One Recipe Two Ways: Chocolate Loves Vanilla Cake or Cupcakes

My oldest son had a birthday recently, and he did something that made me utter an audible gasp of surprise. He asked for a vanilla cake with white chocolate frosting.

As in, he didn’t want a chocolate birthday cake.  Is that even legal?  Birthday cakes are supposed to be chocolate, right? Not only did Son #1 want a vanilla cake, he wanted his cake to be “super-vanilla-y.” Sigh.

Son #1 has always preferred vanilla over chocolate, white chocolate instead of dark chocolate.  I swear that if I didn’t watch him being born, I’d wonder if he were my son.  (I jest! I jest! )  He does have definite opinions about the flavor of things–he thinks that straight-up chocolate is “a little overwhelming to his palate.”  That’s a direct quote. I guess he’s a flavor connoisseur at the ripe old age of eleven.

So began my search for a compromise.  I remembered baking a great loaf of bread once from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook called Chocolate Loves Vanilla Bread: it was a marble loaf with half of it being chocolate, and half being vanilla. (Made killer french toast!) Genius.

A marble cake. Of course! I pitched the idea of marbled cupcakes to my boy, and he enthusiastically agreed.  I did a little research, and decided on the best way to make each flavor hold it’s own in the cake, and not blend into one amorphous taste. I used my favorite yellow cake recipe as a spring board, and then kicked it up a few notches with real vanilla beans, and melted unsweetened chocolate.

We love this Chocolate Loves Vanilla Cake so much, that I’ve made it twice since.  I sure hope you give it a try and love it too.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).

For the base cake, you’ll need: eggs, granulated sugar, cake flour,  salt, baking powder, vanilla extract, milk, and unsalted butter.

Whisk the cake flour, salt, and baking powder together in a medium sized bowl. I like using cake flour because it is much lighter than all-purpose flour, and it has a lower gluten content, which makes for a moist, light cake.  You can substitute all purpose flour, but it should be sifted after measuring.

Cream the butter and granulated sugar together, until it gets light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well to incorporate after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Alternate mixing in the dry ingredients with the milk by stirring one-third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, until combined.

Then pour in half of the milk, and mix that in until combined. Repeat by stirring in another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the milk, and finally the last of the flour mixture.  Stir well between each addition, and scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed.

Divide the batter evenly between two clean bowls…

…because now it’s time to add in the good stuff. The stuff that gives each part of the cake a distinct flavor: unsweetened baking chocolate, and a couple of vanilla beans.

Chop up the unsweetened chocolate, and put it in a microwave safe bowl.  I realize that the use of unsweetened chocolate may sound a bit odd, but there is a method to my madness. 1. The cake batter is sweet enough, so I didn’t think I needed to use a sweetened chocolate, and 2. I thought that unsweetened chocolate would give the cake a richer chocolate taste.

Heat the chocolate for 30 seconds in a microwave set to 60% power. Stir and continue heating in 30 second increments at 60% power, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Allow it to cool slightly.

While the chocolate is cooling off a bit, tend to the vanilla beans. To remove the inner “caviar” from the vanilla beans, hold one end, and use a sharp paring knife to slit it in half lengthwise.

Then take the tip of the paring knife and run it along the inside of the bean halves to scrap out the caviar.

I think they call it caviar due to its visual similarity to the fish-egg-variety of  caviar.  The vanilla caviar is fragrant with an intense vanilla flavor that you just can’t get from using extract alone.  Vanilla caviar = a very good thing.

These plump little vanilla beans yielded about a teaspoon of caviar.

Fold the vanilla caviar into half of the cake batter, stirring to separate the little bean flecks.

The bean flecks should be fairly uniform in their distribution throughout the batter.  Set the vanilla batter aside for a moment.

By now the melted unsweetened chocolate has had a chance to cool a bit. Pour it over the other bowl of batter–not the vanilla bean batter.

Fold in the melted chocolate until it is fully incorporated into the batter.

Since the melted chocolate is heavier than the cake batter that it was blended into, the chocolate batter needs a little extra leavening so that the chocolate doesn’t weigh down the batter during baking.  Stir in a wee amount of baking soda to fluff matters up a bit.

Now we are at the decision point of deciding between making cupcakes or a half-sheet cake. Cake or cupcakes?

Let’s start with cupcakes. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.  Use a large scoop to portion the batter. Fill the scoop half-full of vanilla batter, and drop it into each of the lined cups.

Once all of the the cups have been filled with half-scoops of vanilla batter, clean the scoop and move on to the chocolate.  Fill the scoop half-full of chocolate batter, and drop it on top of the vanilla batter.  Be careful to only fill the cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full with batter so that they don’t overflow when baking.

Run a butter knife through both batters in an “S” or “8” pattern to create a marbled effect.

Cool, huh?

Bake at 350 for 18 to 20 minutes, or until cupcakes are done.  This is what happens when you fill the cups 3/4 full instead of 2/3 full.

Tulip cupcake liners really save the day in over-fill situations such as these because they are taller than your standard cupcake liners, so the cake stays put.

Allow cupcakes to cool in their pans for 2 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, frost the cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

Now if you feeling less cupcakey, and more sheet cakey, we can get there from here. Or there, as the case may be.

Just back up to the point of completing the vanilla and chocolate batter halves.  Spray a half-sheet pan with baking spray, or grease and flour the pan.  Pour the vanilla batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it to the edges of the pan with a rubber spatula.

