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Joni Woolf — Sugardust Bakery Vanilla Cake: One to write home about

Recently I was gifted with a trip to Malibu by my nephew, Joseph McDougall, and his wife, Zan. A week in the California sun can make one a bit lazy, but on my last full day there, Zan, who is a baker, doing business as “Sugardust Bakery,” allowed me to watch her work throughout the day, preparing food for an Academy Awards party. The client wanted  her order to reflect the Oscar awards, which were coming up two days later. So Zan made this wonderful cake that she iced in black and white, and trimmed in gold — very festive. Then she made 75 large, rectangular cookies, heavily iced, and decorated with the names of all the nominated films. Only in Hollywood … But what I came away with was the recipe for the Vanilla Cake — a light, vanilla-y cake that would be just as tasty without frosting. I also came away with a new understanding of what “real” bakers have to contend with, compared to someone like me who does it for fun, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad, but my life won’t end.
To make the venture financially successful, she is careful with everything she prepares: if there is frosting or cake batter or filling left over, she freezes it, then pulls it out later, thaws it and re-uses it and it’s just as good — something I would have doubted if I had not seen it. Best of all, she seemed to really enjoy what she was doing, and she did it very well. I asked for the vanilla cake recipe, and she graciously wrote it out for me, and I pass it on to you, our ATR readers. I haven’t cooked it, but I’ve watched it made, and I’ve eaten it, so I feel confident recommending it. If you are a vanilla lover, as I am, this cake hits the spot.

Sugardust Bakery Vanilla Cake
1 cup cake flour
1 cup  all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla *
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup egg whites
* If you can find vanilla paste, it’s just that much better. There’s no such thing as too much vanilla flavor. And the paste provides those fine dark specks of vanilla bean throughout the layers.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Mix together first four ingredients in small bowl. In electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add salt and vanilla. Scrape down bowl often. Add eggs and beat just till combined. Add flour mixture and milks, alternately, till well mixed. Bake 25 minutes. Top turns a beautiful caramel color. Let cool in pans until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan. Turn out on rack to cool. Ice with your favorite frosting.
For many of her cakes, Zan uses a butter cream frosting, something like the cream cheese frosting that is so common here, but even richer. This cake is so tasty without frosting, I think I might use a light, airy, meringue frosting — for instance, the 7-minute frosting that’s been around 40 or 50 years (the easiest, in my opinion, for non-professionals like me). It would seal in the flavors, be lovely to look at, but would not overwhelm the subtle flavors of the perfect vanilla cake. Below is the standard recipe that I got years ago from my friend Louise Dodd, who wrote the cookbook “Eating from the White House to the Jailhouse,” and was our food writer for Macon Magazine for 14 years. It never fails.
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
5 tablespoons water
Pinch of cream of tartar
6 large marshmallows or 60 small ones
1 teaspoon vanilla
Put all ingredients except vanilla into top of double boiler over simmering water. Cook, beating constantly with an electric mixer at high speed for about 7 minutes or until icing becomes stiff and glossy. Remove from heat and add vanilla. (This holds up very well, even in damp weather.)

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net