Monday, January 10, 2011

White Cake Taste Test

A few members on Cake Central recently kicked off a Great Scratch Off - White Cake Taste Test. Yeah, White Cake! I’ve been on the hunt for the "perfect" white cake recipe so I joined the fun. Eight recipes were selected for the comparison (see list below). I would have liked to try them all, but I was pressed for time so I selected four to sample: one made with shortening, one with buttermilk, one with just butter, and one with sour cream.

Here are links to the eight recipes that Cake Central selected for the comparison:

  1. King Arthur Flour - Tender While Cake recipe - I would have liked to try this recipe. It is the standard "butter" recipe, but it also give the option of using vanilla yogurt or whole milk. I've always wondered how yogurt would impact the taste/texture of a cake, but I didn't have any King Arthur Flour so I had to scratch this one from my "to bake" list.

  2. Rebecca Sutterby's - White Velvet Cake recipe - Buttermilk recipe with vanilla bean paste. I didn't have any vanilla bean paste, so this one got scratched also.

  3. Cook Book Maniac's adaptation of Rose Levy Beranbaum's (The Cake Bible) - White Velvet Cake recipe - This is a butter recipe which also uses heavy cream. Sounds delicious, rich, and oh-so-fattening. I really wanted to include this one and make a five layer cake, but I was confused by some of Cook Book Maniac's instructions. In particular the instruction of cook at 175 degrees (no mention of Celsius or Fahrenheit) and only use one 9x2" pan. I could make the assumption that the temperature was Celsius, but the one pan had me stumped. Seemed like too much batter for one pan. I also had a run-in last year with the Rose Levy Beranbaum's folks when I included her Red Velvet Cake in one of my taste test. I didn't want a repeat of that drama, so I dropped this cake from my lineup.

  4. Cook's Illustrated - White Layer Cake recipe - This is a Butter recipe with lots of egg whites. I included this recipe in my taste test. Here is what the finished cake looked like:

  5. Elisa Strauss The Confetti Cakes Cookbook - Vanilla Cake recipe  - This is another Butter recipe with lots of egg whites very similar to the Cook's Illustrated recipe.

  6. K8Memphis' version of Sylvia Weinstock's Yellow Cake - Sylvia's famous Sour Cream Yellow Cake recipe modified (reduced the egg yolks) by K8 to make the baked cake look less yellow. Here is what it looked like.

  7. GroupRecipes' Delicate White Cake recipe - This is a Shortening based recipe with no butter. Here is what it looked like. Very snowy isn't it? No butter in the batter makes the cake very white.

  8. Rebecca Rather's (The Pastry Queen) - White on White Buttermilk Cake recipe - Lots of butter and buttermilk in this recipe. Not intended for anyone worried about their cholesterol.

So here are all the cakes stacked and waiting to get iced.

For this taste test I had 11 lab rats (oops, I mean family members). They were told to evaluate just the cake and not the cake/icing combination. Each taster was given a slice of cake and I interview each and made notes of their comments. They were asked to rank the cakes from 1-4. #1 being their favorite and #4 being their least favorite.

And based on the ranking of my lab rats,

The WINNER of my White Cake Taste Test IS ...........

With an overall score of 1.6 .............

The pure BUTTER recipe from Cook's Illustrated White Layer Cake recipe

Yeah, Three Cheers for Cook's Illustrated White Layer Cake !!!!
The score board is as follows:

#1 - First Place went to Cook's Illustrated Butter cake with a score of 1.6,
#2 - Second Place went to Rebecca Rather's (The Pastry Queen) Buttermilk cake with a score of 2.4,
#3 - Third Place went to Group Recipes' Shortening cake with a score of 2.5,
#4 - Fourth Place went to K8Memphis' Sour Cream Cake with a score of 3.4

Under the guidelines of the Cake Central Great Scratch Off - White Cake Taste Test the
Judging Criteria included:
1. Flavor
2. Texture/Crumb
3. Moistness
3. Ease of Recipe
4. Cost of Recipe
5. Ability to convert into cupcakes

So here are my remarks on each cake:

* The Sour Cream Cake (left most cake in picture, 4th Place Winner) K8Memphis' recipe version of Sylvia Weinstock's Yellow Cake
  1. Flavor - Nice flavor when eating, but leaves a strong after-taste in your mouth. Most of the lab rats described the cake as having a strong, unidentifiable flavor.
  2. Texture/Crumb - Very dense but you can still see the crumb.
  3. Moistness - Very moist almost to the point of wetness.

