I'm a chocolate lover, through and through. There is nothing like a deep, dark, richly bittersweet chocolate to make my heart go pitter-patter. But I know chocolate doesn't tickle everyone's fancy, and at a wedding, you need to crowd please (while still staying somewhat selfish -- I mean, the day is for us, isn't it?). So, I knew I had to cave and find something I could work with.
Finding the recipe
The only other wedding cake I baked, my mother's, was a vanilla cake. It was a "white velvet cake" that came from the Queen of Cakes herself, Rose Levy Beranbaum (you thought I was going to say Mary Berry, didn't you?). While the cake was delicious, and just as light, airy, and soft as expected, I knew it wouldn't do for my own wedding cake. It yielded a crumb that became dry very quickly, and probably wouldn't have the strength to comfortably hold the weight of fondant and chocolate cake layers.
I found myself two recipes, one from Cake Central (an irreplaceable knowledge base during this entire process), and the other from my favorite YouTube baker, Yolanda Gampp of How to Cake It--and then I tested them.
I had originally assumed CC's cake would be a more pale white color, and possibly with a more delicate crumb, thanks to using only egg whites, and HTCI's would be more dense and spongy, since Yolanda tends to make novelty cakes that require much more structure to take the weight of fondant.
But, honestly, there was little difference between the two of them. I kept having to reference the tape I put on each cake board with the name of the source, because I couldn't tell them apart visually or by taste. So, I made a more rational judgment call and looked at which recipe would be easier to construct, and require less things from the grocery store--I don't need additional stress, and I have to lug my groceries up a San Francisco hill.
I ended up choosing Yolanda's recipe--it uses the whole egg and regular ol' milk instead of half and half. Much easier, much simpler.
Baking the cake
Yolanda's recipe is also so much easier to put together. It's so... standard. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, alternate adding milk and flour in 3 or 4 parts, slap it in the oven. I get the appeal of box mixes in that it's literally two steps (1. add water; 2. bake), but I don't get why people think homemade cakes are complicated and difficult. I think people get too nervous and don't believe in themselves. If there's one thing baking will teach you (besides good math skills, or maybe that's just me), it's to trust yourself, and to stop being afraid of creating things. Remember: it will all work out.
There is one interesting thing about this recipe that I've always come across, but in watching How to Cake It, Yolanda doesn't seem to fall victim to it. If you make this cake, let me know what happens to you. But what happens to me is the cake takes much longer to bake than Yolanda says, and it always ends up having an overcooked spot in the middle, which is also where the cake tends to sink half an inch, creating either a valley or a butthole, depending on the analogy you prefer. Not that it changes the taste, and I always trim the tops of my cakes anyway to ensure a flat top (and ensure I have cake scraps to eat), but it's just interesting to me that it always works that way.
Yo's Ultimate Vanilla Cake
makes 7 cups
1 cup UNSALTED BUTTER
2 cups GRANULATED SUGAR
1-2 teaspoons VANILLA EXTRACT
4 large EGGS
1 cup MILK
10 5/8 ounces ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
2 1/2 teaspoons BAKING POWDER
1/2 teaspoon SALT
1. Preheat oven to 350F (and no, you do not need to butter/flour/parchment pans if you follow this post-bake instructions below)
2. Combine FLOUR, BAKING POWDER, and SALT in a bowl
3. In another bowl, cream together the BUTTER, SUGAR, and VANILLA until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes in an electric mixer)
4. Add EGGS to sugar/butter mixture one or two at a time and blend until incorporated
5. Add the dry ingredients in four parts, alternately with MILK in three parts, starting and ending with dry
6. Pour batter into cake pans, and baked until a toothpick comes out clean
7. Post-bake, cool cakes in pans completely, until room temperature, then run a knife or thin, flexible metal spatula around the edge of the pan, and flip out of pan, then peel the parchment off and flip back right-side up