KitchenTigress: Butter Cake

Butter Cake

slices of butter cake
When I was looking at butter cake recipes online, I was surprised to find people moaning about cracks in their cakes. That seemed rather odd to me because the butter cakes my mother bought when I was a kid all had a big crack on top. Isn't the ruptured top the signature of butter cakes?

After I baked my first butter cake with WendyinKK's recipe, I had to agree cracks are a no-no. Yup, the wretched cake ruptured even though Wendy's recipe wasn't supposed to.
slice of butter cake
As I looked at my cake, I realized something. The people moaning about cracks – now including me – were baking square or round cakes. The butter cakes my mother bought were all loaf cakes. Loaf cakes are supposed to have cracks; square/round ones aren't.

I should have taken the easy way out and just switched to a loaf pan. But, since I wasn't working on unimportant stuff like finding a cure for cancer or solving the world hunger problem, I thought I'd tackle the question most crucial to human civilization: how to bake a square/round butter cake without cracks.
slices of butter cake
🌹Why did my cake crack but Wendy's didn't? Because I didn't follow her recipe!

Wendy's was a 4-egg recipe, baked in an 8-inch square pan. I scaled it down to 3 eggs, and baked in a 6-inch square pan though it should have been 7 inches if adjusted proportionately. My batter was thus taller than Wendy's. The taller the batter is, the more it rises.

Besides the pan size, I also changed the amount of sugar in the recipe. I reduced the (scaled down) quantity by one-third, so the batter was less dense than Wendy's. The lighter the batter is, the more it rises.

When the batter rises a lot but the sides of the cake are brown and hard, it pushes through the middle and, if the top is also brown and hard, creates a "cakequake".
butter cake baking and puffed up in the oven
To prevent a "cakequake", I made two changes to my second butter cake.

First, I lowered the oven temperature to 160°C at the start of the baking session (Wendy used 170°C) so that the sides of the cake browned slower.

Second, I placed the cake in the bottom of the oven instead of the middle so that the top browned even slower than the sides.

The two changes made the batter cook more evenly, resulting in a cake that domed but didn't crack. When the batter was more or less set, I increased the temperature to 180°C to brown the cake properly.
butter cake in cake pan cooling down on a rack
What about the dome, which some people hate? It deflated nicely once the cake was removed from the oven, leaving the top flat, not round.

Wendy's recipe, which she got from her friend, Mrs Ng, makes an excellent cake that's very buttery and fluffy. Trust me, it's totally worth 25 calories. Yup, it's only 25 calories! Sounds incredible but, cross my heart and hope to die, it's absolutely true. It's merely 25 calories . . . I kid you not . . . per . . . er . . . mouthful.

Many thanks to Mrs Ng for her wonderful recipe, the cows that produced milk for the butter, the chickens that laid the three eggs, the wheat farmers, sugar cane farmers, sugar refiners, oven maker, cake pan maker . . . You all make my dream butter cake come true. Thank you.

How to make Mrs Ng SK's butter cake

Step-by-step guide

Mrs Ng SK's butter cake recipe is very famous, and deservedly so. It makes the most buttery and tender butter cake possible. The original recipe is perfect for me in every way except for one thing. I find it a bit too sweet. My adapted version uses less sugar. The original buttery goodness is unchanged after the adaptation, but adjustments to the baking temperature are necessary.

butter cake
(For one 15 x 15 cm cake)
  • 180 g salted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
  • 30 g caster sugar
  • 45 g egg yolks
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • 150 g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 45 ml full-fat fresh milk

  • 105 g egg whites
  • 70 g caster sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line bottom and sides of 15 x 15 x 5 cm cake pan with parchment paper.

  2. Cream butter and 30 g sugar till pale and fluffy, scraping sides and bottom of mixing bowl as necessary. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, plus vanilla extract with the last yolk. Beat thoroughly after each addition till whisk leaves distinct trail. Scrape down thoroughly.

  3. Re-sift 1/4 of sifted flour into butter mixture. Fold with spatula till just even. Re-sift another 1/4 into mixture. Again, fold till just even, scraping down as necessary to ensure even mixing. Add milk in 2 batches, folding till just fully absorbed after each addition. Re-sift and fold remaining half of flour into mixture in 2 batches as before.

  4. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk egg whites till thick. Continue whisking whilst gradually adding 70 g sugar, till egg whites form stiff peaks.

  5. Fold egg whites into flour mixture in 3 batches, scraping down as necessary to ensure even mixing.

  6. Bang mixing bowl against worktop 2-3 times to remove big air bubbles.
  7. butter cake batter in a cake pan
  8. Scrape batter into cake pan. Spread evenly and smooth top. Bang cake pan against worktop 2-3 times to remove gaps between batter and pan.

  9. Bake cake in bottom of oven till batter doesn't jiggle when shaken, about 35 minutes. Increase temperature to 180°C. Continue baking till inserted skewer comes out clean and cake is evenly golden brown, another 10 minutes or so.

  10. Remove cake from oven. Leave on wire rack to cool down. Cake may be unmoulded once dome has subsided and top has flattened.

  11. Leftovers may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped. Reheat in oven, wrapped in foil, till warmed through and fluffy soft.