Silky Soft and Coffee Fresh: Downy Golden Cake with Coffee Buttercream

I just got a copy of The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and as I flipped through the photos, I noticed a photo of her All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake with Coffee Buttercream. While the flavor combination of yellow cake and coffee frosting had never occurred to me before, the cake looked so good that I decided to make it for a co-worker's birthday.

The headnote to the yellow cake recipe sets up some high expectations for the cake. Beranbaum writes that, "If I had to choose among all my cakes, this one would win first place because it is delicious all by itself yet versatile enough to accommodate a wide range of buttercreams." To make the cake batter, you put all of the dry ingredients (cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) in the bowl of a mixer, and then add softened butter and milk. You beat the mixture on medium speed for 90 seconds, and gradually add a mixture of egg yolks, vanilla, and more milk. You scrape the batter into two parchment-lined pans and bake.
I thought that I had overbaked my cakes because I noticed the sides of the cake had shrunken away from the pan, but the recipe clearly says (in italics!) that this should only happen after you take the cakes out of the oven. Still, they looked good and after cooling them briefly, I turned them out onto wire racks to cool.

Beranbaum offers both a "Classic Buttercream" recipe and a "Neoclassic Buttercream" recipe in The Cake Bible. The headnote for the neoclassic version states, "This is an easier technique than that for Classic Buttercream and yields identical results. In fact, since I have come up with this method, I have never gone back to the classic way" (emphasis in original). That observation was enough to convince me to skip the classic version and go straight to the neoclassic buttercream recipe instead.

To make the buttercream, you beat egg yolks in a mixer until they are light in color. Then you beat in sugar and corn syrup that has been heated to a rolling boil; apparently the temperature of the mixture at a boil is exactly 238 degrees, so there is no need to use a thermometer. You beat the eggs and hot syrup until the mixture is cool, and then gradually beat in softened butter. To make coffee-flavored buttercream, I added in two tablespoons of instant espresso powder dissolved in a teaspoon of hot water. The frosting was strongly aromatic and silky smooth.

I assembled and frosted the cake the night before I was going to serve it and I couldn't decide how I should store it overnight. I decided to refrigerate it, but I left it at room temperature for a few hours before serving. I liked this cake a lot, but I was a little disappointed in the cake itself. While it was moist, it was not downy soft as the name promised. Then again, I think that might be my fault for overbaking it. The buttercream was insanely delicious. So creamy, rich, and flavorful -- absolutely divine. As a whole, this was a wonderful dessert, and I'd like to give the yellow cake recipe another try to see if I can get a downy soft result.

Recipes: "All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake" and "Neoclassic Buttercream (Classic Coffee Variation)" from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Cake recipe available here on, and buttercream recipe available here on Beranbaum's blog.