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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Vanilla Cake and Three's Company


I love Three’s Company.  Yes, that Three’s Company.  That kooky, ’70s/80s tv show that starred John Ritter as Jack Tripper who continually got the door slammed in his face by one of his female roommates due to some silly misunderstanding that conveniently didn’t get explained until the end of the show.  It’s silly, farcical, slapstick humor, and I love it.  I also love the muppets and 1930s screwball comedies.  I love how innocent the show was, how clever a farce the scripts always were, and how John Ritter always gave his all.  Believe it or not, I even own all eight seasons of Three’s Company on DVD, and I love to have them on while baking.  I think somehow Jack’s antics, the girls’ misunderstandings, and Mr. Furley’s comical reactions infuse my baked goods with a certain light heartedness.  Chocolate Chip Cookies, especially, benefit from the Three’s Company touch.  But while the show always inspires a giggle from me (the one where Jack and Chrissy get handcuffed together kills me!) and always gives my Chocolate Chip Cookies that extra kick of happiness, one episode in particular became my motivation to discover the perfect Vanilla Cake with Buttercream Frosting.
It was the cake that captivated me.  In an episode in the short, but sweet, season one of Three’s, Jack bails on Janet’s birthday celebration to take out Mr. Roper’s niece.  There was, of course, a birthday cake in that episode, and when I first beheld that vanilla cake with blue frosting and cake crumbs on the outside, I was transfixed.  That delicious-looking cake made an indelible impression on me.  As a chocolate fan, vanilla cake wasn’t my favorite, but suddenly in the hands of a favorite TV character, vanilla cake took on a whole new light.  At that moment, watching the show wasn’t enough–I wanted to be there.  I wanted to jump in to the screen and be one of the gang, making wisecracks to Jack, giggling with Chrissy, and most importantly, eating that heavenly cake.


Ever since that day, I have been on a mission to recreate the cake.  My goal was the find a deliciously delectable cake recipe, create a creamy and divine frosting, and combine them into an experience of utter joy, not unlike the experience of watching Three’s Company.  I didn’t know vanilla cake could be that blissful.  I thought only chocolate cake could bliss me out, but that episode somehow convinced me I was wrong, that vanilla cake could create an experience of perfect happiness.
Finally, I found it.  I found a vanilla cake recipe that mirrored the perfection I saw on screen.  A little tweak made to Shirley Corriher’s Magificent Moist Golden Cake created the exact one I was looking for.  This cake required a real, true American buttercream frosting, one that was very buttery, yet light and fluffy.  I concocted a buttercream recipe that was light, fluffy, and delicious, using heavy whipping cream to help to lighten it and less confectionary sugar than many traditional buttercreams.  I devised a way to coat the outside with cake crumbs.  I tested my concoction with a number of taste-testers, and the result was confirmed: Utter joy has been achieved.
Creating a cake that mirrors the innocent happiness of my favorite sitcom has given me a way to bring Three’s to life.  I am sure that Janet’s birthday cake from the imaginary Three’s Company world tasted just like this.  And to know that I have entered Jack, Janet, and Chrissy’s fictional world and brought back this cake makes me feel like an explorer and a vanilla cake hero.

Three’s Company Vanilla Birthday Cake

Vanilla Cake

Adapted from Shirley Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake:
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 teaspoons cup buttermilk, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cake flour, spooned and leveled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Directions for the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Place a mixing bowl in the freezer.
2.  Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and line bottoms with parchment circles.
3.  Stir the eggs, yolks, and about half of the buttermilk and the vanilla together in a medium bowl.
4.  Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Blend in the butter until finely dispersed.  Add the oil and the remaining buttermilk.  Mix on low to moisten the dry ingredients, then increase to medium speed and beat 1 1/2 minutes.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Add one-third of the egg mixture and beat for 20 seconds.  Repeat, adding thirds until all the egg mixture is incorporated.  Scrape down the sides with each addition.
5.  In the cold bowl from the freezer, whip the cream until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted.  Beat just a little beyond this soft peak stage.  Stir about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the batter to lighten it.  Then fold the rest of of the whipped cream into the batter.
6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of three inches to knock out the bubbles.  Place the cake in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean but moist, about 20-25 minutes.  Ideally the cake should not pull away from the sides until it has just come out of the oven.  Cakes are ready when the tops spring back when touched.
7.  Place cake on the pan on a rack to cool, about 10 minutes, then loosen the cake before inverting onto the rack to finish cooling.  Peel off the parchment.  Cool completely before icing.

Yellow Cake for Crumbs:

1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon canola oil
1/4 cup  + 3 tablespoons cake flour
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 T heavy cream
Mix egg, egg yolk, buttermilk, vanilla, and canola oil in a small bowl.  In a medium bowl mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.  Blend in butter to the dry mixture until coarse crumbs, then blend into wet mixture until just mixed.  In a cold bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold into batter.  Pour into a six inch cake pan, greased and floured.  (If you don’t have a six inch cake pan, use cupcake tins)  Bake until golden on top.  About 20 minutes.
Let cool. Break up into chunks and make fine crumbs in a food processor.

Buttercream Frosting:

4 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
5-6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions for frosting:
1.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, or using a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
2.  With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and milk, a bit at a time.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3.   Beat in the vanilla extract. On high speed, beat frosting until it is light and fluffy.  Add food coloring if desired.
If not using right away, cover with plastic wrap to prevent the frosting from drying out.  This frosting can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days–bring to room temperature and re-whip before using.  Add a little milk or sugar if needed to get the right consistency.
To assemble the cake, frost the double cake, then press the cake crumbs into the sides of the cake.  The best way I’ve found to press the crumbs into the side is using your own (clean) hands: Get a generous handful of cake crumbs so that your entire palm is covered and then gently press it into the sides of the cake.  There will be a lot of crumbs that fall, so do this with the cake plate over wax paper so that you can collect what falls and reuse.