Food

Here’s How To Make The Only Birthday Cake You’ll Ever Need

Which means yellow cake with chocolate frosting, obviously.

Lauren Zaser / Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

There comes a time in every person’s life when you need to produce a birthday cake. Here, we will give you everything you need to know about mixing, baking, and building the perfect one. (No, the perfect birthday cake does not come from a box.)

And yes, of COURSE we will give you the Funfetti variation.

These are the ingredients you’ll need for the cake:

Lauren Zaser/ Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

For the full recipe (and how-to video!), jump to the bottom of this post.

This is the only equipment you’ll need: a hand mixer, three 9-inch cake pans, and a good spatula.

 

If you have a stand mixer, of course that works too. I like the spatulas that are made from one piece of silicone — they’re super easy to clean (nothing can get stuck between the handle and the spatula), and can even be used to frost a cake. This company called “Chef’n” makes a really good one.

You’ll also need a whisk, mixing bowls, and measuring cups, but you probably already have those.

Before you start, do these three things:

1. Arrange the two racks in your oven so that one is in the top third of the oven and one is right in the middle: You’ll need both to bake all three layers.

2. Get all your ingredients together and measure them out. It will make the entire cake baking process go ~super smoothly~.

3. Make enough space in your fridge to hold a large cake. The bottom shelf is a good place.

1. Start by combining the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and whisking it all together.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

You don’t have to sift! Whisking will break up any clumps juuuuuuust fine.

2. In another bowl, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter.

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A note about your butter: It should be at room temperature. That means it is soft enough that when you press it, it dents easily.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

This will make your life SO much easier, as anyone who has tried to mix cold butter can tell you.

3. Using an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars on HIGH until the mixture gets all pale and fluffy. This will take about 4 minutes.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

It should be a very pale brown, with no visible lumps of brown sugar. So pale! So fluffy!

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

If you have any stubborn pieces of brown sugar lurking, crush them with a spatula, then keep beating.

4. Now add the eggs and egg yolks, ONE AT A TIME. Beat each egg or egg yolk into the mixture before adding the next one.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

If you add them all at once, you’ll end up with a giant gloopy mess on your hands.

5. Now, beat, beat, beat till everything is light, pale, and fluffy — about five minutes total. Don’t forget to periodically scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is being incorporated.

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Yeah, five minutes kind of seems like an eternity, but this step is super important. You’re beating air into the batter so that your cake will be light and delicate, not dense and spongey.

So you don’t exhaust your hand, a good thing to do is rotate the BOWL, not the mixer.

Alvin Zhou/Sarah Kobos / Via BuzzFeed

6. Now combine the buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

I like doing this in a measuring cup, since it’s easier to pour from.

OK, now you’re going to mix everything together — but you’re not going to dump everything in at once. You’re going to do it gradually, alternating between wet and dry ingredients. This prevents lumps ~and~ over-mixing.

It’s gonna go: dry/wet/dry/wet/dry.

7. With the mixer on low, mix in ⅓ of the flour mixture, followed by ½ the buttermilk mixture. The flour doesn’t have to be entirely mixed into the batter before adding the buttermilk, just get it going.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

Repeat this until everything is in the bowl.

Here’s what the batter should look like: creamy, fluffy, no lumps, totally smooth, and really, really delicious.

 

It’s important not to overmix the batter. When you overmix, you work the flour, which develops gluten. Gluten does two things: makes the cake rubbery, and gives it a domed shape. You don’t want either of those things.

Oh, and HERE’S a great trick: When you’re done with the beaters, put them in that bowl or measuring cup you already used. That makes for *super* easy clean-up/easy access for licking them.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

How civilized.

8. Spray three cake pans with nonstick spray (yes, even if they are already nonstick) and divide cake batter among them.

 

There is no need to break out the scale or measuring cups, just eyeball it. The batter should come a little more than halfway up the sides of the pan.

Smooth the tops. If one looks a little more full than others, it’s OK to take from one pan to give another some love.

 

9. Place the three cake pans in the oven: two pans on the top rack and one on the middle rack. Bake for 35–40 minutes.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

You aren’t using the lowest rack because if you put the cakes down there they will brown on the bottom before they bake all the way through. Not what you want.

About halfway through baking, rotate the cake from the middle rack to the top rack (and move one from the top to the middle). This way, they’ll all cook in the same amount of time.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

Equal oven love.

You’ll know the cakes are done when they turn a nice golden brown color and smell like heaven. You can also tell a lot by the way the cake feels. Press the center slightly — it should spring back, not sink in.

Alvin Zhou/Sarah Kobos / Via BuzzFeed

They’ll also begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Alvin Zhou / Via BuzzFeed

10. Now cool the cakes: The fastest (and best) way is to turn the them out onto a wire rack. The holes in the rack allow heat and steam to escape. That prevents moisture from building up and, duh, cools the cakes faster.

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If you *don’t* have a wire rack, that’s OK — just cool them in their pans on the counter. It will take longer, but it won’t ruin your cakes or anything. Whatever you do: Don’t put them in the fridge.