* The Butter Cake (second from left in picture, 1st Place Winner) Cook's Illustrated White Layer Cake recipe
  1. Flavor - Rich, buttery flavor. Very nice smell.
  2. Texture/Crumb - Medium crumb. Not as fluffy as the shortening cake but not as dense as the buttermilk or sour cream cakes. Crumbs visible when you cut into the cake. Nice, fluffy, moist feel in mouth.
  3. Moistness - Perfect moistness. Not dry and not too wet looking or tasting.

* The ButterMilk Cake (third from left in picture, 2nd Place Winner) Rebecca Rather's (The Pastry Queen book) White on White Buttermilk Cake recipe
  1. Flavor - Great flavor, rich and complex.
  2. Texture/Crumb - Dense, but you can still see some crumbs.
  3. Moistness - Very moist, a little wet looking, compacts in your mouth when you eat it.
  4. Other Notes: Best flavor but did not like the texture as much as the shortening or butter cake. Cake was very rich and overpowered the normal vanilla buttercream icing. Tasted much better when paired with a rich, chocolate icing. Also did not work well as cupcakes: lots of collapsing and shrinkage.

* The Shortening Cake (right most cake in picture, 3rd Place Winner) Delicate White Cake recipe
  1. Flavor - Sugary flavor, not enough extracts. Would add more vanilla and also some butter extract.
  2. Texture/Crumb - Light, airy, fluffy. Loose crumb, lots of little crumb holes.
  3. Moistness - A little dry. If more moisture (and butter flavor) could be added to the cake it would be perfect.
  4. Other Note: Not enough batter, layer not thick enough. Baked for the suggested 20 minutes but next time I would only bake for 18 minutes.

So did this taste test help me to find that "perfect" white cake recipe? Well to be honest, No.

I loved the flavor of the Buttermilk cake, the texture of the Butter cake and the light, airiness of the Shortening cake. If only I could smash all the cakes together, I would have the perfect White Cake recipe.


I wonder if I could start with the Shortening recipe, use buttermilk instead of milk, double the vanilla, add some almond and butter extracts..... I wonder what it would taste like? Any thoughts, any opinion?


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  1. Another nice experiment, Carol!
    Some of the main differences I see between the shortening cake and the butter cake are: butter cake seems to have a little more liquid (=>inhibits maximal fluffiness?) even though the flour amount is almost the same---1/2 cup more milk & 2 more egg whites, plus a smidge more fat than the shortening cake.

    When roughly equalizing out the ratios, the buttermilk cake looks to have even more butter than the butter cake! (=extra flavor?)

    I suspect that shortening is the main "fluff" factor (Ever heard about using shortening for pie crust for a flakier texture?). How about half and half then, butter and shortening?

    So what do think of say, using the shortening recipe, as you suggested, but use 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp butter & 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp shortening (1 1/2 sticks total), and 1 cup of buttermilk + extra vanilla & other flavorings?


  2. Great comparison. I know it took a lot of hard, hot, delicious work to get this done. Now I know which cake to use when I need a good cake.

    I didn't realize you were in New Orleans. There are only 3 of us in TWD from Louisiana. I;m in Pineville Come by and visit sometime.

  3. Thanks for the suggestions, Chau. I'm going to give the tweeked shortening recipe a try this week. I'll let you know how it goes.

