There was a period of time, at least a few months and maybe even an entire year during the four years I spent at Falmouth High School, when I ate a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and drank a carton of chocolate milk every day at lunch. I wanted nothing to do with the daily offerings from the public-school lunch menu. In the 1980's, items such as the greasy Steak-umm with melted orange American cheese on a sesame seeded sub roll, made ahead and wrapped in foil and saucy/soggy meatball subs were teenage favorites. And let's not forget the square slice of pizza served every Friday that never delivered on taste although out of the three items, I thought it looked half way decent enough until the day one of my table mates placed a stack of flimsy paper napkins on top of his slice to absorb all the oil before he shoveled it down and got up to buy another. No, there would not be any school lunch purchases made by me for the entire four years of my high school "career".
However, there were some sugary sweet items that caught my attention while I was purchasing my daily dairy. I have an enormous sweet tooth. How could I resist those impossibly huge sheet cakes topped with inches of frosting and decorated with sprinkles? My friends may have gravitated toward the Peanut Butter Crunchie bars and the assorted shakes: chocolate, vanilla or coffee, depending on the day, but I didn't have time for such nonsense. Of course, if I happened to have packed some of Val's chocolate chip cookies, toffee bars or any other baked item from her arsenal, my eyes did not wander. No one, nowhere could ever compete with her homemade sweets. But, believe it or not, there were times when the cupboard at home was bare, her children having devoured every last sugary crumb. Instead, she sent me to school with a few dollars and told me to, "Buy dessert."
The chocolate sheet cake never did it for me. The chocolate wasn't chocolaty enough and the frosting tasted like whipped sugar air as I am sure that making a pure buttercream would have wrecked the public-school cafeteria budget. After sampling that cake once, I gave up on it and instead often chose a Peggy Lawton Brownie: super fudgy goodness packed into a dense 3"x3" pre-wrapped square.
Anything with chocolate has always been my go-to. I must have been convinced by my bestie, Jenny that the yellow cake layered with white frosting, adorned with yellow and orange sanding sugar was even worth a bite. That square slice perched on the flimsy white cardboard just big enough for an individual serving almost toppling over from its own weight? I don't know. And the name? Sunshine Cake. Seriously? Jenny ate a lot of junk food, but I trusted her judgement when it came to sweets. After all, she spent so much time at my house that she knew of the high standards established by Val in the baking department.
So, on one of the days when I did not have a home baked dessert and Sunshine Cake adorned the menu, I purchased a slice. And I can tell you that it was awesome. Two moist layers of soft yellow cake, fluffy white frosting, the top encrusted with bright yellow and orange sprinkles. I never looked at yellow cake with white frosting the same way, again.
Years later, in my quest to find a yellow scratch cake recipe that is moist and light, I have baked quite a few clunkers. Most them have been dense and dry. Not at all like my memories of the legendary, elusive 1980's Sunshine Cake. Whenever I come across a recipe that looks promising, I try it out but have been sorely disappointed. My family still eats the cake and enjoys it enough but to me, it's never been quite right. Not until now.
FOOD52 has excellent recipes, especially the nostalgic type. This one for "Yellowest Yellow Cake with Fudgy Chocolate Frosting" already looked promising to me considering the amount of fat and eggs listed in the ingredients. Don't freak out! Cake is supposed to be decadent and this one is so moist and delicious, you won't care about the indulgence.
(makes a 6"x 8.5" layer cake)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cubed
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (for yellow color)
3/4 cups canola oil
4 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12"x 17" half sheet pan (jelly roll pan) with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper. Sprinkle with flour and tap around to cover entire inside of pan. Toss any extra flour and set aside.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and turmeric in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and set to medium-low. Let that go until the butter is completely incorporated and the mixture is pale yellow. Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and mix well with a fork or whisk.
With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Stop after a few minutes to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and make sure the dry ingredients are not clumping. Mix until the batter is cohesive and smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out to edges. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the edges are golden and a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Allow cake to cool completely (at least a few hours) before frosting.Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and gently flip the cake onto a cutting board. Remove the parchment.
Measure 8.5" on the long side of the cake and cut a horizontal straight line to create 2 layers. Place one layer on cake plate and frost the top with half of the frosting (recipe below). Top with second layer and the rest of the frosting. Generously sprinkle cake with yellow and orange sanding sugar or yellow and orange sprinkles or all of the above to create a glorious Sunshine Cake! Keep covered and enjoy for up to 5 days, if it lasts that long.
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup Crisco
4 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
approx. 3 tablespoons milk, room temperature
Combine butter and Crisco until smooth in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Slowly, add 3 cups sugar, a cup at a time. Add salt and vanilla. Add 1-2 tablespoons milk. Slowly add the last cup of sugar. Combine until smooth. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add approximately 1 tablespoon more milk until desired consistency is reached. Use immediately.
*Wilton Sanding Sugar was used on the cake in the photograph