Making the Perfect Velvety Yellow Cake

Recently, I prepared a large cake for a friend’s celebration. She had requested a lemon-scented white cake and wanted me to include elements of marzipan, buttercream, and Indian-inspired artistic decoration. This is what I created: a three-layer, buttery white cake flavored with fresh lemon juice and zest, drizzled with fresh lemon syrup, filled with lemon curd and Italian buttercream, and finished with buttercream leaves, hand-cut rolled fondant details, and piped royal icing. It was a large celebratory confection, and I think my client was happy.

Not long after I delivered the cake and was breathing a sigh of relief, I realized I needed to get back to work. After all, preparing nearly a gallon of buttercream and three 12-inch cakes had left me with about three-dozen egg yolks. Fresh egg yolks store well in the refrigerator for about a week, so I knew my time as limited. Some bakers successfully freeze leftover egg yolks, but I must admit I have never had too much luck with doing so. I find they “burn” easily in the freezer and lose their velvety consistency.

I toyed with the idea of making ice cream, but not only did we just move and I don’t know where I stored my ice-cream machine, but I also didn’t have enough milk and cream on hand to get to work. Baking seemed the best answer, so I turned on the oven and got out the cupcake tins. What I came up with was, in fact, the opposite of the large cake I had prepared for my client. Both cakes were buttery and tender, but hat cake was large and soft in texture due to the egg whites, whereas these cakes were small, finer in texture, and richer in flavor and color because of the egg yolks.

This recipe makes two 9-inch cakes or 18 to 24 cupcakes (depending on how full you fill them). This cake is delicious enough to serve on its own, perhaps with a dusting of powdered sugar or drizzle of chocolate, or, of course, topped with your favorite frosting or buttercream. The recipe also comes together easily enough to be prepared on a whim as I did, or prepared for a special occasion or birthday.

I’m sure you’ll consume this lovely yellow butter cake rather quickly, but know you can also store the cake or cupcakes in the freezer for up to two months.

Velvety Yellow Cake

6 large egg yolks

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 18 to 24 cupcake tins with paper liners.

Whisk together the egg yolks, 1/3 cup of the milk, and the vanilla extract in a small bowl.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and begin mixing on low speed. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and gradually add them to the dry ingredients. Raise the speed to medium low and continue beating until the mixture resembles dry breadcrumbs. Add the 2/3 cup milk, raise the mixing speed to medium high, and beat for about 1 minute, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolk mixture and beat for about 30 seconds more, or until the batter is smooth.

Divide the batter among the prepared cupcake tins and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cupcakes are light golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean. Set the cupcakes on wire racks to cool in the pans for 5 minutes before turning them out to cool completely on the racks.