A butter cake is a classic cake recipe made with butter. It’s sometimes called a shortening cake because some types of fat other than butter can be used in the cake, such as margarine or vegetable shortening. The English pound cake was mostly likely the inspiration for this buttery concoction, but with the addition of a type of leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda, the cake goes from heavy and dense to light and airy. A butter cake batter is used when a rich and moist crumb is required in a cake with volume. It’s especially good for wedding or birthday cakes.
In addition to some type of fat and leavening ingredients, all butter cake recipes include flour, sugar, eggs and some sort of flavoring, such as vanilla. Different flavorings and ingredients can be added to the batter to change its taste. Chocolate, lemon and orange flavorings are common ingredients for butter cakes. Additionally, the batter works well with other ingredients, such as fruits and nuts. Recipes such as pineapple upside-down cake as well as traditional fruitcakes use a butter cake base.
The most traditional of butter cakes are the yellow and white cakes. They are made the same way, but the difference in color comes from how the eggs are used in the recipe. For a white cake, only the egg whites are used, and egg yolks give yellow cake its golden color.
Although the leavening agent gives a butter cake recipe its rise, the volume also is affected by the preparation. There are three methods used to mix butter cakes, with each one effective, depending on the desired outcome. The first and most commonly used is the creaming method. It produces a cake with a light texture and good volume.
Room temperature butter or butter substitute is beaten with sugar. This creaming causes the sugar crystals to rub against the fat and make more air bubbles. More air bubbles produce a well-aerated batter that results in a cake with soft crumb and volume. The remaining dry and wet ingredients are then added.
In the quick method, or one-bowl method, the butter and sugar are not creamed. Instead, the butter and liquids are added to the dry ingredients, with the eggs added last. This method produces a cake that is moist and dense. With the combination method of mixing butter cakes, whipped egg whites are added to the ingredients after they have been creamed to produce a cake that has more volume and a lighter texture.
All of the methods are finished the same way. The batter is poured into greased and floured cakes pans and baked until finished. It's easy for a baker to tell when a butter cake is done by using the toothpick test — a toothpick is inserted into the center of the cake, and the cake is done when the toothpick comes out clean.