When I was a kid, maybe 9, I had a cupcake company. (I know, I was way ahead of myself.) I took out a $20 loan from my mom, bought ingredients and labeled them, and made the One Egg Cake out of The Joy of Cooking, and turned the batter into cupcakes to sell to neighbours on our street. After my loan was paid back, I think I made $7. (Most of the profits were eaten up.)
I still have a soft spot (OK, many) for homemade cupcakes with straight-up buttercream frosting, applied in no particularly fancy order, just spread on with a knife. I think of the one-egg cake often, but have never revisited it – until late this afternoon, when I really really just needed some cake. And a short distraction from the computer. I stood and stared at the mixer beating butter, sugar, eggs, flour, milk – this is as basic a formula as they get – then poured the batter into tins, slid them into the oven and returned to the computer. No matter how gloomy a day you’re having, it’s brightened by the smell of vanilla cake baking in the middle of the afternoon.
Honestly, you don’t even need the frosting – these little cakes are so buttery and plain, I love them as is, without anything at all. They could carry berries for a cakey kind of muffin, and I’m sure you could easily make them chocolate, but the joy in these is that they are perfectly plain, even spread with the most basic of frostings. I didn’t include a recipe here because I never use one; my usual method is to dump about 1/3 cup of soft butter into the mixing bowl, beat in a cup or two of icing sugar and a splash of milk or cream (and in this case, a healthy pour of good vanilla), and beat, adding a little more sugar or cream, until it’s the consistency I want. I don’t know why I have never been able to bring myself to measure my frosting ingredients.
Of course this cake also makes layers – two, if you bake it divided between two 8 or 9-inch round pans. I’ve reduced the salt (from 1 tsp to 1/4 – plenty) and changed the technique from my current (1975) version of Joy, which calls for beating the butter and milk into the dry ingredients, to use a more common method of making cake batter (also the method I recall using as a child; it could have been a different version of the book) – beating the butter-sugar-egg, then alternating dry ingredients with milk.