Best Birthday Cake

By Tessa Arias
  |  
April 16th, 2019
4.75 from 215 votes
4.75 from 215 votes

This recipe for the Best Birthday Cake with moist and fluffy cake paired with rich and creamy milk chocolate buttercream is perfect for celebrating!

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

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.

Birthday cake on platter with sprinkles on top

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

  • Camera
  • 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.

Birthday cake on platter with slice taken out

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.
  • Use ingredients at a cool room temperature.
  • Use fresh baking powder. If you live above 3,000 feet, you’ll likely need to reduce the baking powder.
  • 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.

Can I make cupcakes with this recipe?

Yes, this recipe will make about 18 standard cupcakes. Bake in lined cupcake pans for about 20 minutes. Check out my full guide on how to convert a cake recipe into cupcakes (and vice versa!).

The Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

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.

Can I use a different frosting recipe?

You can also use my Best American Chocolate Buttercream Recipe to frost this cake instead, which contains no raw eggs.

Help! I suck at decorating cakes.

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.

What sprinkles did you use in these photos?

We used Wilton Sprinkles in the “Rainbow Star Medley” design from Michael’s. If you can’t find those, check out Sweetapolita’s sprinkles here.

How can I make this cake ahead of time?

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.

Favorite Cake Tools:

Slice of birthday cake with a piece on a fork

More Happy Birthday Cake Recipes:

4.75 from 215 votes

How to make
Best Birthday Cake

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
This recipe for the Best Birthday Cake with moist and fluffy cake paired with rich and creamy milk chocolate buttercream is perfect for celebrating!

Ingredients

For the yellow cake:

  • 2 1/3 cups (296 grams) bleached all-purpose flour, measured correctly(*1)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder(*2)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at cool room temperature and separated
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk

For the milk chocolate buttercream:

  • 2 sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large very fresh egg yolk, at room temperature(*3)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups (156 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) milk chocolate, melted and cooled

Directions

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter, flour, and line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment circles.

  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  6. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

  1. 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.
  2. If you live at a high altitude, you'll likely need to reduce the baking powder by half or more.
  3. Use a very fresh egg yolk. If worried about food safety, use a pasteurized shell egg or omit the egg yolk completely.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: birthday cake, chocolate buttercream

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:

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

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!)

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Synthiya Elise — October 5, 2021 at 8:15 am

    I was really inspired by you. I love your recipes. I am trying to establish my carrier as a blogger.. Thank you for give me such a good inspiration.

  2. #
    Chelsey — June 18, 2021 at 12:34 am

    Love this recipe and have it many times. Is there a way to turn it into a chocolate yellow cake? Same texture created by this process but chocolate? Am looking for a fluffy chocolate cake recipe.

  3. #
    Michael Dwyer — June 2, 2021 at 7:24 pm

    I made this again as a cake (after doing cupcakes for the Challenge). It was a hit! And for my wife’s birthday, even. (I also supplied the ice cream – in your Frozen Mint Chocolate Chip Pie!)

    I substituted brown sugar for about a third of the sugar, and I added the leftover egg white from the buttercream, both of these to increase moisture due to altitude. Worked like a charm! And the slight flavor impact of the brown sugar was a subtle benefit.

    And the buttercream. I still say Tessa’s buttercream is to die for! It seems to get better with each serving!

    • #
      Tessa — June 3, 2021 at 10:27 am

      I just saw your pictures on IG, both of your desserts looked SO yummy! Happy to hear your substitution/addition due to altitude worked well!

  4. #
    chisom — May 28, 2021 at 12:44 am

    I love this recipe. reduced the sugar but it still came out fantastic. Thank you

    • #
      Tessa — May 28, 2021 at 10:04 am

      So happy you loved this cake!

  5. #
    Mae — April 30, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    The cake is so yummy and frosting so light and fluffy! Best birthday cake all right!

  6. #
    Pam R. — April 30, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    This recipe makes a beautiful and tasty cake. I used the Best Chocolate American Buttercream frosting which is the best chocolate frosting.

  7. #
    Linda Jean Baehr — April 30, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    I loved that this was the April challenge because this is my birthday month! The cake was superb, and it was fun to make! YUM!

    • #
      Tessa — May 4, 2021 at 12:50 pm

      So glad you were able to join in on the baking challenge! And happy belated birthday! 🙂

  8. #
    Jenny McKenzie — April 30, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    Second time making a cake from scratch and I really enjoyed this recipe. I made mini cakes using cookie cutters because I thought the cake came out a bit flat (I think I made a couple mistakes) but after cutting, it looked much better than I thought!
    Thank you for a fun treat and happy birthday!!

  9. #
    Olivia Ivey — April 30, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    Loved this vanilla cake recipe. I made this one and another vanilla cake to compare side by side and everyone liked this one better!

  10. #
    Ginger Anderson — April 30, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    Hardest thing is waiting for things to get to room temp!

  11. #
    Denise — April 30, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    I’m not usually a fan of yellow cake but this was a great recipe. Very moist and taste yummy!

