This is a home-cook-friendly version of the recipe I adapted from my father’s old formula for an American-style vanilla cake. At home, as at Carlo’s Bake Shop, it will produce the same moist cake and perfect grain every time.
The custard cream is optional. If you want the cake to be supermoist and dense, you need it, but it will be delicious without it. (It doesn’t affect the yield very much because the custard itself doesn’t rise.) You might be surprised to learn that I use vegetable oil to take the place of the liquid shortening we use at the bakery, but it replicates the effects better than I ever could have imagined before testing recipes for this book.
Use this cake as the basis for everything from birthday cakes to strawberry shortcake.
Be sure the batter is at the indicated temperature before baking or the cake will crown and crack.
2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for flouring the cake pans
2 cups sugar, plus more for unmolding cake
2 cups Italian Custard Cream, optional
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
Unsalted butter, for greasing two cake pans (about 2 tablespoons); nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil may be substituted
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Put the flour, sugar, custard cream, if using, vegetable oil, baking powder,vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can put the ingredients in a bowl, and use a hand mixer with the blending attachments, but take extra care to not overmix.) Mix on slow just until the ingredients are blended together, a few seconds, then raise the speed to low-medium and continue to mix until smooth, approximately 1 additional minute.
3. With the motor running, add 1 egg at a time, adding the next one after the previous one has been absorbed into the mixture. Stop the motor periodically and scrape the bowl from the bottom with a rubber spatula to integrate the ingredients, and return the mixer to low-medium speed. After all the eggs are added, continue to mix for an additional minute to ensure the eggs have been thoroughly mixed in. This will help guarantee that the sugar is dissolved and that the flour has been thoroughly mixed in, which will help produce a luxurious mouthfeel in the final cake.
4. With the motor running, add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, stopping the motor to scrape the sides and bottom between the two additions. Continue to mix for another minute or until the mixture appears smooth. Before baking, be sure the batter is at 70°F to 73°F, or the cake will crown. (Test by plunging a kitchen thermometer into the center of the batter; if it is too warm, put the bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes; if too cool, let it rest at room temperature.)
5. Grease two 9-inch cake pans (2 inches high) with the butter, and flour them.
6. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl and get as much batter as possible out. Bake until the cake begins to pull from the sides of the pan and is springy to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes.
7. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. The cakes should be at room temperature before you remove them from the pan. Put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, top with sugar, and one at a time, turn the pans over and turn the cakes out onto parchment; the sugar will keep it from sticking. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to decorate.