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Classic Birthday Cake

Author: Charlotte Rutledge

Classic Birthday Cake Recipe

Birthdays: A time for singing, balloons, and (of course) cake. Some of us have a dedicated favorite, but perhaps no cake is more universally topped with candles than the classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

Despite its ubiquity in bakeries nationwide (and in mix form on grocery store shelves), great homemade versions of this chocolate-on-vanilla duo are somewhat elusive. But after months of testing, we think we've nailed it: golden-hued, moist, tender vanilla cake with layers of rich chocolate frosting, the perfect celebration centerpiece.

Baking gluten-free? For great results, substitute King Arthur Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour for the all-purpose flour in this recipe; for details, see “tips,” below.

At a glance

Prep
Bake
Total
Yield
one 8” or 9” two-layer cake
Nutrition information

Ingredients

Choose your measure:

Cake

  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour OR Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract; optional, for enhanced flavor
  • 1 cup milk (whole milk preferred)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter, cut into pats
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Frosting

  • 1 1/4 cups natural cocoa powder (sifted if lumpy)
  • 1 cup + 3 cups confectioners' sugar (sifted if lumpy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 16 tablespoons (1 cup) butter, softened
  • *See “tips,” below for an alternative to natural cocoa.

Instructions

  1. To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center. Lightly grease two 8” x 2” or 9” x 2” round cake pans; for extra protection against sticking, line the bottom of the pans with parchment, and grease the parchment. If your 8” pans aren’t at least 2” deep, use 9” pans.
  2. Weigh your flour; you’ll find its weight by toggling to “grams” at the top of the ingredient section above. Or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, either using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract, if using, until thickened and light gold in color, about 2 minutes at medium-high speed. If your stand mixer doesn’t have a whisk attachment, beat for 5 minutes using the paddle attachment. The batter should fall in thick ribbons from the beaters, whisk, or paddle.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture in the bowl and mix — by hand or on low speed of a mixer — just enough to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then mix again briefly, to fully incorporate any residual flour or sticky bits.
  6. In a saucepan set over medium heat or in the microwave, bring the milk just to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and oil, stirring until the butter has melted.
  7. Slowly mix the hot milk-butter-oil mixture into the batter, stirring until everything is well combined. Scrape the bowl and mix briefly, just until smooth.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. You’ll use about 2 3/4 cups (about 580g) in each.
  9. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top feels set, 26 to 30 minutes for two 9” pans, or 38 to 42 minutes for two 8” pans. Remove the cakes from the oven, carefully loosen the edges, and allow them to cool for 15 minutes in the pans. Then transfer them to a rack, right-side up, to cool to room temperature.
  10. To make the frosting: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, stir together the cocoa powder, 1 cup (113g) of the confectioners’ sugar, and the salt. Stir in the water and vanilla, scraping the bowl if necessary.
  11. Add the butter and remaining confectioners’ sugar, stirring to combine. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the frosting at medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until lightened in color and fluffy, stopping halfway through to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
  12. To assemble the cake: Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate; tuck strips of waxed or parchment paper underneath the edge of the cake to keep the plate clean. Spread the bottom layer with about 1 cup of frosting, enough to make a 1/4” to 1/2”-thick layer. Center the second layer bottom-side up (for a flat top) over the frosted layer and press gently to set it in place.
  13. If your schedule permits, place the cake in the refrigerator or freezer, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours) to firm it up. This will make the layers less likely to slide around as you work, and the cake won’t shed crumbs as you frost. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip this step.
  14. To finish the cake: For the best-looking cake, do the frosting in two steps. First, spread a very thin layer of frosting around the sides and across the top; this is called a crumb coat. You should be able to see the cake through the frosting in spots, it’s that thin. Refrigerate the cake for 20 minutes to let this layer set. Again, skip this step if time is a factor.
  15. Once the cake is chilled, use the remaining frosting to coat it thoroughly and evenly. If you have any leftover frosting, you can use it to pipe decorations on the top and/or around the base.
  16. Store the cake, covered, at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if your kitchen is hot. Let it come to room temperature before serving.
  17. Storage information: The cake will keep at room temperature, covered with a cake cover, for up to three days; in the refrigerator, covered, for up to one week, or in the freezer, well wrapped, for up to one month.

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size 1 piece, 131g
  • Servings Per Batch 16 servings
Amount Per Serving:
  • Calories 480
  • Calories from Fat 190
  • Total Fat 22g
  • Saturated Fat 11g
  • Trans Fat 22g
  • Cholesterol 85mg
  • Sodium 300mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 69g
  • Dietary Fiber 2g
  • Sugars 53g
  • Protein 5g

* The nutrition information provided for this recipe is determined by the ESHA Genesis R&D software program. Substituting any ingredients may change the posted nutrition information.