Cakes in a Box
I bake cakes for you. Sometimes, I write.

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Paris, LA, and vanilla layer cake

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I’m going to Paris in September! It’ll be my first time, and I can hardly contain my excitement. I’ve been researching restaurants, and more importantly, patisseries, to visit, but it’s pretty overwhelming—Paris is e n o r m o u s. Holy. 

I’ve heard that bad croissants don’t exist there, but I’d like to put my best foot forward either way. I do this thing—because I am a control freak—where I find as many good restaurants as I can and map them out on Google Maps. See, this way, if I’m in the 11th arrondissement (I’m learning!) and I suddenly get hungry, I can just refer to my map. I did this for my recent trip to New York and I had just over 50 spots mapped up. I am serious about this shit.

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According to Google Maps, I have 58 places listed. Can’t knock me for not being thorough.

Anyway, I’m excited, but there’s still a lot I haven’t planned yet. So instead of planning, I decide to book another trip, exactly a month after I return to Vancouver from Paris. Oops! 

I’ll be going to LA for Camp Flog Gnaw in November. It’s a music festival that my boyfriend (let’s call him Mr. Cakes, for prosperity) and I have wanted to go to for a very long time. This year’s lineup, especially for two Kanye stans (more on this later), is an unmissable opportunity, so we YOLO’d it and got passes. Fiscally irresponsible? Probably. Good for mental health? I think. Lots of fun? I mean I sure as hell hope so.

Between Paris and LA, there’s going to be a lot of “research” for me to do. It’ll be hard work. Thinking about the gruelling days ahead of me, of eating copious amounts of baked goods, cakes and fresh bread, delectable desserts… it’s a lot. But you know what? I’m a good person. I’m going to take one for the team. I’m doing this for you.

Which is why it’s probably good to revisit a tried and true classic recipe: vanilla layer cake, because I’ll need keep myself grounded after trying some of the best desserts in the world; it’ll go right to my head. 

I’ve never really been a fan of anything vanilla, with McDonalds soft serve cones as a very strong exception. Especially when it comes to cake, it always seemed crazy to me that someone would choose vanilla over chocolate. Vanilla sheet cakes, those ones from the grocery store (a particularly popular choice by the decision makers of my youth), were always bland and mealy.

But this vanilla cake recipe that I swear by, adapted from The Alchemist, is fluffy, moist, and flavourful. What more could you ask for in a cake? A necessary bonus: it whips up so quickly.

Whisk together your choice of flavourless oil (canola is my go-to) and sugar in a large bowl until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, and make sure they’re room temperature. This is especially important when you’re adding them into a fat that can congeal all chunkily (what? It’s a word!). Throw in a healthy splash of vanilla.

Over this mixture (or in a separate bowl—but I am a firm believer of doing fewer dishes), sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and cornstarch. Slowly mix until almost combined, then add sour cream, half a cup at a time. Mix a little more, and it’s ready to bake. This recipe is pretty resilient to overmixing, but obviously don’t purposely overmix like a dummy. Pour the batter evenly into three prepared* 6″ pans (the recipe makes about six cups of batter, so two cups per cake pan), and bake for about 40 minutes at 350°F (preheat ahead of time, duh).

This vanilla cake is great. It’s the perfect amount of basic, where you can add anything to do it (lemon zest, fresh fruit, chocolate chips, sprinkles… the world is your oyster—or, vanilla cake I guess), and it’s one of my most popular flavours despite it being—yup, exactly—just vanilla. Basic isn’t always bad. Festive candles, mason jars, and Mean Girls are tight. But definitely not pumpkin spice anything or Taylor Swift. Absolutely not.

Vanilla Layer Cake 
Makes one three-layer 6″ cake

Ingredients
1 ¼ cups of oil
1 ¾ cups of sugar
4 eggs
1 tbsp of vanilla
2 ¼ cups of flour
½ cup of cornstarch
1 tbsp of baking powder
Salt
1 ½ cup of sour cream or Greek yogurt (full-fat or split!)

Method
1. Whisk together oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until pale in colour. Add vanilla. 
2. In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients.
3. Add dry ingredients and sour cream into wet ingredients, alternating between the two.
4. Bake in 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean (a tried and true method of testing cake doneness).

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You get a vanilla cake! You get a vanilla cake! You also get a vanilla cake!

Joyce Ng