This Happy Birthday Cake features a soft, delicate vanilla cake with homemade chocolate frosting. It’s just like the one from childhood birthday parties!
This classic childhood birthday cake tastes like it was made in a bakery. The crumb is incredibly soft and moist.
It’s loaded with vanilla flavor. And the rich chocolate buttercream is absolute perfection.
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen, I kept the decoration simple because I like simplicity. But you can add sprinkles, decorative piping, etc. if you wish.
The cake portion is adapted from my basic vanilla cake and chocolate cake recipes. I wanted the texture to be softer and the crumb to not be as tight so I used all-purpose flour instead of cake flour.
I also wanted the vanilla flavor to really shine through so I added an extra tablespoon of vanilla extract.
I used my favorite chocolate buttercream to cover the cake. It’s creamy, silky, and far from lacking in chocolate flavor. It’s hard to resist eating just the frosting…
Who invented vanilla cake with chocolate frosting as a birthday cake?
I honestly can’t answer that. This cake combination has been around for as long as I can remember. You can walk into any bakery and see premade cakes for birthdays on display. Probably half of those cakes will be vanilla cake covered in chocolate frosting.
One of my closest friends said her mom had made this cake combination for her brother as far back as the 1990’s. I’m sure you, yourself, went to a birthday party where vanilla cake with chocolate frosting was served.
What makes the cake moist?
The combination of ingredients and how you combine them will ultimately affect how moist the cake turns out. Follow the recipe and use the exact ingredients called for.
It’s important to cream the butter and sugar together for at least 5 minutes. Go for 8 to make sure it’s creamed really well.
Don’t overbake the cake. I can’t stress this enough as it’s the main reason why cakes come out dry.
No matter what recipe you are using, always start checking the doneness 10 minutes sooner than the recipe calls for. No oven is calibrated exactly the same and most ovens have hot spots.
Main ingredients for the best birthday cake
All-purpose flour – will yield a looser crumb than cake flour.
Butter – adds buttery richness to the cake.
Eggs – adds structure and moisture.
Vanilla – choose a high-quality brand so your cake layers taste amazing!
Milk – use only whole milk for this recipe. It adds richness and moisture.
How to make birthday cake?
Step 1: Make the cake layers
Cream the butter and sugar together then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients and add them to the butter mixture followed by the milk. Mix everything together just until combined.
Divide the batter between two 8-inch cake pans and bake for 25 minutes in a 350°F oven.
Step 2: Make the frosting
Cream the butter then add cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar. Mix well then add salt, vanilla extract, and heavy cream. Beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Step 3: Assemble the cake
Spread frosting over the top of the first layer then add the second layer. Cover the top and sides of the cake with more frosting. You can decorate with sprinkles or piping if desired.
Tips for this happy birthday cake recipe
- Follow the recipe exactly and use the ingredients that are called for.
- Start checking the doneness of the cake about 10 minutes sooner than called for in the recipe. Overbaking will result in a dry cake.
- Use bake-even strips so the cake layers bake level. You won’t have to cut so much off the top to level the cakes.
For the cake
Make the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour 2 8-inch round cake pans; set aside.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk and set aside.
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
- With the mixer on medium-high speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Followed by the vanilla.
- Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beating well after each addition.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Take care to not over-bake. Check the cake at 15 minutes to see how it is doing and judge the timing from there. Cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the frosting
- Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.
- Add the cocoa powder and 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar, beat on low speed until most of the sugar is moistened then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.
- Gradually add the remaining sugar, one cup at a time. You may need more or less depending on how soft the butter is. Beat on medium-low speed until the sugar is well mixed in.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. Continue to beat until incorporated. Add enough of the remaining cream to make a smooth, spreadable frosting. Turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Assemble the cake
- Place one layer of cake on a serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 cup of frosting. Repeat with the second layer, covering the top and sides of cake with frosting.
- Decorate with sprinkles if desired. Refrigerate the cake for about an hour to make it easier to slice and serve.
Make ahead tip
- Wrap baked and cooled cake layers tightly in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator. Assemble and frost the cake within 2 days.
- Or layers can be triple wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Leave wrapped and set on the counter to thaw slightly before use.
- Once the cake has been assembled, cover it and keep it stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Bring it to room temperature just before serving.
- The frosted cake can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature just before serving.