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Scratchy cake


Cubes of vanilla cake with some fresh fruit on top are great for an easy and delicious dessert or snack.


There was a time when I thought commercially prepared cake mixes were blessings bestowed upon us. What a time saver, especially for those with busy schedules or in charge of cooking for a large family. I still do (once in a while) take advantage of the many types of cake mixes available today, but for the most part I prefer to make cakes from scratch.

My favorite way to use boxed mixes is for a base for a more involved recipe. A few days ago, I had a visit from my oldest son and my 4-year-old granddaughter. My son’s birthday is the day before mine, and my granddaughter delighted in being able to stand on a step-stool to help mix the batters, all from boxes.

We prepared chocolate cake, and funfetti cupcakes as well as blueberry muffins, which we made twice. Frosting was out of a can, then sprinkled with colorful candies. Luckily, they went home with most of the leftovers from that baking spree.

I honestly appreciated the opportunity to see my granddaughter take such delight in learning how to bake, but it was hard for me to pretend I liked the results. There were no mistakes made or anything like that; I just unfortunately lack an appreciation for most boxed mixes. So today I thought I would share some recipes for cakes made the old-fashioned way.

I hope you are all safe from fires and starting to notice a slight, but good, change in the weather.

Amazing 3-layer chocolate cake

Butter and flour for coating and dusting the cake pan

3 cups flour

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 1/2 cups warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

For frosting:

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

7 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar

About 1/4 cup milk, or as needed

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter three 9-inch cake rounds. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.

2. Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a stand mixer using a low speed until combined.

3. Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil and vanilla. Beat on a medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Divide batter among the three pans. It takes just over 3 cups of the batter to divide it evenly.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes, then turn out the cakes onto the racks and allow to cool completely. Frost with frosting after cakes cool, and assemble.

5. For frosting: In a large bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer for best results. Add in cocoa powder and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Beat in confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add milk as necessary to make a spreadable consistency. The frosting should be very thick and will thicken even more if refrigerated.

Vanilla cake

2 1/2 cups cake flour (or 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)

2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon vanilla

Funfetti frosting (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans or 1 9-by-13-inch pan. (I just use baking spray.) Note: If you plan to flip the cake out of the pan, line the bottom with parchment paper before greasing the pan. Trace the bottom of the pan onto parchment paper and cut the pieces out to fit exactly.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until very light and fluffy. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. Pour the buttermilk into a large measuring pitcher. Whisk in the eggs, egg white and vanilla.

5. With mixer on low speed, add flour and buttermilk alternately to the butter and sugar mixture until all is combined. Scrape the bowl again, then mix another 15 to 30 seconds or just until the batter is smooth. Do not overmix.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan(s) and place in the center rack of the preheated oven. Bake 9-inch pans for 22 to 25 minutes, or a 9-by-13-inch pan for 30 to 35 minutes. Test cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready.

7. Cool cake in pans for 15 minutes, then carefully flip onto a cooling rack. When cool, frost the cake.

Funfetti frosting

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

5 to 6 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 pinch salt

4 ounces jimmies colored sprinkles

1. Make sure the butter is very soft. (Let it sit out at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours if needed.) Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer that has a paddle attachment.

2. Beat the butter on high for 2 minutes, until it becomes light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

3. Turn the mixer on low and add in 2 cups confectioners’ sugar. Beat until well incorporated, then add in the heavy cream, vanilla and salt.

4. Scrape the bowl again, then turn the mixer on low and slowly add in 3 to 4 more cups of powdered sugar. Once well mixed, turn on high for 1 minute to beat out all the clumps.

5. Turn the mixer back on low and mix in the sprinkles. Stop once they look even. If you beat the sprinkles too long, they will start to break. (Mix the sprinkles in with a spatula if your mixer does not have a very low setting.) Makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes, 1 2-layer cake or 1 sheet cake.

Orange Dreamsicle cake

For the cake:

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (Cut into 1/2-inch slices onto waxed paper to soften slightly. Should be still very cool to the touch. If it becomes too soft, refrigerate for a few minutes. Do not soften in microwave.)

4 large eggs

3/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon orange extract

Zest of 1 orange

Orange coloring gel (optional) You can use a small amount to tint some reserved orange cream cheese frosting so you can apply it to the cake here and there for a swirled effect, if desired.

