This Cake is Yuge!: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Mousseline

There are few things I enjoy baking as much as layer cakes, especially when they mark a special occasion. I was delighted when my friend Gail asked if I could bake a half sheet cake for her daughter's going away party. The request was simple enough -- yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But I had never baked a cake that large before and I definitely didn't want to screw it up. So I turned to the authority on all things cake related: Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible.

Beranbuam has a section in The Cake Bible titled "Section for Professionals and Passionate Amateurs" that includes base recipes for different types of cakes that can be adapted to basically any size pan. It's not simply a matter of figuring out pan volume and multiplying the ingredients, because you have to make adjustments to the leavening ratio depending on cake size. Beranbaum explains this is because larger pans have less surface tension to support the rising cake, and baking powder weakens the cake's structure. This section of the book also tells you how to calculate how much frosting and sugar syrup you need for cakes of various sizes.

Even though the cookbook instructions are clear, I wanted to do a test run. Baking an entire extra two-layer half sheet cake seemed a bit excessive, but I thought that I would bake a single half sheet layer and see how it turned out. The cake recipe uses a two-stage mixing method. You combine all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl (sifted cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt); add softened butter and milk; and then gradually add a mixture of egg yolks, more milk, and vanilla. I poured the batter into a parchment-lined pan into which I had placed two heating core rods -- basically small-diameter solid metal rods attached to a disc that you can use to make sure the center of a large cake gets cooked through.  I baked the cake and it rose beautifully into an even layer with a tight crumb.

The following day when I baked the real cakes for Gail, I did everything the same (except for baking two cake layers instead of just a single layer test cake), and the cakes did not rise nearly as high. I don't know what happened -- although I did taste the cake trimmings and the cakes tasted just fine.

To frost the cake, I used Beranbaum's recipe for chocolate mousseline. I had thought about using her neoclassic buttercream recipe, but I had already used 24 egg yolks for the three cake layers I had baked, so I had a lot of extra egg whites on hand -- and the mousseline recipe uses 12 egg whites. By contrast, the neoclassic buttercream requires an additional 12 egg yolks. Beranbaum describes her mousseline as "thrilling to prepare because it starts up looking thin and lumpy and, about three quarters of the way through, starts to emulsify into a luxurious cream."
I made the mousseline recipe as written to accompany a three-tier cake to serve 150, because I wanted to have enough frosting to fill and cover Gail's cake, as well as the test layer I had baked. You heat sugar and water to 248 degrees and then gradually add the hot sugar syrup into a mixture of egg whites that have been beaten with cream of tartar to stiff peaks. Then you beat in five (!) cups of softened butter a little at a time, followed up a cup of liqueur (I used Frangelico). The alcohol doesn't make the frosting boozy, but helps cut through the buttery-ness of the frosting. Finally, I beat in melted and cooled bittersweet chocolate. The resulting mousseline was the color of chocolate milk and smooth as silk.
Because I didn't want the cakes to be dry, I brushed the cake layers with a sugar syrup made with Amaretto (at that point I had run out of Frangelico, or I would have used more of the same) before frosting them. I had plenty of frosting for the two-layer half sheet cake I made for Gail, as well a a two-layer 9-inch square cake that I assembled from the test cake. The mousseline was ultrasoft and creamy but held sharp lines from piped decorations.

I don't have a photo of the finished cake I made for Gail, but the cake in the two photos above is the 9-inch square cake that I ended up taking to our friend Jim's house, after he invited us over to watch an NFL playoff game (I married into a cheesehead family, so we root for the Packers). The cake sliced beautifully. It tasted good, but it wasn't the most flavorful cake. For me, the frosting was the more impressive component. When it comes to yellow cake with chocolate frosting, I have yet to find one that surpasses Joanne Chang's recipe from Flour. But I absolutely consider this cake a success. I'm so appreciative of Beranbaum's meticulous research and precise approach to baking that is so clearly laid out in The Cake Bible. I wouldn't hesitate to go back to her recipes for another large format cake. Making a big cake is no small feat.

Recipes: "Base Formula for Yellow Butter Cake," "Base Formula for 1 Cup Syrup," and "Mousseline Buttercream for a 3-Tier Cake to Serve 150 (chocolate variation)" from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Previous Post: "Liam Turns Three: Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting," August 9, 2012.


The Chocolate mousseline is the most attractive thing in the cake! I would like to cook it as soon as I have time!