The Big White Cake has been a tradition at Southern Living since 1995. Each year, our readers (as well as the staff) eagerly anticipate the December issue, anxious to bake and enjoy this show-stopping dessert. This year’s fabulous cake really raises the bar; not only is it incredibly delicious, but the eye-catching Cake Ball Ornaments make it almost too pretty to eat. Cake flour, egg whites, and a generous amount of vanilla extract make these layers light, tender, and aromatic. Save time by baking the cake layers in advance; freeze them until you are ready to assemble the cake. We’ve topped this year’s white cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream. You can easily manipulate the frosting into fun petals (shown here) or a more traditional smooth finish. Don’t forget the show-stopping Cake Ball Ornaments when finally displaying your cake.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat sugar and butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add egg whites, one-third at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour batter into 3 greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round cake pans.
Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 19 to 21 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Beat cream cheese and salted butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, whole milk, vanilla extract, and salt, and beat until smooth. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy.
Spread Cream Cheese Buttercream between layers and on top and sides of cake. To Pipe Frosting Petals: Spoon the frosting into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Pipe a column of 5 (1-inch) dots of frosting down the side of the frosted cake. (The dots should touch.) Place a 1-inch-wide spatula on the center of the first dot. Drag frosting outward, making a petal-like shape. Repeat with remaining 4 dots, wiping spatula clean after each use. Pipe a second column of dots on top of the swiped edges, and drag the frosting outward. Repeat, covering the entire cake, ending with 1 column of dots.