Grab the chocolate batter, and spoon a few long ribbons of it lengthwise over the vanilla batter.

Drag a butter knife through the batters at 2 inch intervals, alternating direction each time to make a pattern. Meaning drag the knife toward you first, then drag it away from you next, and repeat.

Neat-o, eh? I call this one “Birds in Flight.”  Son #2 called it “Whale Tails.”

Bake at 350 for 21 to 24 minutes, or until the cake is done.  Allow the cake to cool completely before slicing.  Now you could go ahead and do the customary practice of frosting the cake before serving, and it would be good. But I chose a different treatment for this cake.

Chocolate Loves Vanilla Cake |

A Strawberry Shortcake kind of treatment. And it was gooooood!

Here’s the printable:

Chocolate Loves Vanilla Cake

Makes 1 Half-Sheet Cake or 24 Cupcakes

For Cake Batter:

1 C. unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ C. granulated sugar

2 ¼ C. cake flour

1 tsp. salt

3 ½ tsp. baking powder

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ¼ C. milk

For Chocolate Half:

1 ½ oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

1/8 tsp. baking soda

For Vanilla Half:

Caviar from 2 whole vanilla beans

1 recipe White Chocolate Buttercream frosting or frosting of your choice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For cupcakes: line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. For a half-sheet cake: spray a half-sheet pan with baking spray, or grease and flour the pan. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until they have been well blended.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.
  5. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, stirring well to incorporate.
  6. Then, with the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour in ½ of the milk mixture, stirring until blended.  Scrape down sides of bowl, as needed.
  7. Repeat the additions by adding another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the rest of the milk, and ending with the last 1/3 of the flour mixture, stirring well between each addition.
  8. Divide the batter in half, and put into two separate bowls.


For the chocolate half:

  1. Using a microwave safe cup, melt the unsweetened baking chocolate by heating it in the microwave for 30 second increments at 60% power, stirring in between each increment, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Allow to cool slightly.
  2. Fold the melted chocolate into one of the bowls of cake batter, until well blended.
  3. Add 1/8 tsp. of baking soda to the chocolate batter, and stir to incorporate.  (The melted unsweetened chocolate will weigh the cake batter down, so adding a touch of baking soda for leavening will help to fluff it back up.)


For the vanilla half:

  1. Split two vanilla beans in half lengthwise with a sharp paring knife. Using the tip of the knife, scrape the caviar from inside the bean halves.
  2. Fold the vanilla bean caviar into the other half of the cake batter, until well blended.

For Cupcakes:

  1. Beginning with the vanilla batter, fill a large scoop half-full of vanilla batter, and drop it into all of the prepared muffin cups.  Dropping a half-scoop of the batter into each prepared cups should divide evenly amongst the cups.
  2. Clean the scoop.
  3. Then, fill the scoop half-full of chocolate batter, and drop it onto one of the cups of vanilla batter.
  4. Continue dropping half-scoops of chocolate batter onto the vanilla, until all of the cups are 2/3 of the way full.  Be careful not to over fill, or the cupcake batter will bake over the cupcake liners and onto the pan while baking.
  5. Use a butter knife and run it through both batters, to swirl an “S” shape into the top of each of the cupcakes.
  6. Bake cupcakes in the preheated 350 degree oven for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. A cake tester inserted in the centers should come out clean.
  7. Cool for 2 minutes in the pan, and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

For a Half-Sheet Cake:

  1. Pour the vanilla batter into a prepared half-sheet pan. Spread the batter evenly on the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula.
  2. Clean the spatula, and then scoop chocolate batter lengthwise across the vanilla batter, forming three long ribbons.  Run a butter knife and cut through the batter widthwise. Make subsequent cuts through the batter about 2 or 3 inches apart, alternating directions with each cut; creating a marbled effect.
  3. Bake cake in the preheated 350 degree oven for 20-24 minutes, or until cake is brown around the edges, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Cool completely on a wire rack.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar, or frost with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting before slicing to serve.  The sheet cake also makes an excellent “base” for strawberry shortcake.

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  1. says

    Did I time this visit right or what! Birthday Cake.
    Your son has excellent taste. This looks super yummy. I am grabbing that frosting recipe for sure. Birthday Cake is usually chocolate, so I understand the shock. Mine is a Lemon-Orange chiffon Cake. My absolute favorite ever. What is yours?
    I understand that the addition of fruit to any cake …. cancels out the calories. I’m sure it is true.
    Happy Birthday to Your Eldest!

  2. says

    Well, if you’ve got to throw vanilla into the birthday mix, this looks like a great way to do it! :) That white chocolate frosting sounds especially yummy. Happy birthday to your boy — and hope you’re having a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

  3. says

    My jaw literally dropped reading this. Every time you cook, I am Hardcore Impressed.

    And then you went and made your own legit marble cake.

    Somebody save me.

  4. says

    You are just too cool. Seriously. This, like everything you make, looks wonderful.

    We just went through the “I don’t think I want chocolate cake for my birthday” drama with one of our boys last summer. You handled the situation much more gracefully than I did!

  5. Carissa says

    Thank you for this wonderful reciepe!!! I made this on my birthday with the White Chocolate Buttercream frosting and it is by far one of the best cakes I have ever had! I added shaved White and Milk chocolate to the top for that little extra pizzazz and it was amazing!!! Thank you again!


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