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Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Look, cake is bad for you. If I want cake, I don’t want it made with egg whites and honey. I want CAKE. Buttery, chocolaty, fluffy, grin-inspiring cake.

A while ago I made a cake from someone’s blog. I think they made up the recipe. It was bad. What was worse was that I’d made it and brought it to serve at a birthday party where at least fifteen people tasted the badness. From now on, if I’m going to the trouble of making a homemade cake, I want to be dang sure it’s going to turn out ridiculous.

In my Creative Cooking class at work we did a whole cake unit (yes, a cake unit, and there’s a test at the end). I needed a no-fail yellow cake that high schoolers couldn’t screw up. It needed to prove to them that real cake is worth the hullabaloo and we can do better than the box. When you want to make sure something is going to work, use an America’s Test Kitchen recipe!

Vanilla cake with chocolate frosting seems to be the general favorite when it comes to “birthday cake” so this is the cake I make for my kids’ birthdays. I’m not big on decorating (making a scratch cake takes enough time, let alone decorating the dang thing) and I find that a “country” frosted cake, one that you KNOW is homemade, is always welcome.

Birthday Cake (Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Frosting)

Serves 16

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Makes 2 9 in. cake layers

2 1/2 c. cake flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

1 3/4 c. sugar, divided

1 c. buttermilk

3 tbsp. canola oil (or vegetable oil)

2 tsp. vanilla

6 egg yolks

3 egg whites

10 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled


20 tbsp. (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 c. powdered sugar

3/4 c. cocoa powder

pinch table salt

3/4 c. light corn sygrup

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/3 c. semisweet or milk chocolate chips, melted and cooled to room temperature (Melt chocolate in a glass bowl in microwave, stirring every 15 seconds)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 in. cake pans. Line the bottoms with waxed or parchment paper (trace the bottom of the pan onto the paper and then cut it out; it will fit perfectly).

2. Grease parchment/waxed paper, and then flour the paper and the sides of the pan.

3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/2 c. sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large mixing bowl. You should still have 1/4 sugar remaining. 

4. In another bowl or a large measuring cup, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks. Picture shows the melted butter off to the left. 

5. In a third bowl, beat egg whites until foamy with an electric mixer (about 30 seconds). While beating, add remaining 1/4 c. sugar gradually. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute. Mixture should still appear moist. Set aside.

6. With mixer running on low, add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few white streaks should remain). Add butter in a steady stream with mixer running on low speed.

7. Fold in egg whites by hand with a spatula.

8. Divide batter evenly between pans and lightly tap pans against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.

9. Bake on the center rack in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the edges pull away from the sides of the pan and the cake springs back when you touch the center.

10. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Flip pans onto wire rack and pull of parchment/waxed paper. Cool completely before frosting.

11. With a serrated knife, cut any tough sides or tops off of the cake (butter to absorb the frosting).

12. In a food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds.

14. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add corn syrup and vanilla. Process or mix until combined, 10 seconds.

15. Make sure chocolate is at room temperature. Add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately or held 3 hours at room temp.

16. Line a dinner or serving plate with strips of waxed paper. Lay first layer of cake on top.

17. Spread about 1/4 of frosting (or even less, using your judgement) on cake layer. Here is where you can add whatever you like.

18. Top with second layer. Spoon most of the frosting onto the top of the cake and spread, letting extra go over the edges. Spread sides of cake until even and smooth. The best tool to use is an offset spatula. You can use a butter knife or small rubber spatula, but if you will make a few cakes in your lifetime I’d go to BB&B and buy an offset spatula. 

19. Store cake at room temperature up to 24 hours.

2 thoughts on “Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting

  1. Best chocolate icing recipe ever!! I was enjoying a Magnolia cupcake (from NYC) for Valentine’s Day and I have to say, this icing is just as good, if not better, than theirs!! 🙂

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