The Perfect Birthday Cake

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Cakes / Chocolate


Within the month of October, I celebrate six (yes, SIX) family and friends birthdays.  That’s a birthday every 5 days!  So, with birthdays comes great baking responsibilities.  I mean, once everyone learns you have a baking blog the stakes become unimaginably high.  You’re not only making a cake, oh no my friends, you are making a birthday cake.  So, in an ode to all of those family and friends whom I was not able to bake said cake for them to enjoy, for your consideration I give you the most perfect of birthday cakes.  Because sometimes simple – yellow cake, chocolate icing – can be just as spectacular.


While growing up, our birthday cakes mainly consisted of Duncan Heinz box mix cakes and tubs of frosting (ain’t no shame in that) and I was inspired to take what was one of my favorite parts of the birthdays of my youth and turn it into something I deemed worthy to serve to my fam.  This is honestly the last yellow cake recipe I think you’re ever going to need, with a chocolate frosting nowhere near the sickly sweet stuff I ate out of those tubes and a top that just begs for you to add as many sprinkles on top as your little heart desires.

So happy birthday to all my friends and family near and far this October.  This one’s for you.

*recipe from Smitten Kitchen


For the Cake:
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 to 530 grams due to variance between brands) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

For the Chocolate Frosting
15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate)
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature (be sure this is truly room temp, it’s an important step to ensure your chocolate doesn’t seize)
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


For the Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla.
  4. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  5. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
  6. Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
  7. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.)
  8. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
  9. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the Chocolate Frosting

  1. Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted.) Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid.
  2. Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.
  3. Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.

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