There's a magical place back in my hometown of San Francisco. There's wine for two dollars, amazing pre-made salads, and scrumptious frozen foods. But the best thing Trader Joe's sells are the sweeties: rich, indulgent, massive bars of chocolate, salty-sweet mini peanut butter cups, and a boxed vanilla cake mix that's to die for.
Yup, I said it. A boxed mix that's to die for. It's fragrant and moist and vanilla-y without being too sweet, and it's one of the reasons I so rarely bake when I'm home– why tamper with something so delicious and easy?
Alas, there is no Trader Joe's here in England (seriously, WHY?), which means I'm stuck with expensive groceries, mediocre salads, and sub-par cake mixes. Sigh.
But do I sit around and mope? No (yes, sometimes). Instead, when I found myself craving TJ's vanilla cake last weekend, I decided to give it a go on my own.
I scanned a bunch of random recipes from the internet to get the proportions right, then I cut out the raising agents (because otherwise I'd never use my self-raising flour) and swapped the vanilla for vanilla beans, and cut the sugar a bit. And the result was actually pretty darned close!
This cake is moist but light, sweet but not too sweet, and with a subtly vanilla scent that hints of lazy days in hammocks with trashy novels (well, I did use Tahitian vanilla). The only thing I'd change is the intensity of the vanilla flavor; my pods were kind of dried out, and I suspect that's why it wasn't super intense. But it was a pretty good start, even if I do say so myself.
Vanilla Bean Cake:
Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Grease a 9x13 pan, or two 9-in round pans.
In a small bowl, combine and set aside:
1 c low fat milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream until fluffy:
3/4 c (170g) unsalted butter, softened
2 c sugar (I swapped out 1/4 c for vanilla sugar, but I realize not everyone has that lying around, although it's easy to make)
Add, one at a time:
Beat just until combined, then add milk/vanilla mixture (removing the pods first!), alternating with:
2 1/2 c self-rising flour
Pour into pan(s) and bake 30-40 minutes, until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan(s) 10 minutes, then remove and cool entirely.