How to Make Cakes Like a Bakery

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Because bakery cakes are often incredibly moist and fluffy with a tender crumb, many home bakers find themselves on a quest to create a bakery-style cake in their own kitchens. An ideal bakery cake is usually decorated with bakery-style frosting, which holds up well for piping intricate designs on the cake. With this recipe for classic yellow cake and vanilla buttercream frosting, paired with a couple of decorating ideas, you can make a cake that's worthy of being displayed in any bakery window.

Classic bakery cake
Classic bakery cake (Image: photo by Beeta Hashempour )

Things You'll Need

  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 cups (or 4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and divided
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup whole milk, plus a teaspoon or 2 more for frosting
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon imitation butter flavoring
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3 round cake pans, each 8 inches
  • Baking spray
  • Parchment paper
  • Stand mixer or hand-held mixer
  • Plastic wrap
  • One 10-inch round cake board
  • Turntable
  • Offset spatula 
  • Pastry bag with a star tip
  • Colorful sprinkle dots

Making the Yellow Cake Batter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply baking spray to your pans. Cut out 8-inch circles from your parchment paper and fit the bottom of each pan with a piece of parchment paper; set aside.

Beat 1 cup of unsalted butter with the granulated white sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer, until the two are creamed together and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Then, add the self-rising flour and cup of whole milk into the batter in 3 alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour.

Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and the imitation butter flavoring. Give the batter a quick mix to combine. Then, evenly divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans.

Tip

  • If you want to achieve perfectly even cake layers, use a kitchen scale to weigh each pan full of cake batter to ensure they all weigh the same. Adjust the batter in the pans accordingly if they do not.

Hold the pans about 3 inches above your counter before dropping each pan onto the counter several times. This will release any air bubbles in the batter. Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cakes immediately spring back after being gently touched.

Allow the cakes to slightly cool in their pans for approximately 10 minutes. Use a knife to run along the edges of the pan before flipping each cake layer out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap each layer tightly in the plastic, and let the cake layers cool completely before frosting.

Create the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

To create the frosting, beat the remaining cup of unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Alternatively, you can beat the butter in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer. Beat until smooth and creamy.

Add the powdered sugar and beat to combine. Add the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract and mix.

Tip

  • If the frosting looks too thick to easily spread out on the cake, add a teaspoon of milk, beat the frosting again, then reassess. If it's still too thick, add another teaspoon of milk. Frosting should be creamy, but not too loose or watery, or else it won't retain its shape on the cake.

Frost the Cake

Once the cake layers have completely cooled, unwrap the plastic wrap from each. Place one cake layer, flat-side down, on the center of the cake board. If the tops of the cake layers are slightly dome-shaped, use a serrated knife to cut off a sliver of cake so that they're all completely level.

Add a few dollops of the buttercream frosting onto the surface of the first cake layer. Use your offset spatula to gently smooth out an even layer of frosting all the way to the edges of the cake. Add a second cake layer and, again, add a few more dollops of frosting on top and smooth out to the very edges of the cake. Finally, place the third layer of cake on top.

Carefully transfer the cake, with the cake board upon which it's sitting, to a turntable. Use your offset spatula to apply frosting to the sides and top of the cake, turning the cake on the turntable as you go. To create a smooth finish when frosting the cake, periodically dip your offset spatula in some lukewarm water before shaking off the water from the spatula and running it against the frosting as you proceed.

Decorate the Cake

To add some flair to your cake, fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with some of the leftover buttercream frosting. Pipe stars on top of the cake, all along the rim.

Pour out some colorful sprinkle dots into the palm of one hand, and use your other hand to grab a pinch of sprinkles at a time to drop directly onto the piped stars.

Storing and Serving the Cake

If you don't use any milk in the frosting, you can safely store the cake at room temperature for up to 3 days. Otherwise, refrigerate the cake until ready to use. Then, let it sit out on the counter for 15 to 20 minutes prior to serving.

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