Vanilla Cake + Pastry Cream + Italian Meringue Buttercream = Very Vanilla Cake. I’m in love.

This cake will please the pickiest of palettes—it’s vanilla, right? But don’t call it boring. It’s so rich, so good, and so sinful. And, might I add, so worth the calories.

This was only my second time to make Italian Meringue Buttercream. However, this will be gracing the outside of many more cakes to come. It is TO DIE FOR. Definitely not as easy to make as your traditional buttercream, but it’s worth the time and technique. Trust me.

Speaking of technique. A couple years back, my graduate school husband used to work Saturdays. I absolutely hated being home alone (I’m a big time extrovert), so I kept myself very busy cooking and baking all day. Sometimes I would try new recipes just to see if I could do it, with no real intentions of actually eating it. One Saturday I set out to make Italian Meringue Buttercream. It looked challenging enough. So I got out my candy thermometer. Made the meringue. Made the “candy.” Added the butter. Whip, whip, whip. And viola—buttercream success! Since I hadn’t made a cake and had no intention of doing so, there was no reason to save the icing. However, graduate school husband does not like to throw anything out. We are after all on a graduate school budget. With plenty of time to spare before he got home, I began feeding the trashcan. And then I heard, “Surprise, I’m home early!” I was caught. Red handed. Feeding the trashcan perfectly good buttercream. Note to self—it is not a good idea to practice techniques and then throw away the perfectly good end product, especially on a graduate school budget.

Moreover, why would I ever toss something so delish? I will never throw out Italian Meringue Buttercream again. Sorry trashcan. It’s just too dang good.

The recipe behind the cake and buttercream is from my favorite, Warren Brown. Pinky promise, I will only make cakes from Warren’s recipes from here on out. They are the best. He has an app too with recipes included! Don’t wait. Download it now. If you plan on making this cake, I recommend making the pastry cream first. Then the cake. When the cake has cooled and you’re ready to ice, make the buttercream. Stay tuned below for decorating tips.

Yellow Butter Cake
recipe from Cake Love by Warren Brown; 2 9-inch round cakes or 24 cupcakes

1 1/4 c. unbleached AP flour
1/4 c. + 1 tbsp. potato starch (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

1 c. half and half
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 3/4 c. extra-fine granulated sugar (I food process my regular sugar)
4 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Set rack in the middle of the oven.
2. Set out ingredients and equipment. Sift flour. Measure dry ingredients into separate mixing bowl. Add flour and whisk together. Measure liquid ingredients into a separate bowl and set aside. Place butter and sugar in bowl of standing mixer. Crack eggs into a separate bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on the lowest speed for 3-5 minutes. (This will feel odd, but keep it on low.)
4. With the mixer still on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in 3 to 5 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Move swiftly through the step to avoid overworking the batter. Don’t wait for the dry or liquid mixtures to be fully incorporated before adding the next. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.
6. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl all the way down. Don’t miss the clumps of ingredients hiding on the bottom. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds to develop the batter’s structure.
7. Prepare the pans. For 9-inch round cakes, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Do not spray the sides of the pan. (This helps to keep your cakes from doming in the middle. Your cake is able to crawl up the side as it bakes and maintain an even shape.) For cupcakes, line the pan with paper liners.
8. Distribute batter evenly in cake pans or fill cupcake liners with 2-ounce trigger release ice-cream scoop. (I also use the trigger release ice-cream scoop for the cake pans to make sure I have an even amount of batter.) For the cakes, bake for 28 minutes. For the cupcakes, bake for 22 minutes.
9. Once the top of the cake doesn’t jiggle in the center, test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cake. The center should be an even blonde color and the edges should be just beginning to pull away from the pan. When the skewer shows a touch of crumbs or comes out clean, the cake is done.
10. Cool cakes for 20 minutes before removing from the pan. Use a small off-set spatula to loosen the cake from the rim of the pan. Carefully invert and remove parchment paper. Allow to cool completely before icing.

Pastry Cream
from Macarons by Annie Rigg (This can be made ahead.)

