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Anything But Basic Cake

four cakes plus cupcakes lined up in front of a white tile backdrop

This (anything but) basic cake recipe is the perfect recipe for beginners and seasoned bakers alike. In this post you’ll learn how to take this simple recipe and create almost any cake flavor your heart desires.

  • Author: The Simple, Sweet Life
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: One 6" Cake - 16 slices OR 24 cupcakes 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Whip the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes).
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (oil, milk, sour cream, vanilla).
  3. In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt).
  4. Add half of the dry ingredients to the egg/sugar mixture and mix on low until just incorporated.
  5. Add the wet ingredients, again mixing on low until just incorporated.
  6. Add the remaining dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  7. Pour the batter into prepared cake pans or cupcake pans.
  8. Bake at 350F for 16-18 minutes for cupcakes or 30-35 minutes for three 6″ cake pans.

Notes

Chocolate Cake

For this variation, add an extra 1/3 cup granulated sugar during step one (this will counteract the bitterness of the chocolate).

During step two, combine the milk and 2 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips and microwave for 50 seconds, or until you can stir the mixture smooth. Add the remaining wet ingredients but omit the vanilla extract and sour cream (the sour cream has approximately the same amount of fat as the chocolate, and we don’t want the cake to get too dense).

In step three, replace 3/4 cup of flour with 3/4 baking cocoa. Continue the rest of the recipe as instructed above.

A note about red velvet: Red velvet cakes are essentially a vanilla cake with a little chocolate and red food coloring. To make this cake as a red velvet cake, simply follow all the instructions and measurements for the vanilla cake, but substitute 2 tablespoons of flour for 2 tablespoons of baking cocoa and add a drop of red food coloring during step four.

Strawberry Cake

For this variation, we’re going to start with an extra step. Before doing anything else, puree 1 pound of strawberries, and combine them with 1/3 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook the strawberries, stirring occasionally, until all of liquid has cooked out and you’re left with about 2/3 cup puree. Allow to cool to room temperature before proceeding with the next steps.

During step one, reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3 cup (since we already added it to the strawberries).

In step two, add the strawberry puree to the wet ingredients along with 1 teaspoon of strawberry emulsion in place of the vanilla.

During step four, add a drop of pink food coloring if you want an extra burst of pink color.

A note on other fruit flavors and canned purees: The above process would work for most kinds of cakes flavored with fresh berries. Similarly, you could use the same amount of a canned puree, but you’d want to reduce the amount of milk to compensate for the added liquid in the puree (reduce milk to 2/3 cup).

Carrot Cake

Before doing anything else, grate/shred 1/2 pound of carrots (1-2 carrots depending on size).

During step one, replace 2/3 cup granulated sugar with brown sugar (this will give you equal parts granulated and brown sugar).

In step two, omit the sour cream (the shredded carrots are going to add a lot of weight and moisture to the cake, so you won’t need the sour cream) and reduce the vanilla to 1 teaspoon.

During step three, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cloves.

Lemon poppy seed

Begin by grating 1 heaping tablespoon of lemon zest and juicing two lemons for 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice.

In step two, reduce the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon, the milk by 1/3 cup, and add the lemon juice and zest to the wet ingredient mixture.

During step three, add 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds.

A note about making cakes with fruit juices: You can add any sort of fruit juice to this recipe, and can adjust the amount of fruit juice to suit your tastes. Just remember to adjust the amount of milk accordingly, and if you reduce the amount of milk you add by a significant amount, you should up the amount of sour cream by a tablespoon or two to compensate for the change in fat.

Flavoring a Cake With Extracts

Changing up your extracts can make for some really fun cake flavors. For the most part, you can substitute the vanilla extract in this basic cake recipe for any one of a number of extracts.

That said, some extracts, like peppermint, are naturally more potent. For these flavors, I’d recommend adding just 1 teaspoon for flavoring. The same would be true for emulsions, which are a more potent form of flavoring.

Fun fact: A funfetti cake is equal parts vanilla and almond extract. Simply add the flavoring during step two and fold the sprinkles in right before filling your pans with batter.

Coffee and Espresso Flavored Cakes

If you want to add a coffee flavor to your cakes, there are two ways to do it: Add strongly brewed coffee in place of part of the milk, or add a few teaspoons to tablespoons (depending on desired strength) of espresso powder to step two (adding the espresso powder to the wet ingredients will give it a change to dissolve and will keep it from ending up as clumps in your cake).

Nutrition

Keywords: cake recipes for beginners, basic cake recipe, how to make cake