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The Simplest Stir-and-Bake Vanilla Cake

A yellow-colored cake cut into square slices, pictured with strawberry sauce and whipped cream.
Rocky Luten

Though this cake was designed by a pastry chef, you can stir it together with a couple bowls and a spatula, and, less than an hour later, be forking up soft vanilla crumb-clouds warm from the oven. (Whipped cream melting into the top is optional, but recommended.)The recipe comes from pastry chef Jami Curl’s new cookbook, Baking Gold, a guide to mix-and-matching three doughs, two batters (this is one!), and one magic baking mix into more than 75 spectacularly creative treats. In writing the book, Jami brought the efficiencies of her pastry chef days—where a single dough could morph into dozens of distinct glazed and crumbled and bedazzled baked goods—to her home kitchen, where she didn’t have a team of trained chefs to make every component (let me guess, you neither?). The result: bakery-fancy desserts magically appearing in the space of one good nap.

In fact, when we were shooting this video, I managed to make the cake, plus the elective strawberry compote and butterscotch whipped cream, while narrating every step out loud (you probably won’t do that, but you can!), all within a single naptime for my 1-year-old.

“For most of the recipes in Baking Gold I tried to make things as easy as possible,” Jami told me. “Yes, there’s a yeast dough and yes, there’s cake—instead of getting super serious or super fancy, the dough kind of makes itself and the cakes are all baked in 9x13-inch pan (most people have one) and there’s no mixer involved.”

Baking ingredients arranged on a countertop: a bowl of flour, a bowl of frozen strawberries, sugar, eggs, oil, salt, and cream.
Rocky Luten

So, how did she make the cake so good, so fast? By saying goodbye (just for now) to butter.

Oil-based batters mean cakes anyone can bake at a moment’s notice—without waiting for butter to soften or pulling out any sort of electric mixer to cream. Oil is always ready, and only needs only a stir. (Our most popular Genius dessert ever, Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake, is another rewarding example of this.)

In handy baking science news, it also makes extra-tender cakes that keep well for days. Why? Oil coats flour better than butter, getting in the way of flour linking up with water and forming extra gluten, which squeezes out moisture and can lead to dryer, tougher cakes (especially if you over-mix, like so many recipes tell you not to do—this is why!).

Bowls of flour, cream, and batter arranged on a countertop. Nearby, broken eggshells.
Rocky Luten

But oil will never have the cozy flavor of butter, so Jami turned to another reliable team player and coffee-cake standby: sour cream. (If you don’t have sour cream on hand, Jami says that full-fat yogurt—Greek or regular—or coconut cream would be good swaps, though they might take a bit longer to bake.) As Jami writes, “This batter makes the vanilla cake that changed me from an all-chocolate-cake-all-the-time kind of cake person to someone who genuinely enjoys vanilla cake.”

In Jami’s book, this base batter spurs all sorts of spinoffs, from blueberry with citrus-cream glaze to cinnamon crumble-topped to a crunchy-creamy coconut, among others. In the same spirit, you can take this batter anywhere you like. Sprinkle fruit on top or stir it through. Top it with toasted coconut or spiced nuts or buttercream and sprinkles. Or just eat it plain, soon.

Strawberry & Butterscotch Whipped Cream Cake From Jami Curl

Makes one 9x13-inch cake.

Vanilla–Sour Cream Cake:
• 3 1/3 cups (400 grams) all-purpose flour
• 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
• 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (20 grams) baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 grams) kosher salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup (227 grams) sour cream
• 1/2 cup (105 grams) canola oil
• 1 tablespoon (18 grams) pure vanilla extract
• 1/3 cup (75 grams) boiling water

Strawberry Compote & Butterscotch Whipped Cream:
• 4 cups (600 grams) frozen strawberries
• 2 tablespoons (30 grams) apple cider vinegar
• 4 cups (800 grams) granulated sugar
• 2 cups (480 grams) heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (72 grams) brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons (12 grams) pure vanilla extract

See the full recipe on Food52.

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The Simplest Stir-and-Bake Vanilla Cake