At any rate, let the layers cool completely while you make the frosting.

Now it’s time to make THE FROSTING! Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

Lauren Zaser / Alice Mongkongllite / Via BuzzFeed

11. Combine the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. (I just rinse out the bowl I made the cake batter in.) Beat this mixture on high until it’s really airy and turns almost pure white, about six minutes.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

12. Turn the mixer down to low and add melted chocolate (it should be pourable, but not hot) and beat that into the butter mixture. Turn the mixer back up to high and beat until it’s totally blended, about two minutes.

PLACEHOLDER

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

YES PLZ.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

Don’t forget to gratuitously drag your finger through it for sampling purposes. You know, to make sure it’s good. (It is.)

Lauren Zaser/Sarah Kobos / Via BuzzFeed

13. NOW IT’S TIME TO FROST. With the cakes still upside down on the rack, spread some frosting evenly over the first layer, then put another cake layer on top and frost that. Repeat with the last layer.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

Stacking and frosting the cakes upside down will give your cake a nice shape — avoiding the dreaded “domed top.”

14. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake. Don’t worry about making it pretty at this point, you just want to make sure there’s no naked cake peeking out. This is called the “crumb coat.” Think of it as your base coat.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

If you get cake crumbs in the frosting, it’s OK — this is just a base. Any imperfections will be covered up when you add the second coat of frosting later.

If you have an offset spatula, that is a good tool for frosting. If not, don’t stress — the spatula also works.

15. Place the cake, still on the rack, in the fridge. (Remember when I said to clear out space in the fridge?) Chill it for at least two hours. You can leave the remaining frosting out at room temperature.

It’s important to chill the cake so the frosting between the layers can set, making it easy to move around and cut. Chilling also makes that “crumb coat” of frosting firm, which will make the second coat go on ~silky smooth~.

16. Take the cake out of the fridge and frost it one more time. This time, use a butter knife or offset spatula and make it pretty.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

This is the outer layer of frosting, so make it count. It could be super smooth and sleek or wavy with swirls and swooshes. Your cake, your call.

At this point, you can chill the cake until you’re ready to decorate and serve it. It’ll last in the fridge about two days, lightly covered with plastic wrap.

17. Now comes the fun part: Decorate it however you want. Large sprinkles! Tiny sprinkles! Sprinkles all over! On the sides! On the top! No sprinkles at all! (JK)

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

18. If you’ve decorated the cake on the wire rack, use a long, flat spatula (like a fish spatula) to lift the cake and transfer it to a fancy cake stand or, you know, a plate.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

It’s OK to use a hand to support it. It’s kind of heavy.

If there are any frosting casualties in the process, just smooth them out.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

BOOM. Happy Birthday to all.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. Click HERE to find out how to turn this cake into funfetti with vanilla frosting. You know you want to.

Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

 
Lauren Zaser / Via BuzzFeed

Perfect Birthday Cake

By Alison Roman
Makes one 9-inch cake

Birthday Cake

For the Vanilla Cake:
Nonstick spray
4 cups all-purpose or cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ cups buttermilk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
½ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks

For the Chocolate Frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350° and position one rack in the top of the oven and one rack in the middle of the oven. Spray three 9-inch cake pans with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together; set aside. In a medium bowl (or a measuring cup), combine the buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar. Using an electric mixer on high, beat everything together until it’s super light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add in the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating in between additions. Beat the batter until it’s almost doubled in volume and very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Don’t forget to periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl.)

With the mixer on low, gently beat in one-third of the flour mixture. Before it’s fully combined, add in one-half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk until everything is well blended and no lumps remain.

Divide the cake batter among the three cake pans and place two pans on the top rack and one pan on the middle rack. Bake 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan on the middle rack up to the top rack halfway through baking, so they all get even oven love. You’ll know the cakes are done when they are golden brown, pulling away from the sides of the pan and the tops spring back ever so slightly when you press them.

Remove the cakes from the oven and invert them onto a wire baking rack to cool completely. (If you don’t have a wire rack, let them cool in the cake pans on the counter.)

For the frosting:

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and salt. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat until everything is fluffy and almost pure white, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the melted chocolate and blend. Increase the speed to high and beat until everything is combined and the frosting looks super fluffy and delicious like it came from a can (but it didn’t), about 2 minutes.

Once cakes are cooled, use an offset or regular spatula to spread frosting onto the first layer of cake, bottom-side up. (Layering the cake with the flat bottoms on top makes a cake with a neater shape; you can layer and frost the cakes on the wire rack or on a plate.) Repeat with remaining layers. Apply a thin layer of frosting all over the cake, making sure to cover the whole cake. This is called “the crumb coat,” and it’s just the base layer, so don’t worry about making it perfect. Chill the cake for 2 hours, but keep the frosting out at room temperature.

Remove the cake from the fridge and using either an offset spatula or a butter knife, give it another coat of frosting, doing whatever decorative patterns or swirls your heart desires. Super smooth, peaks and valleys, whatever you like! Your cake, your call.

Decorate with sprinkles however you please.

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