This is a magical 'proposal-inducing' custard cake it seems. I posted a video of Chris trying a slice of it on my instagram last week and the next morning - boom! An engagement ring.
Clearly it was the cake.
Who can blame him? Ridiculously soft and fluffy vanilla sponge layered with creamy custard buttercream and a pool of rich creme patissiere in the middle!
I originally made a version of this for my friend Heather's birthday the week before, but I had an absolute disaster baking day - the kind where everything that can go wrong will. I ended up making everything twice and the end result was still lackluster at best! So the following week I decided I was going to break down and analyze every single step of the recipe until it was PERFECT. I switched to a reverse creaming method to make the sponge extra light and fluffy, and I changed the frosting recipe to make it even more custardy. I think the birthday girl was pleased with her second cake for sure! And clearly so was Chris...
What is the Reverse Creaming Method?
The reverse creaming method basically takes everything you know about mixing cake ingredients together and flips it on its head! The result is a beautifully tender crumb which just succumbs to your fork as you go to take a bite. I knew I needed this cake to be soft as clouds so that you could really appreciate the texture of the custard inside it.
Reverse creaming involves mixing together your dry ingredients first, then slowly adding the butter into them to coat the flour in butter - this stops the gluten from forming which makes the end result beautifully soft. Then you add the wet ingredients and beat the mixture to develop a little gluten - just enough so the cake slices will have some structure! It's a totally different approach to baking but it absolutely gives the desired result!
What makes this Custard Cake Custardy?
There are three main components to this custard cake: the vanilla sponge, the creme patissiere filling and the custard buttercream.
Vanilla Cake - Firstly, the sponge is flavoured with vanilla - which many people mistake as being a 'plain' flavour - but it's not! Vanilla is actually an exotic and complicated flavour profile and is the foundation for a really good custard.
Creme Patissiere - Creme patissiere or pastry cream is basically custard. But it's made properly, not out of the custard powder you can buy in a can. It is the foundation for many french pastries and can be used to fill tarts, pastries and desserts. I also use it in my Strawberry Custard Tarts, and those are ALWAYS a huge hit!
Custard Buttercream - Custard Buttercream or German Buttercream is mostly comprised of whipped butter and custard. It's a traditional frosting for many German goodies and makes for a frosting which is sweet, creamy and silky. I highly recommend it for any custard lovers (like Heather!)
Best Ingredients for Custard Cake
While this recipe has a fairly traditional ingredients list, there are a few things to note when picking up what you need at the grocery store.
Cake Flour - The reverse creaming method works best with cake flour. That's not to say the recipe won't work with standard flour, but cake flour will result in a softer and fluffier crumb. This is because cake flour contains less protein and therefore creates a different texture when incorporated into the cake.
Whole Milk - For your custard you absolutely have to use Whole Milk. Milk is really the foundation of the whole custard and if you don't use a full fat milk you will not get that gorgeous, thick, creamy texture that makes custard custard. And you really can't have a custard cake with mediocre custard!
Vanilla - There are many recipes I post where any old vanilla extract will do, but with this custard cake the quality of the vanilla will really shine through. Get the best possible vanilla you can find, or better yet, pick up some vanilla bean pods if you can find them. A good quality vanilla will really make every component of this recipe shine.
Butter - I often use salted butter in my recipes as I like the extra kick of salt, but this is one of the few recipes where I recommend you always use unsalted. As we use butter as the base for the frosting and it's also in the creme patissiere and the cake, the salt in salted butter will really add up and can throw off you vanilla flavour. Stick with unsalted for this custard cake.
It's worth noting that as always it is crucial that your 'cold ingredients' (i.e. butter, milk, eggs) are brought to room temperature before starting this bake. There are a number of components that could curdle or go wrong easily, so make it easier on yourself and keep everything at the same temperature!
Assembling Your Custard Cake
Make sure you make the Creme Patissiere ahead of time to allow it to set. You can do it as little as two hours beforehand, but I find it is best after 24 hours to rest - this really helps to develop the vanilla flavour. Before you make the frosting, take the custard out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature - this will stop your custard buttercream from seizing.
