Vanilla Snack Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

This week’s Pantry Staple Sweets column recipe, for Feast Magazine, is a Vanilla Snack Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream. I debated about whether to create a celebratory-style cake for this weekend’s column. We’re all collectively suffering and grieving right now. Affected in various different ways by this global pandemic and it made me pause when considering sharing something that normally would be considered “happy.” It finally occurred to me that birthdays, anniversaries, or any other celebratory occasions are still going on each day. People still need to experience joy. It’s the small moments of happiness that can help pull us through the daily struggle of uncertainty. With that realization, it felt like an opportunity to share something that could bring a little happiness into our lives. So, I bring you cake. Not a celebration cake (although it could be), but an everyday cake. The versatile snack cake.

A snack cake is a small single layer cake that’s meant to be enjoyed for no special reason at all. It’s an everyday treat that you can cut a slice from for dessert or bite into mid-day when craving something sweet. This vanilla snack cake is frosted with a silky vanilla bean Swiss buttercream for a classic vanilla experience. If you’re not in the mood for an all vanilla experience, I’ve shared a few buttercream variations in the Helpful Tips For This Recipe section below. Have fun making this cake your own by swapping out flavors or even try the Vanilla Bean Buttercream with my Chocolate Snack Cake. Whether it’s for a weekday or an actual celebration this tender snack cake will rise to the occasion. My hope is that it will bring you joy.

Helpful Tips For This Recipe

*A kitchen thermometer is required when making the Swiss Buttercream. This will ensure that the egg whites and sugar are fully cooked and prevent an “eggy” flavor or grainy texture in the final buttercream.

*Temperature is very important for a silky-light buttercream. Try and use the buttercream at no less than 74F. Colder buttercream will be dense and greasy, so reheat the buttercream if necessary before decorating the cake (a tip on how to do this is in the recipe).

*If you’re interested in something other than classic vanilla frosting, try the following Swiss buttercream variations. Have fun swapping out flavors and creating your own version of this snack cake. Also, try any of these buttercream flavors with my Chocolate Snack Cake recipe here.

Chocolate Buttercream: Add 4-ounces of melted dark or milk chocolate (cooled to the touch before adding).

Cream Cheese Buttercream: Add 4-ounces of room temperature cream cheese.

*If needed, substitute the 8-by-8-inch cake pan with a 9-inch round cake pan for baking. If no vanilla bean is available for the buttercream, omit it and increase the vanilla extract to 1 ½ teaspoons.

Vanilla Snack Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Makes one 8-by-8-inch square cake

Vanilla Snack Cake

1 ½ cups (194g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons  baking powder
3/4 teaspoon  kosher salt
7 tablespoons (99g)  unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (205g)  sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons  vanilla extract
3/4 cup (198g)  whole milk
Sprinkles, for decorating

Preheat the oven to 350F (177C). Line an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with nonstick cooking oil spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. On low, add the egg and mix until combined and then add the vanilla. Stop and scrape down the bowl. On low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture, in thirds, allowing each addition to just combine before adding the next. Stop and scrap the sides and bottom of the bowl, then mix again for a few seconds to fully combine.

Transfer the batter into the prepared baking pan. Using an offset spatula, spread the batter evenly across the surface. Bake for 38 minutes, until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and set on rack to cool for 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan and set back on rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream.

To decorate, dollop a large mound of vanilla bean buttercream onto the cake and spread out evenly with an offset spatula (use as little or as much buttercream as desired). Make light “swooping” motions with the offset spatula, or the back of a spoon, to create swirls in the buttercream. Top with rainbow sprinkles or any edible decorations of your choice. Cut into nine squares and serve. Store leftover cake in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to five days. 

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

3  (111g) large egg whites
3/4 cup (170g)  sugar
1/2 teaspoon  kosher salt
2 ½ sticks (10-ounces / 287g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon  vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

Bring a saucepan filled with 1-inch of water to a simmer. Meanwhile, combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set bowl over the pan of simmering water (it should fit snugly onto the pan, but not touch the water) and whisk constantly until sugar has dissolved and mixture reaches 175F – 180F (79C – 82C) on a kitchen thermometer.

Attach bowl to mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, and whip on high-speed until glossy peaks form and mixture has cooled completely, about 8 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add soft butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating to incorporate fully after each addition. The buttercream may appear curdled during this process, but it will become smooth again once all the butter is added. Add in vanilla extract and scraped vanilla bean seeds. Stop and scrap down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then whip buttercream for an additional 5 minutes.

Troubleshooting: The final buttercream should be smooth and light. If the buttercream appears dense, remove 1-2 tablespoon sized portions and place in a small bowl to reheat in the microwave for 5 seconds (just until it begins to melt). Add this heated portion back to the buttercream bowl and whip until fully incorporated. This is a way to gently reheat the entire bowl of buttercream until it’s softened and easily spreadable. Alternately, if the buttercream is too soft simply place the entire bowl in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes (check and stir every 5 minutes) until it begins to firm slightly. Rewhip chilled buttercream until light and fluffy. Leftover buttercream can be stored, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in the freezer for 3 months.

Share your snack cakes with me on Instagram by tagging @now_forager!