Tuesday, you saw us making up a batch of chocolate³ ice cream (it’s a math joke, sorry) that needed eight egg yolks, leaving us with eight egg whites to use for something. At first, we were daunted, but we knew that the problem of having leftover egg whites when making ice cream must have been a problem for years. Meaning that, if it’s not an insurmountable problem, it’s been solved.We know all the smart ones out there are shouting “Cake and ice cream! So that’s why they go together!”
Yep, it might just be that cake and ice cream are paired together out of tradition, since the yolks go into the ice cream and the whites into the cake, leaving nothing behind but the egg shells. With this in mind, we turned to the standard (we feel as if that phrase should be capitalized, The Standard) for many years: The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, and found this recipe for White Cake. We liked it, because Joy said that the recipe was easily scalable (they’d seen a cake made with 130 egg whites!) and used only egg whites. So we scaled, and modified just a little (we used buttermilk instead of milk, which results in a lighter cake).
Makes 1 two-layer 8-inch cake.
Yes, use cake flour. It makes for a lighter cake, really. Unless you like salty cakes, go with unsalted butter, of course, which, like all your ingredients should be at room temperature. Really. Baking is chemistry, and some reactions need to be at certain temperatures to work correctly. Vanilla is pure. And the egg whites should be from free-range hens (we failed, but we covered that story on Tuesday).
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. For cakes, we like to get everything together and measured out (as much as is practical), before starting. So, we have our bowl of flour, salt, and baking powder waiting to be sifted. The butter warmed and measured out in the mixer bowl, sugar standing by, and pans buttered with baking parchment circles on the bottoms. Oh, do not butter the sides of the pans. We know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it helps the sides to rise.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Sift dry ingredients. We find that sometimes, just sometimes, cake flour has a few lumps in it that need to be broken up, so it’s worth it to sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together. If you’re measuring the flour with a cup instead of by weight, it won’t hurt to sift the flour before measuring, too.
Cream butter. If you haven’t already done so, place the soft butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat it on medium speed, or until the butter is smooth and glossy. If it doesn’t become glossy within a minute, your butter might be too cold. Wait a while and try again, since cold butter will not incorporate air the way warm butter will, resulting in a denser cake. Dense cake = not good.
Add sugar. With the mixer still running, gradually pour in the sugar and continue beating on medium until it’s light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Perhaps surprisingly, it tastes pretty good at this point, even though it’s nothing but butter and sugar. Mmm, butter.
Add flour and buttermilk. Turn the mixer to low, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Then add about 1/3 of the buttermilk and mix until combined. Repeat and repeat again, until all the flour and buttermilk are incorporated. Each mixing should take about 15 seconds.
Add vanilla. Add the vanilla, and mix on low until your batter is smooth and creamy, about 15 seconds. Take a rubber spatula and scrape down the sides of the bowl, scrape up the bottom of the bowl (sometimes a bit of dry flour hides there), and mix for another 15 seconds if needed. Transfer batter to a large mixing bowl. Right now the batter is thick, but we’ll fix that in a bit.
Wash mixer. We call this out as a separate step because it’s so important to make sure the bowl is super-clean (we often give it a double washing), with no oil residue, or the egg whites won’t whip properly.
Whip egg whites. Place the 5 egg whites in that nice, clean mixing bowl, fit the mixer with the whisk attachment, and whip those egg whites until they hold stiff, but glossy, peaks. Start the mixer on medium-low and gradually increase the speed as the egg whites become foamy.
Fold in egg whites. Yes, you need to fold those light, fluffy egg whites into that thick, heavy batter. Not to fret, it’s not that bad; just take it in small steps, three or four should do it. Scoop about 1/4 of the egg whites onto the batter, fold that in with a large rubber spatula, then repeat until all the egg whites are folded in. Each time you add more whites, it becomes easier, as the batter becomes lighter. See, not too difficult, and ta da, you’re finished with the batter.
Divide and bake. Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans, slide into the oven, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a skewer (or toothpick, or thin knife) inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans, run a knife around the edges to loosen then up, then remove the cakes and take off the baking parchment.
Make frosting. We provide the amounts of each ingredient for the frosting above, but the instructions can be found under our Fluffy Buttercream Frosting post. It’s a really good frosting that’s easy to work with, and quite light and tasty.
Frost. For this cake, place one of the rounds on a plate with four strips of waxed paper. The waxed paper should be arranged to cover the edges of the plate and easy to remove once the cake is frosted. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top, and invert the second round on top. The bottom of the cake is smoother and easier to frost in an even layer. Put a thin coat of frosting on the entire cake, freeze for 15 minutes to set it up, then finish with a top coat of frosting. We even broke out the piping bag for practice.
The Joy of Cooking is exactly right about this recipe. It scales nicely, although we’re not sure about attempting the 130-egg version, and is surprisingly easy to handle. Ours showed no sign of cracking as we handled it, nor did it crumble as we applied the frosting. The texture was very light, but with a nice tight structure inside, and it’s quite evident in working with it why it would be perfect for wedding cakes. If that’s not enough, it is a very good-tasting cake, with a nice vanilla flavor. But wait, there’s more. If you make this cake, you’ll find that it’s a real keeper. As we write this, our remaining cake is over 48 hours old, and still is not the least bit stale. All we did was keep it on the counter with the cut edge covered with plastic. We can’t say enough good things about this cake, so we’ll close with five stars.