3 egg yolks (save your whites for the buttercream)
3/4 extra-fine sugar (pop it in the food processor)
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 c. whole milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream

1. Put the egg yolks, half the sugar, and cornstarch in a small heatproof bowl, and whisk together until combined.
2. Heat milk and other half of sugar in a small saucepan until it only just starts to boil.
3. Pour the hot milk over yolk mixture whisking constantly until smooth. (If you don’t whisk quickly, the eggs will curdle.) Pour mixture back in pan, and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until custard comes to a boil and thickens.
4. Strain into a clean bowl and add butter and vanilla extract. Stir until incorporated. Cover surface with plastic wrap and leave to cool before refrigerating.
5. Refrigerate. Once chilled. Whip the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold into pastry cream. Continue to chill, covered, until use.

Italian Meringue Buttercream
recipe from Cake Love by Warren Brown; makes 4-5 cups

5 egg whites
1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1/4 cold water
4 sticks butter

1. Watch this video tutorial first. Set out ingredients and equipment. Separate the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add 1 cup of sugar and the water into a saucepan. Stir to combine. Measure the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar into a separate bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoon sized pieces and set aside.
2. To make the sugar syrup, place the candy thermometer in the sauce pan and heat the mixture over medium-high heat. Partially cover with lid to capture the evaporating water—this helps to moisten the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
3. With the  mixer on high speed, begin whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks. When the peaks are stiff, you have a meringue. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into the meringue and whip again to combine. Turn mixer off.
5. Raise the heat under the sugar syrup to bring the syrup to 245° (hard ball) if it’s not there already. When it has reached 245° and with the mixer running on medium speed, remove the thermometer and slowly pour the syrup into the meringue. (It helps to hold the pan just above the height of the mixer. Pour confidently trying to hit the meringue and not the side of the bowl.)
6. After 1 to 2 minutes, reduce the speed of the mixture to medium for 6-8 minutes or until meringue is cooled. Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the mixer speed to high for 2 to 4 minutes or until the butter is fully incorporated. (Buttercream may look soupy. If so, keep mixing, it will eventually thicken as everything comes to the same temperature. If not, pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes or so and mix again.)
7. Ice cooled cake.

Now that you have your cake, pastry cream, and icing, it’s time to make it look pretty! I made a 3-tiered mini cake by cutting out 3 cake rounds using a 4 1/2″ biscuit cutter. You can accomplish the same thing with your 2-tiered 9″ rounds. If you’d like to replicate this mini cake, make the full cake recipe, 1/2 the pastry cream recipe, and 1/2 the Italian Meringue Buttercream recipe. You will have some leftover cake. I’ll leave it up to you on what to do with that. But whatever you do, don’t feed it to the trashcan.

How to Ice a Cake

1. Make sure cake is level on top. Do so by trimming off excess using a long serrated knife holding it parallel to the cake. I rarely have to do with with Warren’s recipes (They’re that good!). Place the cake on a stand. Add strips of parchment paper underneath the cake to keep the stand clean.
2. Place heaping amounts of pastry cream in the center of the cake and spread out using an offset spatula. I like to taste the pastry cream when I’m eating cake, so I use a fair amount. Don’t spread cream to the edge of the cake. Leave a 1/2″  gap. It will spread once you add weight on top.
3. Place second layer of cake on top. Add pastry cream and spread if you are adding a third layer.
4. If applicable, place third layer of cake on top.
5. Smooth out pastry cream overhang (have a taste if you wish) and place it in the freezer for 15 minutes. This will help to firm the cake up so that it will hold it’s shape when you begin to work with it.
6. In a separate bowl, place a small amount of the buttercream. Pull cake out of freezer. Apply a thin coating of icing over the entire cake, otherwise known as a crumb coat. This will keep those pesky crumbs at bay. If icing right away, place cake back in freezer for 10 minutes. If icing later, place in refrigerator.
7. When you are ready to ice the cake, make sure the icing and cake are around the same temperature. If they aren’t and you ice the cake, it will sweat. Figuratively speaking, your mascara will start to run.
8. Apply icing all over cake. Plop (super technical) icing all around the sides of the cake as well at the top. Be generous. Spread the icing until smooth. It will take about 10 minutes to work the icing smooth. You can leave the cake as is or add a little rustic flare. To do so, hold the spatula vertically and begin pulling up. Repeat around the entirety of the cake. On the top, place spatula in middle, and pull outwards in a curved motion. Repeat.
9. For one final flare, add a simple piece of candy or fruit to the top. And now you have yourself a pretty cake!
10. Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Pull parchment paper out from underneath cake. Be gentle. Serve at room temperature. Fall in love with Italian Meringue Buttercream.

I think you know well by now, I love Italian Meringue Buttercream. What’s your favorite type of icing?