Our 2nd Birthday Cake

Three-layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting, sprinkles, and a candle

Jordan: About two years ago, we decided that we had more cake recipes bookmarked than we had occasions to make cake, and thus, Cake Day was born.

Kitra: I will always remember what weekend our cake… anniversary(?) falls on because it was the same day that Falsettos opened on Broadway in 1992. That’s in my calendar as a recurring event.

(Kitra is a nerd.) Cake Day shares a birthday weekend with several awesome things, including Kitra’s local bookstore, where she picked up a copy of Alison Roman’s Dining In this weekend. It’s full of great dinner ideas and brilliant cooking tips, but it also includes a recipe for the fluffiest yellow cake ever.

It’s tall and beautiful just like a birthday cake should be. Also, I would like everyone here to try and explain to relative strangers that you’re buying a birthday candle for a cake about cake. (Thanks to my other favorite local store for never being put off by sentences like that when I come in to buy a “2” candle, or walk in with nothing but a melon and a dog in hand.)

Funnily enough, we didn’t really have this kind of birthday cake growing up. (I was always a cheesecake fan, at least after the “cakes shaped like princess castles or dinosaurs” phase. I contained multitudes as a child). But there’s something undeniably birthday-y about good yellow cake, chocolate frosting, and sprinkles.

Mine often had the misfortune of being Halloween-themed, so I too lacked the classic birthday cake experience. In fact, for the past 6 years I haven’t had cake at all. But yellow cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles is still what I bring to any and all birthday celebrations that I’m allowed to bring cake to.

Last year we tried out the recipe from Stella Parks’s cookbook, Bravetart, and it was… fine? But it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. (The cookbook is great though, don’t get us wrong.) This one hit the spot.

I’m pretty loyal to the Smitten Kitchen cake and frosting, but I think that the size and scale of this cake work better with a fluffy beautiful cake like this. (If you want a sheet cake though, you know where to look.) We kept the frosting though, because it is just so damn easy and smooth.

That said, if you happen to have a recipe for a fudgy frosting that tastes just like the amazing canned stuff you buy at the grocery store, send it our way. There’s always next year.

Three-layer cake with chocolate frosting, sprinkles, and a lit candle

Fluffy Yellow Cake

From Dining In by Alison Roman

Notes

On the order of operations: We have you prep your dry and liquid mixes first here, so that they’re ready when the time comes to add them. However, the butter/sugar/egg process takes almost 10 minutes here, so if you have a stand mixer we recommend starting that first and prepping the other ingredients while it runs.

Ingredients

  • 3¼ cups (365g) cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400g) white sugar
  • ½ cup (100g) brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350°. Grease three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.

First, prep your dry and liquid ingredients. In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl (or large liquid measuring cup), combine buttermilk, oil, and vanilla and set that aside too.

In a large bowl (we mean large; don’t skimp here) combine butter, white sugar, and brown sugar. Using an electric hand or stand mixer, cream on high for about 4 minutes. The mixture should be very light and fluffy; take the full time here will make the next step work better. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, then beat on high for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is absurdly fluffy and roughly doubled.

Add about a third of the flour mixture and beat on low until it’s just mostly combined. Mix in half the buttermilk. Repeat with another third of the flour and the remaining buttermilk. Add the last of the flour and mix until fully combined, being sure to scrape the edges and bottom of the bowl.

Divide the cake batter evenly into the three prepared pans. If you want to be precise and use a scale, we found that each pan got about 600g of batter. Smooth the surfaces of each layer.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until the tops are set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You’ll likely want to shift the cakes halfway through, to change up whichever is in the middle (if you put them all on one oven rack) or on its own rack (if you used two). Cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before gently turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Frost with chocolate buttercream.

Chocolate Buttercream

Adapted the tiniest bit from Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman

Notes

We made this in the food processor, but if you don’t have one (or don’t have a large enough one), you can do it with an electric mixer as well. Just beat the butter, powdered sugar, and salt together first before adding the remaining ingredients. If you’re using a mixer, we recommend sifting your powdered sugar first; it’s not necessary with the food processor.

Deb uses unsweetened chocolate here; we used Trader Joe’s 70% dark chocolate. Either will work, but of course dark chocolate will end up with a slightly sweeter frosting.

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups (3 sticks, 12 oz.) butter, softened
  • 4½ cups (540g) powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 oz (170g) dark or unsweetened chocolate (see note), melted and cooled
  • 3 tablespoons cream or milk
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

In a large food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl to make sure there are no pockets of unmixed ingredients hiding anywhere. Blend again until fluffy.

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