Once your cakes are baked and cooled, level them off and cut them in half (if you want to have four thinner layers instead of two thick ones). Spread a generous amount of custard buttercream in between each layer as you stack them. In the very middle layer, I piped a ring of buttercream around the outside of the cake and then filled in a pool of custard in the middle. I then frosted the underside of the next layer with more buttercream before placing it on top - this stops the cake from sliding around on the custard. You could put custard in between every layer if you wanted to - but I found this gave a nice differentiation between the custard and the custard buttercream.
Once assembled, I crumb coated with custard buttercream and chilled for 15 minutes before putting on my final layer of frosting. I piped swirls around the top of the cake in a circle, being sure not to leave any gaps, and then I poured another pool of custard on top of the cake inside the ring of swirls. I finished it off with some chocolate curls and voila! The most custardy custard cake you ever did eat!
Vanilla Custard Cake
- Stand Mixer
For the Vanilla Cake
- 1.25 cup Whole Milk 295g
- ⅓ cup Vegetable Oil 72g
- 3 Eggs
- 2.5 cups Cake Flour 312g
- 1 ¾ cups White Sugar 350g
- 1.5 tablespoon Baking Powder
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- 2 sticks Butter 227g
For the Custard Buttercream
- 2 batches Creme Patissiere (vanilla pastry cream) double this recipe
- 2 cups Unsalted Butter
- ⅓ cup Icing Sugar
- 2 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- Make the pastry cream 2 - 24 hours ahead of time, make double of this recipe. *See Notes*
Make the Vanilla Cake
- Let butter, milk and eggs come to room temperature before beginning
- Preheat oven to 335°F/170°C and grease your cake pans
- Split the milk into two containers, one with ½ cup of milk (118g) and one with ¾ cup of milk (177g)1.25 cup Whole Milk
- Mix the ½ cup of milk with the vegetable oil and set aside⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
- Mix the remaining milk with the eggs and vanilla. Whisk together lightly and set aside3 Eggs, 1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of your mixer and turn on low with your paddle attachment2.5 cups Cake Flour, 1 ¾ cups White Sugar, 1.5 tablespoon Baking Powder, ½ teaspoon Salt
- Slowly add the butter, one small chunk at a time. Once it's all in it should look kind of like chunky breadcrumbs2 sticks Butter
- Add the milk/oil mixture and slowly turn your mixer up to a medium speed. Beat for exactly two minutes
- Scrape the sides of your bowl to make sure there are no lumps, then turn the. mixer back on low
- Add the milk/egg mixture slowly and mix on low until just combined
- Divide into cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes - check to see if a toothpick comes out clean before removing from the oven
Make the Custard Buttercream
- Before you start, split the two batches of pastry cream in half and let one come to room temperature - so you should have one batch in the fridge and one batch on the counter. At the same time, bring your butter to room temperature
- Once it's at room temperature, you can start making the frosting. Place all the butter in your stand mixer and beat with a whisk attachment on high until pale and fluffy (about three minutes)2 cups Unsalted Butter
- Add the pastry cream one tablespoon at a time until it is all added2 batches Creme Patissiere (vanilla pastry cream)
- Add the vanilla and mix in1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
- At this stage, taste test the buttercream to see how much sweetness you would like to add. Add the icing sugar a little at a time, whipping after every addition, until the desired sweetness is reached⅓ cup Icing Sugar
- The custard buttercream should be lovely and silky smooth - if it curdles it's usually just a sign that the ingredients were not the same temperature. If this happens, just take the bowl and very gently heat the bottom of it over a bain marie and whisk until it comes together again (shouldn't take long), then return to the stand mixer and it should be beautifully silky again!
Assemble the Cake
- Once completely cooled, cut each of the cakes in half so you should have four thing cake layers. I use this cake leveler, but you can also use a serrated knife
- Start building your layers, first with cake, then a layer of custard buttercream, smoothing it out as you go. Add your second layer of cake on top and put on a slightly thinner layer of custard buttercream
- On top of the thinner layer of custard buttercream, pipe a border of buttercream around the outside of the middle layer, and fill the middle with a pool of the cold custard you reserved in the fridge. Add the next layer of cake on top
- Add another generous layer of buttercream, followed by your final layer and then decorate the cake however you like!
- To get your cake looking just like mine, smooth the buttercream all over, then pipe some buttercream rosettes around the outside of the top of the cake, then use leftover custard to make another pool of custard on the top (like the middle layer)
I'm going to make this this weekend! I'm assuming two 9inch cake pans?
Yay! I hope you love it! Yes two 9 inch pans will work great, or deep 8 inches will work too but add 10 mins to the baking time. Let me know how it turns out - happy baking! 🙂
When making the buttercream frosting you state underneath to start adding pastry cream by the spoonfuls, but down below it says 2 batches. I thought the frosting had 1 batch and the second batch was the one in the fridge for the filling ? Is it me, or is this an error ?
Thank you for your message. No that's correct! The first instruction in the 'buttercream' section is to take the two batches and put one in the fridge (to use for the filling) and keep one on the counter to come to room temperature to use for the frosting. The batch on the counter is the one you add in spoonfuls to the buttercream. Hope that clears it up! 🙂
Cynthia Caldwell Flacco
Would this filling work if cake is made 2-3 days ahead and refrigerated?
This cake looks delicious! Could I I make it in to a half slab cake?
This seem to be a little extra trouble to me
I’ve been scouring the internet for a vanilla cake recipe that isn’t boring and I think I struck gold when I found you and this recipe!!! I have a question about the pastry crème….The cake requires two batches so can I double the recipe and make it once or does it turn out better if I make it twice??
I’m making it for my nephew who only likes vanilla cake. I don’t think he will appreciate the work involved in this recipe but I know the adults will love it. Wish me luck!!!
(I’ll return to rate & let you know how it turns out!)
Hi Sharon, thank you for your lovely comments! Yes, absolutely you can just double all the ingredients and just follow the recipe as normal. Really hope you and your nephew enjoy the cake! Please do let me know how it turns out! Happy baking!
Jules, it was a labor of love and well worth the effort!! It is the most delicious vanilla cake. My husband, who is all about chocolate and not particularly fond of cake, said it was amazing. He loved the density of the cake, the not overly sweet frosting, and the added surprise of pastry cream. I feel I may have let the butter get a bit to warm for the buttercream frosting. Presentation wasn’t up to my standards but to my guests who make cakes from a box it was amazing. Lol. I look forward to making it again with greater confidence! Now on to one of your chocolate recipes 😉
HI Sharon, thank you so much for letting me know how it turned out - I'm so happy to hear you and your husband enjoyed the cake! It helps to make sure the butter is well beaten before adding the custard. For absolute best results I always say to take the butter out of the fridge about an hour before you need to use it. Hope this helps!
Does this need stored in the fridge? And is this a white buttercream or off white?
HI Christie, Normally I would say not to store cake in the fridge, but for this one it's definitely necessary because of the custard. And yes the buttercream is a creamy off white colour because of the custard and butter in it 🙂
You need to do more than grease the pans....mine stuck!
You should grease, put in parchment, grease again and flour...then you might get the cake to release from the pans.
Disaster.....now I have to see what I can piece together.
My cakes didn't stick at all and came out perfectly with a simple greasing of the pans. I hope you were able to make your cake work.
I am planning on making your lovely cake for my daughter’s birthday party on the weekend and have a question about the frosting. I have to take the cake out of the fridge to come to room temperature before I can put some edible wafers on it, do you think the frosting will hold if it is out of the fridge for a few hours? Thank you!
Yes the cake will hold out of the fridge. As long as the frosting has been whipped enough it should hould nice and firm. I hope your daughter has a wonderful birthday party! Let me know how the cake turns out :). Happy baking!
What do I do if I want custard in the middle layer of two cakes, but want to frost the rest. Would I have enough frosting if I just make one batch?
When you refer to 2 batches of custard, do you mean to double the recipe or divide the original in half to create 2 batches?
HI Kathy, Yes I mean make a double batch. One batch is to go into the frosting itself, and the other is to put in the middle and on top of the cake. If you don'rt want extra custard in the middle and on top you can just make a single batch for the frosting. TheI will update the recipe to make this more clear. Thank you!
Hey how much is 2 sticks of butter?
Hi Zaky, 2 sticks is 227g. If you click on the little toggle at the top of the recipe card it will swtich between showing you the measurements in cups to grams. Hope this helps!
I made a small trial batch of the cake and it was so awesome.
I am planning on making it for my daughter’s birthday but I’ll be covering it with fondant.
How long do you think it will stay fresh if covered with the fondant ?
And can I store it in the fridge once I’ve covered it with the fondant ?
Any suggestions as to how far in advance I can make and cover it ?
Hi Hayley, so glad you like the taste of the cake!
The cake will be at its best eaten within three days of making it. You could technically store it in the fridge but you might have some condensation or 'sweating' forming on the cake from the temperature change when you take it out again, and that might ruin your lovely decoration.
I would read some articles online about how to best prepare fondant cakes for going into the fridge to prevent this from happening.
Alternatively, you could make the cake 2 or 3 days in advance and then just fondant it on the day of the birthday, but that may not work with your schedule,.
However you do it, I hope it turns out beautifully and your daughter has a fantastic birthday!
This was one of the hardest recipes to follow. Too much information that didn’t flow together. I made the cake and it flopped. I saved the cake and will make into cake pops. The cake recipe it great, just not the icing part. It tasted good though.
Thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it. Would you mind sharing more detail about what was difficult to follow or what improvements could be made? That way i can update the recipe to help future bakers!
Hi I haven’t made the cake yet but I plan to real soon. I’m confused about the wording of icing sugar. Is that powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Thank you
Hi Narva, icing sugar is powdered sugar (or sometimes called confectioners sugar). Hope this helps and I hope you love the recipe. Happy baking! 🙂
Hi, is this recipe written for 8 inch pans, or 9 inch? Which do you think would be best? Also, if using vanilla beans for the cake and the creme patissiere, how much would you recommend for each recipe? Thank you!
I used 8 inch pans, but you could also make it in 9 inch pans, the layers will just be a little thinner.
If you're using vanilla pods, I'd recommend 1/2 a pod for the cake and 1 pod for each batch of custard (so that would be 2 pods in the custard if doing the double batch). I hope that makes sense?
I made this for my daughter's 6th birthday as she loves a good Vanilla pudding and she wanted a vanilla cake. I used an 8inch and 2 6 inch pans for the given recipe. It was a 2 tier castle cake. If only I could share the pic. It came our brilliant! She and her friends LOVED the cake and the pastry inside. I used normal plain flour. The cake was dense. Different from airy sponge cakes I made before. But went very well with the cream and custard. So a million thanks for this recipe
I will be making this cake this weekend. In reading steps 8 and 10 under Make the Vanilla Cake, it seems #8 and #10 are the same. Could you please clarify? Thank you,
There are two separate milk mixtures, one with oil and one with egg (see steps 4 and 5). Step 8 refers to the oil mixture and step 10 refers to the egg mixture. I hope that clears it up and I hope you love the cake! Happy baking! 🙂
Thanks so much for your quick reply! Now it makes perfect sense. I will make a note so I know which is which. I am making this cake with my 10-year old granddaughter who loves to bake. I think this recipe is a little more difficult than what we're used to, but we're both excited to take on the challenge. It should be fun!
It's definitely got a few more steps than a standard cake recipe, but it's well worth the extra effort! I hope you two have a wonderful time baking together and if you have any more questions just let me know! 🙂
I'd love to make this cake as a 6 inch version since I'm the only one who will eat it and it won't freeze. I'm not sure what size cake pans you are using here so I'll know how to adjust the recipe. Is it 10" or 9"? Thanks!
Hi Lee ,I’m so happy you’re going to try my custard cake!
I used 8 inch pans for the recipe. You could probably get away with halving the recipe for your 6 inch pans, or you could keep it the same and just have very tall layers! I hope you love the cake.