  12. #
    Kimberly Dierker — April 30, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    This cake was so easy to make and delicious! I love the texture of the cake. The frosting is so yummy, its not sickeningly sweet like most recipes, which I don’t care for. I didn’t have enough to decorate, so will double if needed next time.. I will definitely make this again!

    • #
      Tessa — May 4, 2021 at 1:04 pm

      Glad to hear you enjoyed this cake 🙂

  13. #
    Regina D’Andrea — April 30, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    This was super easy to make and my toddler LOVED her birthday cake… Her slice was devoured in a blink of an eye. I will be using this recipe again and already passed it along to a family member!

    • #
      Tessa — May 4, 2021 at 9:35 am

      Awesome to hear, Regina! I’m so happy to hear this 🙂

  14. #
    Paulina — April 30, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    The fluffiest yellow cake I’ve ever made! I was a bit skeptical about the egg yolk in the frosting since I had not seen it done before but it is deeelicious. I can’t wait to make this cake again!

  15. #
    Courtney Turner — April 30, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    This cake was fluffy and delicious! I definitely plan on making it again!

  16. #
    Amelia — April 30, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Such a delicious cake! Nice and easy to make as well

  17. #
    Rita — April 30, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Most delicious birthday cake ever !! Made it for my birthday and I enjoyed it !

  18. #
    Jean Vitiello — April 30, 2021 at 11:56 am

    My sons favorite Cake! I love that it’s easy and has ingredients we have on hand.

  19. #
    Jen — April 30, 2021 at 9:56 am

    Such a joy to make and the cake and frosting turned out so good!

  20. #
    Tess — April 30, 2021 at 8:25 am

    One of the most deliciously rich cakes I’ve ever made!

    • #
      Tessa — April 30, 2021 at 9:28 am

      Wonderful, Tess!

  21. #
    Cassandra — April 30, 2021 at 6:52 am

    Delicious, easy cake. Comes together fast and the ingredients are pantry staples, so no extra trip to the store is a bonus!

  22. #
    Stephenie Carlson — April 30, 2021 at 4:53 am

    I loved how moist and fluffy this cake was. Yellow cake has always been a challenge for me, but no longer. The milk chocolate buttercream wasn’t my favorite. I look forward to trying the Best American Chocolate Buttercream next time.

  23. #
    Maddie Thompson-Lange — April 29, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    It was one of the best cake recipes I have made. I have only made like 3 cakes, but all of the recipes turned out amazing. My whole family enjoyed the recipe, and even though I didn’t add the egg yolk to the buttercream, it turned out great. I would leave more than five stars if it was possible. Thank you for the outstanding recipe, it was easy to follow even for me, as a beginner. I’m so excited to have found the recipe and plan on making again sometime.

    • #
      Tessa — April 30, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Thank you so much, Maddie, for your kind review! I’m so happy this recipe was easy to follow and was a hit with your family!!

  24. #
    K.C. Schwartz — April 29, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    This cake is sooooooo much better than the box!!!! It is so worth the extra work! Husband and toddler approved! Will be making this recipe again!!!

  25. #
    CANDACE MERKENS — April 29, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    It was good.

  26. #
    Kristyna Jelinkova — April 29, 2021 at 3:05 pm

    This cake was so much fun to make and in top of that it tasted delicious! Will definitely make it again sometime!

  27. #
    Celeste Adrianne Bennett — April 29, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    Cake was light, soft, and yummy. Frosting didn’t turn out how I wanted but was still good!

  28. #
    Aviv Asus — April 29, 2021 at 11:52 am

    The cake itself was amazing!! Not the biggest fan of the chocolate buttercream, but I also am not the biggest fan of chocolate cream
    Super moist and tasty!! Fun to make :))

  29. #
    Beck — April 29, 2021 at 11:50 am

    Wonderful recipe!! A little time consuming but well worth it !

  30. #
    Aviv Asus — April 29, 2021 at 11:50 am

    The cake itself was amazinggggg!! I was less a fan of the chocolate buttercream, but I’m also not big on chocolate.
    Super moist and tasty!! Fun to make :))

  31. #
    Andrea Mondal — April 29, 2021 at 11:35 am

    The cake is honestly so moist and fool proof! Also surprisingly the buttercream didn’t even taste like raw egg! Infact it was silky and super decadent!

  32. #
    Claire Sturm — April 29, 2021 at 3:14 am

    I realised I’d forgotten to fold in the egg whites right after I’d poured the dough into the cake pans… So I made kiss-shaped lemon meringues to decorate the cake! Despite that involuntary omission, the cake was delicious (perhaps denser than it should be), though a bit too crumbly for my personal taste. The star of the show was the buttercream though (meringues were a nice add-on). My kid requested this cake for his birthday in June! Thank you so much Tessa for sharing this awesome recipe!

  33. #
    Jessica Hung — April 28, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    This cake is so delicious. It isn’t overly sweet. It’s just right. The icing pairs with it perfectly. It’s really the best cake I’ve ever made.

  34. #
    BRIANNA NEWSOM — April 28, 2021 at 7:22 pm

    Love this recipe! So good and really easy to make! Frosting is my favorite!

  35. #
    BRIANNA NEWSOM — April 28, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    So good! Definitely my go to evertime!

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