Baking a cake from scratch is not much more difficult that using a cake mix. The only real difference is that when you make your own cake, you have to measure out and combine the ingredients yourself. This recipe makes a plain white vanilla-flavored cake. See the tips section for ways to customize it. The icing on top of the cake is optional. If this is your first cake, use a large sheet cake pan. You will not have to worry about icing and stacking any layers since the cake is served in a single layer, often straight out of the pan.
Make the white vanilla cake
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line the inside of the cake pan with the parchment paper. The parchment paper will prevent the cake from sticking to the inside of the cake pan and it will make removing the cake easier.
Sift the cake flour, salt, and nutmeg and the baking powder together into one of the smaller 2-qt. bowl. This can be done by putting these into the sifter, adding them into the colander held over the bowl and shaking the colander or pulsing them in a food processor to mix and sift.
Add the egg whites and 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar into the other 2-qt. bowl and use the mixer to beat on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes until they are stiff. Lift the beaters out of the egg whites and turn the beaters to point to the ceiling. You should see egg white drippings standing up in peaks on the ends of the beaters. This means that the egg whites have stiff peaks. Set the egg whites aside and clean off the beaters.
In the larger 3-qt. bowl, add the shortening and sugar, and beat on low speed until mixed. Turn the mixer to high and beat for 5 to 7 minutes until light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract and beat to incorporate it into the sugar and shortening mix.
Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture into the bowl while the mixer is running. Ensure that the flour has all been mixed in.
Add 1/4 cup of the milk into the mixing bowl with the mixer running on low speed. Mix until all of the milk has been combined with the other ingredients.
Repeat steps 6 and 7 above until all of the flour mixture and milk have been mixed into the cake mix.
Remove the beaters from the batter, and add a small amount (about 1/4) of the beaten egg whites to the batter. Use the spatula to fold this into the batter by putting the spatula under the batter at the bottom of the bowl and bringing it up over the egg whites.
Continue to fold in the remaining egg whites into the batter following the technique above. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a fork, skewer or knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely before turning the cake pan upside down to remove the cake and frost it.
Make the frosting
Place the shortening and 1 cup powdered sugar into the bowl.
Start the mixer on low speed to slowly combine the sugar and shortening.
Add another cup of powdered sugar once the first ingredients are combined.
Continue to beat the icing on low speed, slowly adding more sugar 1 cup at a time until all of the sugar has been mixed in.
Add the vanilla extract and 1 tbsp. of milk to the icing and turn the mixer to high and beat until light and fluffy. This will take about four minutes. Use the icing to cover the top and sides of the cake, spreading it with a spatula.
Cake flour is made from a flour with a lower protein (gluten) content. This makes the cake light and tender, if you cannot find cake flour, use all purpose flour; your cake will be slightly tougher in texture.
To make a yellow cake, use 3 whole eggs instead of 3 egg whites. The egg yolks make the cake yellow.
Substitute 1/4 cup flour with 1/3 cup cocoa powder for a chocolate cake.