I've been scouring the comments looking to see if this cake can be made and frozen a week prior to the event. I'm creating 4 9" hearts to make a huge 4 leaf clover cake. I don't want to leave it to the last minute. I want to frost all the cakes and the stem piece, box, wrap in plastic, freeze, and then placement and decorating will be the day of the party. The finished cake will sit on a 24x28 board.
Ooh I love the idea of making it a 4 leaf clover cake!
I have never frozen this cake frosted before, but I know it's good if you bake the cake and freeze it and then you can also freeze the frosting and just let it come to room temp and whip it up again when you're ready to frost. I imagine it could work to frost it all and then freeze it, but I wouldn't want to guarantee it as I haven't tested it for myself before. Sorry I can't be more helpful, but I hope you love the cake!
Hi Rea, were you able to freeze the whole frosted and filled cake(s) in advance? How did it all turn out? I am hoping to serve a 3-tier heart-shaped version this weekend, but unsure how the custard filling will hold up inside w the whole cake frozen then thawed. Jules, if i try this, i will post results so other bakers hoping to "get 'er dun" can know too! Wish me luck!
Hi Shireen, definitely let me know how it turns out! Happy baking 🙂
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I'm making this cake for my husband's st. Patrick's Day birthday. My only confusion is that it says to put a pool of the cold custard that I reserved in the fridge for the middle and top, however my custard is solid and not a liquid that would pool and leak out of or off the cake at all. Did I do something wrong?
I made this cake for my birthday last month and I have to say it’s the best cake that I’ve ever made! I’ve used the reverse creaming method a lot but there’s something about this recipe that is just perfect. The cake was so soft and moist. The German buttercream (my first time making it) was absolutely delicious and my new favorite buttercream! Add to that the pastry cream? It’s the perfect cake! Thank you so much for this recipe!
Made this for a dinner party and it was a great success. The instructions for the custard were very helpful and I made the custard a second time to fill eclairs. Thanks so much!
Where is the recipe for the custard cream?
Hi Diana, the pastry cream recipe is linked in the recipe card, but here's a link to it too for quick reference: https://bonnibakery.com/creme-patissiere-vanilla-pastry-cream/
I really don't understand how other people had success with this cake. I have been baking for many years and have never had anything as remotely bad as this recipe. I don’t understand the need for doubling the custard recipe because there was so much excess custard and buttercream. The icing was absolutely horrible in my opinion and ruined the entire cake. This took up half of my day and I was making it for a birthday and ended up having to run to the store to buy cookies because there was absolutely no way I could serve this cake. I would not recommend wasting your time and all that precious butter. If you somehow still feel inclined to make this recipe after my review, do yourself a favour and DO NOT double the custard recipe! And DO NOT put any butter in the custard! The custard was actually very nice before adding in all that butter!
I'm really sorry to hear you had trouble with this recipe. The custard recipe is doubled so you can use one batch to make the custard buttercream, and the other batch to go in the middle and on top of the cake. You can absolutely feel free to skip this step if you don't want the extra custard in there! It is very common to add butter to the base crème pâtissière recipe here in Europe - this enriches the flavor and also makes it more stable for piping into things like eclairs and donuts. I'm not sure why this would have made your custard taste bad, as in my experience, butter makes everything better! Did you use salted butter perhaps?
European buttercreams like German Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream are definitely a very different flavor profile to what a lot of people are used to - they are a lot less sweet and more buttery. It can be an acquired taste but I think a lot of people, once they start using them, will never go back to classic American buttercream - myself included! I"m very sorry to hear you didn't like it, especially as this is one of the most popular recipes on this blog. I hope your next bake will turn out great and that you enjoyed the birthday celebrations anyway. Happy baking! 🙂
Hi. The cake is amazing. However I have to remake it because I didn’t know what size of pan to use UNTIL I read the comments. I highly recommend you add that to your recipe as it overflowed all over my oven. Yes, my bad, but it really would be nice to read size of pans before I baked. Cake IS delicious!