A Simple Butter Cake
Once upon a time, when Gourmet Magazine ran a story by the food historian Laura Shapiro about the pernicious effects of boxed cake mixes on the American home baker, they decided to provide a small object lesson on the virtues of baking from scratch. This basic all-purpose cake, developed in the test kitchens at Gourmet, is the result.

Incredibly simple, it takes only about ten more minutes to prepare than would a boxed mix, and the results are spectacularly better. It’s very tender, with a light and airy crumb, and all the flavors – butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla – are balanced and true. The cake is also the ultimate in versatility: it can be baked in a round or oblong cake pan, and whether layered or served as a sheet cake, it’s wonderful with nearly any kind of frosting or topping, or it can be enjoyed on its own. At Gourmet, they believe that this recipe should be the cornerstone of every cake baker’s repertoire.


2 cups, cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons, baking powder
1/2 teaspoon, salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter - softened
1 cup, sugar
3 large eggs - left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1 1/2 teaspoons, vanilla extract
3/4 cup, whole milk

OPTIONAL: Chocolate Ganache Frosting or Seven Minute Frosting (both are included in the recipe collection called “Six Simple Frostings” on this site) or frosting of your choice.

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: A 13-by-9-inch baking pan (not dark-colored) or two 8 inch or 9inch (x2-inch) round cake pans
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the baking pan or cake pans, knocking out excess flour.

Into a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer (fitted with whisk attachment if using a stand mixer), beat the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy - this will take 3 to 5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla and continue beating until the ingredients are thoroughly blended - about 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and milk alternately in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth; do not overmix.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan(s). Bake in the preheated oven until the cake begins to pull away from sides of pan(s) and a wooden pick or thin skewer inserted in center comes out clean - 20 to 25 minutes, COOK’S NOTE: the cake will still be pale in color, not golden brown.

Cool the cake for 5 minutes in its baking pan(s) on a rack, then invert the cakes, out of the pan and onto the rack to cool completely.

Spread chocolate or seven-minute frosting, or frosting of your choice on the cooled cake

Recipe adapted from: The Gourmet Cookbook, by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin)