adjusted this recipe for their satisfaction?
 
nancy August 11, 2018
The cake is terrible. There must be a huge typo in the recipe. It is dense and totally flavorless. We threw it out. I regret the time and the money spent. Don't you test cook your recipes??
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 12, 2018
Hi Nancy—so sorry to hear it didn't turn out to your liking. There's no typo in the recipe and I can assure that—like all our recipes—this was tested multiple times. That said, we have lots of other great cake recipes on the site. Hope you'll find something you like better: https://food52.com/recipes/cake?action=search&controller=recipes&recipe_landing_term=cake
 
Alicia August 7, 2018
Wow! This was fantastic! I've been in search of a yellow cake -- I have several go to chocolate cakes but no successful yellow cake. This is moist, with a close crumb, and flavorful. The frostings was fantastic! Having four very disparate palates in our household, it's always a pleasure when we all find something tasty and this took the cake! :-) For those who care, I made high-altitude adjustments to the cake, but those are the only changes I made.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 12, 2018
Thanks, Alicia! Glad to hear that you were able to adapt it to a high-altitude kitchen, too :)
 
Carlton I. August 5, 2018
I made this cake today and found it very disappointing. While the frosting was excellent-- I'll be saving that recipe -- the cake itself was very dense and tasteless. Don't think I'll be making this cake again.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 12, 2018
I'm so sorry to hear that, Carlton—but glad that you liked the frosting. Here's a link to some other cake recipes on our site; hope you'll find something you like: https://food52.com/recipes/cake?action=search&controller=recipes&recipe_landing_term=cake
 
Anna M. August 3, 2018
Does it matter if the flour is bleached or unbleached? Any particular brand to get the best results? Thanks.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 3, 2018
Hi Anna, good Q! I always work with unbleached flour but I'm sure bleached would work, too, if that's what you have in your pantry. And any brand will do!
 
Anna M. August 3, 2018
Thanks for the quick response! I prefer unbleached also, particularly King Arthur, so good to know it will work. The buttermilk especially makes me want to give this cake a try.<br /><br />
 
bunten August 3, 2018
The ingredients list calls for the eggs to be separated, but the directions say to use them whole. What's up with that? Am I misreading?
 
Carmen August 3, 2018
It actually calls for 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks, which are incorporated with other wet ingredients in step 2. You don’t have to separate all of the eggs; just 2 of them. The separated whites don’t go into the cake.
 
Carmen August 3, 2018
I hope that helps!
 
Chi August 3, 2018
The recipe calls for 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks on top of that so technically you're using 4 eggs minus 2 egg whites.
 
bunten August 3, 2018
I warned you I'm no good at reading :-)<br /><br />When I make this, I'll probably sub in refined coconut oil for the canola. It makes a world of difference in other cake recipes that call for oil!
 
Diana S. August 3, 2018
Like it or not, if you grew up in the USA in the 50s and on, at some point you ran into a boxed cake mix. Unless you came from family of bakers or you lived near a good bakery, these cake mixes got the job done. There was an oddly satisfying quality to the oily creaminess of the texture - it’s called “mouth feel”, I think. Anyway, I for one love the idea that you guys deconstructed the concept for us and then punched it up with your customary elan. I’m away on a business trip but will happily try this when I get home.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 12, 2018
Thanks for sharing this, Diana! "Oily-creamy" is such a fun way to describe the texture—made me smile.
 
jpriddy August 3, 2018
I have to say that emulating a boxed cake mix, accurately or improved or whatever, is kind of sad. Boxed cakes were attempting to replicate actually home-baked cakes. Now you offer a recipe that copies a packaged copy of a home-baked recipe? Really?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 3, 2018
Hi jpriddy! Sorry you feel that way. We felt that recreating a boxed cake mix would resonate with a lot of people who have special memories of this particular product. In any case, we have so many other great cake recipes on the site—hopefully you'll find one that you enjoy.
 
Diane E. July 25, 2018
When I was growing up, our grandmother would make a Duncan Hines yellow cake with chocolate frosting -- most likely canned. She was our tutor and babysitter. A piece of that cake was our reward for completing our reading and writing lessons. I have tried to recreate it without success. Can't wait to try this recipe!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 3, 2018
Hi Diane! That's such a sweet memory—thank you for sharing. I wish I had your grandmother as my writing tutor growing up!
 
Leigh July 21, 2018
Can this cake be baked in a 13x9x2 inch pan? If yes, what is the baking time?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 26, 2018
Hi Leigh! Yes, you can bake this batter in a 13x9x2. (The area of that pan is comparable to two 9-inch rounds.) But because I've only tested the recipe in 9-inch rounds, I'm not sure what the new baking time would be. I'd start checking after 30 minutes, to be safe, and look for the same clues as the original recipe—"until the edges are golden brown and a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean." Hope this helps!
 
Jessie S. July 20, 2018
Emma! Thank u for the shout-out and LOVE that my upside down-cake cake cake in handy here. Also, boxed cakes are what dreams are made of -‘or at least mine. ❤️
 
Jessie S. July 20, 2018
ops, that should say "came" in handy . . .
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 20, 2018
Jessie, thank you for sharing such a wonderful, inspiring recipe!