  4. Hey, TeaLady. I've never been to Pineville. I'll have to put it on my list of places to visit.

  5. Hello Bake More... Did you ever try Chau's suggestion. I too am desperately searching for the perfect white cake recipe. I have 300 cupcakes due in three weeks and can't afford error. You are right about the crumb. It is something about texture that never comes out right. Either it is too loose and dry or it is too moist. The flavor too seems to be a matter of flavorings vanilla + almond + real butter = great flavor. But what to do about this texture problem. Ugh... I am a bit tired of white cake right about now:-P Great blog!

  6. Hi Danielle,
    I sorta/kinda tried Chau's suggestion, but without the butter. I want a pure white cake with no tint of yellow so I'm trying to avoid using butter. I did try the cake again this time with 1 cup of buttermilk and more flavoring. But alas it still wasn't right. Yes it had more moisture, but still not moist enough. Next time I'm going to try it with some oil (hey it works for Red Velvet Cake).

    Good luck with your 300 cupcakes. I have a suggestion if you don't mind using a box mix. I mix up a regular box of French Vanilla Betty Crocker and add 1 tsp Almond Extract and 6 oz of (cooled) white chocolate melted with 2 Tablespoons of milk. Everyone LOVES the flavor.

    Let me know what you decide to bake.

    Thanks for reading my blog.


  7. If you have only one pan and a recipe calls for more cupcakes than your pan will make, just cover and refrigerate the rest of the batter while baking the first batch. Cool the pan about 15 minutes, then bake the rest of the batter, adding 1 to 2 minutes to the bake time.

  8. Shortening for pie crust - CISCO only. Very all your ingredients in fridge..water, flour, salt then combine. You will have THE flakiest pie crust ever. NEVER butter!

  9. This is great!!! Saved me a boatload in ingredients :) Still so sad I can't find THE perfect white cake recipe :( Ever thought about adding butter flavoring to the shortening recipe (with your won tweaks of course). Could add that "buttery flavor" you are so desiring...

  10. I, too, had been needing a perfect white cupcake recipe (I had tried, but never found my *go to* recipe), and came upon this doctored box recipe from Recipe Girl...

    People raved about the cupcakes, and I never had the nerve to tell them they were (partially) from a box!

    Today I'm trying King Arthur Flour's "Elegant White Cake" recipe, because I would rather cook from scratch when I can. It's in the oven right now...!

  11. P.S. Thank you Bake More for this great post on white cake!! I LOVE the 4-layered taste-test cake. Great Idea.

  12. Hi there, I just found this page on pintrest, and I was wondering which recipe made the most dense cake. My daughter will be 1 in jan. and i was wanting to make her cake from scratch. But i will be cutting it into different shapes and rolling fondant over it. Could you let me know which one would be best for that? thanks so much!

  13. Hi Tiffany, From what I remember, the sour cream cake was the densest but I didn't care for the taste as much as the butter or buttermilk cake. Both the butter and buttermilk cakes were dense, but if you are going to use vanilla frosting I would suggest the butter cake. The buttermilk cake had a strong taste and worked better with a flavor-packed frosting like chocolate.
    Good luck with you daughter's cake. Let us know how it turns out.

  14. Hello, I'm making a big half sheet and need to know how many cups the cooks illustrated yields, so I know how many times to double recipe. please if you can help I would really appreciate it. Thank you for your detailed review.

    1. Melissa, I'm sorry but I don't know how many cups the recipe yields. But good luck with your sheet cake!

  15. thanks for the lovely post!

  16. Thanks for sharing your hard work! DO you think the butter cake is dense enough to hold up to being stacked? I would like to find a non sponge cake that i can cover in fondant and tier.

    thanks again.

    1. Hi Shannon. Yes, I think the butter cake would be dense enough to stack and cover with fondant. But just remember to dowel and support your tiers.

