1 batter, 3 cake different layers.
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Recipe developer and now cookbook author Kathleen Royal Phillips has released her first baking cookbook entitled, Magic Cakes: Easy-Mix Batters That Transform into Amazing Layered Cakes!, named after the trendy, multi-layered, custard-based cakes on your Pinterest and Instagram feeds. The adorably petite cookbook mimics Phillips endearing personality with a snapshot of the Vanilla Magic Cake recipe on the cover; which Philip describes as, “the foundation from which all the recipes in [the] book were developed.” Once you master this base recipe, just like any other cake, you can adapt it to you favorite flavors with additions of nuts, dried fruit, sauces, glazes, and liqueurs.

I met Phillips in the Time Inc. Food Studios Test Kitchen—I was developing a few recipes as she worked on updating some southern-inspired dessert recipes like bourbon balls and Hello Dolly bars for the modern audience. We got to chatting and Phillips mentioned she recently completed a cookbook on magic cakes. I was immediately intrigued because I had never heard of a “magic cake”. Phillips explained that a magic cake is a dessert made from a thin milky batter that separates into three layers as it bakes. The bottom of the cake is a dense brownie texture, while the middle is a thick custardy layer, and the top acts as a light angel food cake layer. “The magic happens in the oven,” Phillips says. As the cake bakes, the layers separate naturally at a low temperature setting which “allows the starch in the flour to bind with the sugar and trap the moisture from the milk, then settle to the bottom forming the dense texture of the base.” The magic to this cake is really in the science.

The cake batter is comprised of eggs, granulated sugar, salted butter, all-purpose flour, whole milk, and cream of tartar. There is no addition of baking soda or baking powder, which would otherwise act as a leavening agent. Instead, the egg whites are beaten to incorporate air into the batter, which helps form the top airy layer. Though you only need ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar, it’s not an ingredient to overlook. It holds a mighty role in stabilizing the egg whites to allow them to form high, stiff peaks. The yolks help create the thick custard in the middle layer and prevents the bottom layer from drying out. Phillips also stressed that it’s important to make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. This will help ensure that everything blends well together.

Once the cake is in the oven, it’s important not to overcook it or the middle custard layer will disappear. Unlike other cakes, when you take this one out of the oven, you want it to have a little jiggle to it. The jiggle will help you determine its doneness.

Check out Phillips books to find recipes for Coconut Cream Magic Cake, Magic Sticky Toffee Puddings, and Salted Dark Chocolate Magic Cake in her new cookbook available in bookstores and online retailers.