Birthday Cake

This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

This homemade Birthday Cake recipe 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

This simple 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 frosting is absolute perfection.

The idea of a layered cake with chocolate frosting was inspired by Smitten Kitchen. With swirls of chocolate frosting piped on top and a few fancy sprinkles, my recipe turns a classic cake to a festive party dessert.

The yellow 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.

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…

If you make this cake and enjoy it, you may also really like my funfetti cake. It’s super fun and festive for a birthday!

Why this recipe works

  • Oil and butter are used for the cake so it has buttery flavor while remaining moist.
  • All-purpose flour provides a looser crumb.
  • Buttermilk adds a slight tang to the cake wish is reminiscent of a classic yellow cake.
  • The chocolate frosting is slightly adapted from my tried and true recipe. So many of you love that frosting!
Slice of the best birthday cake on a white plate with a blown out candle.

Who invented yellow 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 1990s. 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

The great thing about this classic birthday cake is the ingredients are simple and you most likely have them on hand already. Here are a few of the main ones needed…

  • All-purpose flour – will yield a looser crumb than cake flour.
  • Butter – adds buttery richness to the cake.
  • Oil – helps to keep the cake moist.
  • Eggs – adds structure and moisture.
  • Vanilla – choose a high-quality brand so your cake layers taste amazing!
  • Buttermilk – use only full-fat buttermilk for this recipe. It adds richness and moisture.
Slice of birthday cake on a white plate with a fork taking a bite out.

How to make birthday cake?

Today’s birthday cake is made very similar to the marble cake I shared recently. The process of making the yellow cake batter is exactly the same.

Step 1: Make the cake layers

Cream the butter, oil, and sugar together in a large bowl. Then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients and add them to the butter mixture followed by the buttermilk. Mix everything together just until combined.

Divide the batter between two 9-inch cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Cake batter in a glass mixing 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 frosting in a metal mixing bowl with 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.

Angled view of homemade birthday cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.

Tips for the best birthday cake recipe

  • Follow the recipe exactly and use the ingredients that are called for.
  • Start checking the doneness of the cake about 5 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.

Try this cake with a different frosting:

Birthday Cake

Classic Birthday Cake on a marble cake stand with a wooden base
This homemade Birthday Cake recipe features a soft, delicate yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting. It’s just like the one from childhood birthday parties!
Jen Sobjack
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Serving Size 12


For the cake

  • ½ cup (120 ml) canola oil
  • ¼ cup (57 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups (330 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk, room temperature

For the frosting

  • 1 ½ cups (341 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (86 g) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 4 cups (480 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • teaspoon salt


Make the cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour 2 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with a piece of parchment paper to fit. Lightly grease and flour the parchment paper; set aside.
  • Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the oil, 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 low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 20 seconds after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
  • Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk and set aside.
  • Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until just barely combined. Add the buttermilk followed by the remaining flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Take care to not over mix.
  • 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 ¾ cup of frosting. Repeat with the second layer, covering the top and sides of the cake with frosting.
  • Decorate with sprinkles if desired. Refrigerate the cake for about an hour to make it easier to slice and serve.



  • 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 (full-fat) buttermilk.
  • 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.
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.


Serving: 1slice | Calories: 743kcal | Carbohydrates: 91g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 134mg | Sodium: 217mg | Potassium: 270mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 66g | Vitamin A: 1012IU | Vitamin C: 0.03mg | Calcium: 85mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American

Concept inspired by Smitten Kitchen.


  1. what if i only have whole milk and not buttermilk? is it possible to still make this cake?

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      You can make buttermilk by adding lemon juice or vinegar to regular whole milk. There are tutorials online.

  2. Maliha waheed says:

    Seems delicious.Will try soon. How to make buttermilk at home?

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      You can make buttermilk at home by following these tips.

  3. Meredith Jordan says:

    I need at least 4 layers. Can I cut the layers in half or use 4 pans? Cooking time? My family would love 8 layers, so if I double the recipe will that be a problem? Or should I make 2 separate recipes?

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      You can cut the layers or use 4 pans. Whichever is easiest for you. Personally, I don’t like cutting layers so I’d use 4 pans. Keep in mind the layers will be very thin. I’m not sure of the cooking time since I’ve never divided the batter this way. But I imagine you’d need a few minutes less. Start checking at around 15 minutes. For 8 layers, I’d make two separate batches. You won’t be able to bake all 8 layers at the same time so while the first batch is baking, you can be whipping up the second batch.

  4. Ignatius Petrus du Preez says:

    Hi Jen,
    I am 69 year old man living on a farm. I keep myself busy at night looking at all the recepies and tried some. I must say that this cake must be a winner and will bake it as soon as possible.
    Thank you very much for sharing your recepies with us.

  5. Can you make it into cupcakes?

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      That shouldn’t be a problem. Just keep a close eye on them so you don’t overbake them.

  6. Sue Wilson says:

    If I use buttermilk instead of whole milk, don’t I have to replace part of the baking powder with baking soda?

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      Nope. Leave everything else in the recipe as is.

  7. Winegar Christina says:

    I’m making this classic cake for my classic husband’s 72nd birthday. “ …making it as FAR BACK as the 90s…” That’s Funny. ???
    Great recipe. Classics are ageless and always in good taste. ?????
    Thank you! ❤️

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      Hahaha! I have to say that because some people claim to have “invented” it… Hope your husband has a wonderful birthday!

      1. Winegar Christina says:

        Lol! Thank you, Jen! I will tell everyone the recipe is from you! Celebrating this Sunday, Birthday Brunch with frittatas, mimosas, and YOUR birthday cake! ?????❤️

  8. Hi. I’d love to make this cake for my daughter’s birthday but I’d need a bigger cake (ideally 3 – 8 inch pans). Would you have an idea of what the measurements would look like for a 1.5 recipe? Thank you.

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      I suggest using the metric tab in the ingredients list and use 1.5 times the weight of each ingredient. For anything that is in teaspoons or tablespoons, add 1/2 more of each. This doesn’t apply to baking powder though. You only need 1 teaspoon per cup of flour.

  9. Sandra Amos says:

    I do like using buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream in cakes. Would you do this with this recipe and I guess bicarb would need to be added? What are your thoughts or do you have a vanilla buttermilk cake recipe? Thanks.

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      You can use an equal amount of any of those in place of regular milk without making any other changes to the recipe.

  10. Christi Ware says:

    Will this recipe work okay for a sheet cake?

    1. Jen Sobjack says:

      Hi Christi! It should work fine in a 9×13-inch pan. It may need a few extra minutes in the oven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating