Cake is hot, people are not.

This-Is-My-Kind-of-Cake Golden Layer Cake

Continuing on my Augustus-Gloop-like cake bender, I recently threw caution to the wind and interviewed a new golden layer cake. Historically, I’ve depended on Betty Crocker’s good old standard, but I was flipping through my Gourmet cookbook the other night, half-heartedly contemplating taking on something involving fruit and/or custard, and realized I’d never tried their version of the Yellow Menace. Was there a void, it has been filled. Light, fluffy, moist but not soggy, and a superb vehicle for Chocolate Buttercream, my barely-altered version of Gourmet’s All-Occasion Yellow Cake produced a literally gourmet version of Betty Crocker’s: a little more class, a little less soul. I think we can all agree which of those virtues is slightly over-rated. If not, might I suggest you’d be more comfortable in Rachel Ray’s world. As soon as I can find an available cake stand, I’ll see what happens when I substitute buttermilk, and while I hope it helps achieve an actually yellow and less anemically white color, that experiment most likely will not warrant publicity.

It’s important to know going in that this cake retains a seriously springy dome even after resting upside down, so you may want to trim the layers flat. I opted for more mass, and found the pillow effect homey and comforting. I might rename this Narcolepsy Cake, but I suspect that after I finish my current term serving as housing for people, my impromptu porch snores will conclude.

Speaking of lodging multiples, I’d like to share a disconcerting tidbit I discovered about human reproduction. It turns out that theoretically, a “lady” can become pregnant with children of multiple fathers simultaneously. Well, only if a) she shoots double eggs, and b) she’s, shall we say, extremely socially active. Here’s the kicker; it’s not even just theoretical. There are enough cases of this not only happening but SOMEONE ADMITTING TO IT that you can hop on Google and there they are. Honestly, it’s not the wantonness or wildly inappropriate honesty that offends me. My generally good opinion of cats has always been marred by the fact that they routinely birth multi-father litters. There’s just something so unabashedly crass, so depraved-Mardi-Gras-pub-crawlish about that particular evolutionary agreement. Now, however, I have absolutely no proof that my cat is not my peer species-wise, and that leads me to question the fare I serve him as well as wonder if I’ve committed a whopping karmic faux-pas in hindering his own, shall we say, social activism.

2 C cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, softened
1 C sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C milk

Set your oven to 350, grease up and flour two round cake pans. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar by hand until blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and stir until consistent. Dump in the dry ingredients, and start stirring with one hand while pouring in the milk with the other. Once the batter is moist and all flour has been incorporated from the sides and bottom of the bowl, throw it under the mixer and beat on medium-high for 2 minutes, or until lump-free. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans, and bake them side by side for 22 minutes, switching their positions at 12 minutes to ensure even rising. Let the layers sit in the pans for 10 minutes before inverting them onto wire racks, where they should cool completely before being frosted with the previously mentioned Chocolate Buttercream. And try not to think about the cat thing while eating.

A Note on Vanilla

I’m a vanilla snob. For some it’s olive or eggs or salt. When I’m at the spice area in my grocery store, I routinely push the row of imitation vanilla back and over. It helps me pretend it doesn’t exist. Some of my earliest memories are of my maternal grandmother making me a tall thin glass of not too cold milk with a spoonful of sugar and a capful of vanilla mixed in, and I can vividly recall the barely granular film at the bottom for which I would patiently and painfully wait to slide down within reach of my finger. My fondness turned to obsession during a trip my husband and I took to Washington DC a little over five years ago, one of my favorite vacations ever. We spent zero money on entertainment by hitting museums and national monuments by day, and in the evenings we spent our entire budget on some of the most memorable and transporting meals of my life.

Like the seven-course tasting menu at a Japanese fusion restaurant downtown. We mistakenly assumed the dish, only available for two, was priced at the substantial sum of $80 for the meal as a whole. But we had spent the morning at the Freer Gallery and the afternoon with Lincoln, so a $200 dinner was just about the total cost of our day. Unfortunately for our chef of local celebrity, one of the few foods I physically cannot eat is a tiny egg, and the fifth course was something edible covered with them. We endured a long, disapproving glare from the kitchen window and a terrified waitress for the subsequent two courses, yet in spite of the ambient tension and roe stare-down, it was the best evening my mouth has ever had.

Anyway, our one authorized shopping spree was to Dean & Deluca, where Mr. P stocked up on teas for the next half decade, and I struck up an affair with Bourbon Vanilla, named after the island off Madagascar formerly called Bourbon Island (now Reunion), on which the beans are grown. My first 4-oz bottle of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Paste lasted about a month. Of course, most of its depletion was due to late night dippings. The flecks of real bean are novel indeed, but its underlying adult flavor turns a batch of chocolate chippers into a dangerous mass workplace aphrodisiac. I’ve settled into general use of the more understated vanilla extract of the same brand after trying a few others, and the two dollars more than whatever you can get at the supermarket are well worth it. Speaking of which, I think it’s a good day to hit Williams Sonoma with Billy the Kid.

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