Birthday Cake

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This Happy Birthday Cake features a soft, delicate vanilla cake with homemade chocolate frosting. It’s just like the one from childhood birthday parties! 

Classic Birthday Cake on a marble cake stand with a wooden base

Birthday Cake

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 recipe. 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.

Make sure to choose a quality brand since this is the main flavoring for the cake. Nielsen-Massey is what I always reach for when I don’t have homemade vanilla on hand.

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…

Best Birthday Cake slice on a pewter plate.

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.

Slice of birthday cake on a pewter plate with a fork taking a bite out.

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.

fully mixed cake batter in a glass bowl

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.

chocolate buttercream in stainless steel mixing bowl

chocolate buttercream on a red spatula

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.

spreading chocolate frosting over a vanilla cake layer

Happy Birthday Cake on a marble cake stand.

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.
Birthday Cake Recipe Image
5 from 4 votes

Birthday Cake

This Happy Birthday Cake features a soft, delicate vanilla cake with homemade chocolate frosting. It’s just like the one from childhood birthday parties! 

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword birthday cake, cake
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Yields 12 servings
Calories 744 kcal
Author Jen Sobjack


For the cake

  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour sifted*
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk room temperature

For the frosting

  • 1 and 1/2 cups unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder sifted
  • 4-5 cups confectioners' sugar sifted
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


Make the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour 2 8-inch round cake pans; set aside.

  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk and set aside.

  3. 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.
  4. With the mixer on medium-high speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Followed by the vanilla.

  5. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beating well after each addition.

  6. 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

  1. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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

  1. 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.

  2. Decorate with sprinkles if desired. Refrigerate the cake for about an hour to make it easier to slice and serve.

Make ahead tip

  1. Wrap baked and cooled cake layers tightly in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator. Assemble and frost the cake within 2 days.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Recipe Notes

*Sift the flour after measuring to remove any clumps. This will allow the flour to blend easily into the batter.

*It is not recommended to use anything other than whole (full-fat) milk.

*Make sure all cold ingredients are brought to room temperature. Set them out on the counter about 1 hour before you begin making the cake.

Concept inspired by Smitten Kitchen.

Nutrition Facts
Birthday Cake
Amount Per Serving (1 slice)
Calories 744 Calories from Fat 378
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 42g 65%
Saturated Fat 26g 130%
Cholesterol 149mg 50%
Sodium 156mg 7%
Potassium 291mg 8%
Total Carbohydrates 89g 30%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 65g
Protein 6g 12%
Vitamin A 26.6%
Calcium 9.9%
Iron 13.2%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional values here on my recipes should be used as a general guide only. Since different brands of ingredients have different nutritional information, the values shown are just an estimate.

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