  17. Hi thanks for all the tests you've done. I'm going to try the shortening cake with an extra tsp vanilla and 1 tbs oil to see if it'll come out more moist. I'll let you know how it comes out

  18. You should definitely try King Arthur's Tender White Cake recipe. The almond extract adds a wonderful flavor! It came out pretty white despite butter and one egg yoke. Very moist and fluffy, but unfortunately gets more dense after time... which probably had something to do with me storing it in my sun room. The temperature dropped bellow 0 F the night after I baked it.
    Anyway, it pairs well with lemon and spiced cranberry. And I substituted normal salt for rose salt from Italy. Very fun to make and eat!
    P.S. careful about the sugar content in any fillings or frosting you use. Mine was bordering on too sweet after it was all put together.

  19. I've really enjoyed reading this awesome post. I too am always in search of the perfect white cake recipe. I don't make cupcakes much so that is not a concern for me. I'm happy with "Heavenly White Cake" from The recipes call for 3/4 cup of butter. I use 1/2 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of another fat, either 80% oil margarine or shortening. Though I like that recipe a lot I'm always on the lookout for that next great white cake recipe. Thanks for this awesome post. I look forward to checking your blog for white cake updates! (Love white cake!) :)

  20. I know most of you prefer scratch, but if you'd like a very good doctored box mix, try this one from the Cake Boss software maker.

    1. Hi Miss Tori, I actually make more doctored cake mix cakes than scratch cakes. LOL. I will give your cake a try. It is very similar to a cake on call White Almond Sour Cream Cake (WASC), except the WASC uses oil and the White Velvet uses butter. Butter is always better in my book. I will give White Velvet a try and see how they compare…

      Thanks for the link.


  21. Another way to get great vanilla flavor in your cakes without having to use additional vanilla extract is to use vanilla sugar. You can make your own vanilla sugar by placing a split vanilla bean pod or two into your sugar canister. The bean will infuse the sugar with delicious vanilla yumminess!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Miss Tori. I have tried orange sugar, but not vanilla sugar.

  22. hello, I really enjoyed the experiments showed that, can you please tell me the measurement in grams or how can I convert?
    thank you very much

    1. Sorry, Sao, but I don’t have the conversions to grams. Are you interested in a particular recipe? If so I can weigh all the ingredients and let you know what they equal in grams.


  23. I tried the butter cake recipe and it's DELISH!! I covered it with a buttercream icing that had vanilla/cocconut flavoring. I'll be using this for all birthday batter.

  24. Hi, I made the Cooks Illustrated recipe last night and split between two 9" pans. They didn't rise very much at all. Each finished cake is probably about an inch and a half thick. Did you find this as well? I made 2 batches of the recipe (so 4 cakes in total) and they all turned out the same height.

    Also, I was making the cakes for an ombré cake, so trying to find as white a recipe as possible so the colour of the batter wouldn't affect the colouring of the cake once I put the food dye in. If I wanted to make this cake but sub shortening for butter, do you think it would work to make a whiter cake? And possibly add in some butter flavouring?


  25. Thanks for the testing. Marvelous.

  26. Thanks for the comparisons!! I'm heading to the kitchen right now to make that butter cake.

  27. Hi,
    I just wanted to thank you SO much for this post! I have been wanting to try this experiment forever, and you just did it for me! Now, I have saved time and know the difference. ;) I also wanted to share that I am happy to report that I after many years of trials, I have found THE recipe for me, and I hope you will love it too!!! It's Rock Recipes' White Velvet Cake. The cake is moist, fluffy, has a tender white crumb and simply melts in your mouth.It combines both vegetable oil and shortening, two types of flour, requires no butter AND includes buttermilk! I have even tried with almond flavoring for clients and have received rave reviews! You can find the recipe here:

    Thanks again for the post. I really hope you give the recipe a try and fall in love with it as much as I did!

    All the best,
    The Picture Perfect Baker

    1. Hi Gina,
      Thanks for the recipe. I made it for my Easter lunch and everyone loved it!! Taste like Red Velvet without the red dye.


  28. I have to say that I have been triying a perfect white cake in a lot of versions and I havent find the right one yet... but this recipes make want to bake that cake again!!!! Thanks sooo mucho for posting this beautifull white cakes recipes ando of course for the great reviews that you make !!!. ALBITA