For the orange cream filling:

1 small box vanilla instant pudding

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon orange extract

For the orange cream cheese frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

2 packages (8-oz. each) regular cream cheese (not lower fat), chilled

1 teaspoon clear vanilla (can use the darker kind if you wish)

1 teaspoon orange extract

1/2 teaspoon salt, optional (plain popcorn salt is best, as it dissolves faster)

6 to 6 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Orange coloring gel, optional, for tinting

1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans.

2. In the bowl of your mixer add the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. (This recipe uses what is called a reverse creaming method.)

3. In a separate bowl, add the eggs, orange juice concentrate, milk, orange extract and zest.

4. With the mixer on low speed, add the slices of butter a few pieces at a time to the dry ingredients. Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat until the dry ingredients look crumbly and moistened. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.

5. Slowly add 1/2 of the egg mixture, increasing to medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes; the batter will become thick and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add a small amount of orange coloring gel to the bowl if you would like the batter to be orange. Add the remaining egg mixture in 2 pourings, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

6. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Let the cakes cool in the pan 10 minutes, then turn out. Proceed with assembly.

7. For the orange cream filling: Combine the pudding mix, heavy cream and orange extract in a mixing bowl. You can use a hand held mixer, but a whisk will work. If using a mixer, start on low speed until well combined. Then, switch to high speed and whip the pudding until thick and fluffy. If mousse is too thick, mix in small amounts of heavy cream to reach desired consistency. If mixing by hand, simply whisk rapidly for a couple of minutes or until mixture is nice and thick. Refrigerate until ready to use. Cakes with this filling should be chilled until close to serving time.

8. For the orange cream cheese frosting: Cut the butter into slices and add to the bowl of your mixer. Beat on low to medium speed until the butter is softened and smooth. Cut the cold cream cheese into pieces and add to the butter, beating at low to medium speed until incorporated. Add the vanilla and orange flavorings. Gradually add the powdered sugar beating on low speed until blended. Cover the bowl with a towel to keep down the cloud of powdered sugar. Increase mixing speed and beat until fluffy. Don’t over beat. This frosting will pipe best if used while still chilled. You can make it in advance, refrigerate and when ready to use let it soften slightly (do not microwave) and remix. This will frost a 3 layer 8- or 9-inch cake. When decorating your Dreamsicle cake, you can frost your cake and then go back in with swirls of lightly tinted orange frosting for a pretty effect.

Lemon meringue cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for pans

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for pans

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Zest of 2 lemons

Lemon curd filling (recipe follows)

Swiss meringue (recipe follows)

1. Heat oven to 350. Butter two round (8-by-2-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides of pans with flour, making sure to coat pans evenly. Tap to remove any excess.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy (3 to 4 minutes).

4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until batter is no longer slick (about 5 minutes); scrape down sides. Reduce mixer speed to low. Slowly add sifted flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Beat in vanilla and lemon zest.

5. Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean (about 55 minutes). Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and return to wire rack to cool completely (about 1 hour).

6. To assemble, turn cakes upside-down onto cardboard cake rounds and remove parchment paper. Using a serrated knife, slice each cake in half horizontally. You will have four layers. Spread 1/3 of the lemon curd filling over the bottom layer. Top with second cake layer and spread with 1/3 more of the filling. Remove the cake round from second cake. Top with third cake layer. Spread with the remaining filling. Top with fourth cake layer. Chill assembled cake until set (at least 1 hour or overnight).

7. Preheat oven to 400. Using an offset spatula, spread the Swiss meringue all over the cake, making decorative swirls. Place cake, still on cake round, on a Silpat (French nonstick baking mat) lined baking sheet.

8. Transfer to oven. Bake, watching carefully, until meringue has browned around edges and begins to brown elsewhere (3 to 5 minutes). Transfer cake, on round, to a serving plate. When slicing cake, run a knife under hot water, then wipe dry, and cut. Repeat with hot water between slices.

Lemon curd filling

4 large egg yolks

2 large whole eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Zest of 2 lemons

1. In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks and whole eggs. Add sugar and lemon juice. Set over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon (8 to 10 minutes). Remove pan from heat and stir to cool slightly.

2. Strain curd through a sieve set over a small bowl. Add the butter, a piece at time, stirring until smooth after each addition. Stir in the lemon zest and let cool completely. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Swiss meringue

6 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1. Combine the egg whites, sugar and vanilla in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until the sugar has dissolved and whites are hot to the touch (5 to 7 minutes). Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer.

2. Using the whisk attachment, mix on low speed, gradually increasing to high speed, until stiff, glossy peaks form (about 10 minutes). Use immediately. Makes enough for 1 8-inch cake.



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