This recipe for the Best Birthday Cake with moist and fluffy cake paired with rich and creamy milk chocolate buttercream is perfect for celebrating!
8 to 10 servings
Tessa's Recipe Rundown...
Taste: This cake just tastes like a celebration! Vanilla-scented yellow cake combined with perfectly sweet milk chocolate buttercream will have you wishing it was someone’s birthday everyday. Texture: The cake is light, moist, fluffy, and tender while the buttercream is ultra rich, smooth, and creamy. Ease: Easy! Just a bit messy and time consuming. anPros: A go-to birthday cake recipe. Cons: Lots and lots of butter. Would I make this again? Oh yes!
Let’s travel back in time to April 2009. I was graduating high school and looking nervously ahead at beginning college. I had no clue what I wanted to study or what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”
It was then that I started Handle the Heat on a whim.
I can’t believe how long it’s been since then. But most of all, I can’t believe how much that one decision has changed the course of my career and my life!
Thank you so much to everyone who has read, subscribed, followed, commented, and made my recipes over the years. I could’ve never dreamed all of this would be possible.
In fact, I recently found my journal from 2009. Here’s an except from an entry that made me both laugh out loud and feel awestruck with gratitude and appreciation for how far HTH has come since:
“I really want to get the ball rolling on my blog and my website idea. I think it could be really successful.”
Then there’s a list of “things to save money for” including
Domain & WordPress blog
I truly started with nothing. And I ended up getting a neon blue point and shoot digital camera for my birthday from my grandparents that I used to take the first pictures published here.
I used to look back at those first photos with embarrassment but now I have pride for how far things have come.
It’s so funny how things can work out a thousand times better than you could’ve ever expected or planned for. IF you keep an open mind about the possibilities and let the adventure take you where it wants to.
I mean, take a peek at what handletheheat.com looked like in 2009 and then in 2011. Since then I’ve gotten to publish a cookbook, go to culinary school, and turn my passion into a full time business that allows me to be financially independent. It’s pretty incredible.
If you’re hesitating to start something or take your life in a new direction I want to say one thing: JUST DO IT. Cliche as it sounds, starting is the hardest part and you never know what amazing things will happen once you do.
How to Make the BEST Birthday Cake
How do I make MOIST cake?
Be sure not to over-measure your flour which can lead to a dry or crumbly cake. I always use my digital kitchen scale to weigh flour, but if you don’t have one use the “spoon and level” method to measure with measuring cups. More on all that here in my Ultimate Guide to Measuring.
Also be sure not to overmix your cake. This can lead it to become rubbery and dense. At the final steps, mix JUST until combined.
Do I have to use whole milk?
Using whole milk will help to create a tender and moist cake as well. You can get away with using 2% if necessary, but don’t use skim milk. Whole milk really works best.
Baking the Cake
Keep a close eye on the cake as it bakes to avoid over baking it. Don’t use dark colored cake pans for this recipe. They tend to overcook and dry out the edges and bottom.
How do I prevent cake layers from sinking?
To prevent your cake from sinking in the center, be sure to do the following things:
Use an oven thermometer to ensure the accuracy of your oven. Cakes are delicate and need to be baked at the correct temperature. Bake only on the middle rack.
Don’t open your oven door while baking. If you must open, do so towards the end.
Bake the cake through completely without overbaking it. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. The tops should spring back with lightly pressed. A digital thermometer inserted into the center should be about 210°F.
Beat the butter and sugar very well to incorporate enough air to get a good leavening effect. Make sure the eggs are very well incorporated too. Scrape down the bowl and blade often. Once the flour is added, bake until just barely combined. Overmixing at this stage will result in sunken layers and a dense texture.
Can I use a 9-inch pan instead?
This recipe calls for 8-inch baking pans, which is what will work best. You can also use 9-inch if that’s what you have. Your cake layers will be thinner. Just shave about 5 minutes off the baking time.
This chocolate buttercream recipe is one of my all-time favorites. It’s unbelievably rich, creamy, luscious, smooth, and perfectly sweet. It complements the yellow cake perfectly! If you want more frosting to make decorations, double the recipe.
Why is there a raw egg yolk in this frosting?
The recipe contains a raw egg yolk, not unlike any recipe for homemade mayonnaise or Caesar salad dressing. The fat from the egg yolk not only lends richness and creaminess, it also helps to emulsify the buttercream to make it ultra smooth and silky with no extra work.
Simply make sure to use a very fresh quality egg. I like to use an egg from the farmer’s market.
If you feel too uncomfortable with this or if you plan to serve this cake to infants, the elderly, pregnant women, or someone with a compromised immune system, you can use a pasteurized shell egg or just leave the egg yolk out entirely. You will loose some richness and smoothness.
If you need help frosting and decorating a cake so it looks nice a pretty, check out my Easy Cake Decorating video in this post. The biggest tip I can give you is to freeze your cake layers before frosting so you can avoid crumbs or tears.
Wrap unfrosted cooled cake layers completely in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge (do not defrost at room temperature or you will end up with mushy cake).
The buttercream can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Let come to room temperature and re-whip in the stand mixer until light and fluffy again.
How do I store this cake?
Cover with a cake keeper and store at room temperature for up to 8 hours then refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
I need to serve this outside. How can I prevent it from melting?
Keep the cake refrigerated until your party starts or until you head to the park or outdoor location. This will allow the cake to come to room temperature gradually as it sits outside, but not get too warm that it begins to melt.
12tablespoons(170 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 3/4cups(350 grams) granulated sugar
2large eggs, at cool room temperature and separated
For the milk chocolate buttercream:
2sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1large very fresh egg yolk, at room temperature(*3)
1teaspoonpure vanilla extract
1 1/4cups(156 grams) powdered sugar,sifted
6ounces(170 grams) milk chocolate, melted and cooled
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter, flour, and line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment circles.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add two egg yolks and the vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until combined.
With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the whole milk, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing just until combined. Do not overmix.
In a separate clean bowl with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the 2 egg whites until they hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Gently fold into the cake batter. Do not overmix.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 20 minutes in pans before turning out onto a cooling rack. For easier frosting, freeze the cake layers until firm.
Make the buttercream:
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the powdered sugar then salt. Increase speed to medium and beat until smooth and creamy.
On low speed, add the melted cooled chocolate and mix until just combined. Don't whip! Fill and spread immediately on the frozen cake. Serve or let stand covered at room temperature for up to 8 hours.
Be sure to measure the flour correctly using a kitchen scale or spoon & level. Too much flour will make for a dry / dense cake. For best results, use bleached flour.
If you live at a high altitude, you'll likely need to reduce the baking powder by half or more.
Use a very fresh egg yolk. If worried about food safety, use a pasteurized shell egg or omit the egg yolk completely.
birthday cake, chocolate buttercream
If you make this recipe, be sure to snap a picture and share it on Instagram with #handletheheat so we can all see!
This post was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2019 with new photos, recipe improvements, and more tips. Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.
April 2021 Baking Challenge
This recipe was the April 2021 pick for our monthly baking challenge! Every month you can join the challenge by baking the recipe and snapping a photo for a chance to win prizes! Click here for full challenge details. Check out everyone’s cakes:
I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)