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


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.


  • 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


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


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.


  • 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


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.

Chocolate Babka Swirl Coffee Cake


Jordan: This is a coffee cake, which means you can eat it for breakfast. It also uses a pound of butter, so you probably shouldn’t, but that’s not going to stop us.

Kitra: I eat ice cream for breakfast about 40% of the time, so this seems perfectly reasonable.

That’s sad and we’re not going to comment on it.

I mean, that percentage is lower in the winter. I eat a lot of Girl Scout Cookies for breakfast instead.

So if you’re looking for a cake that is better for you than Kitra’s usual breakfast fare but still feels like a comforting plate of carbs and chocolate, you’ve come to the right place!

If there’s one thing we know, it’s how to provide you with healthy breakfast options.

This is supposed to be a coffee cake (that’s cake to have with coffee, not cake made with coffee) mashed up with a loaf of chocolate babka. Call it babka-inspired: It has chocolate filling and swirly layers, but no one is going to mistake it for the real thing.

And that’s fine, because it’s “breakfast” and mostly chocolate. This cake is moist and pretty, so what’s not to love.

We both brought leftovers to work (it’s a LOT of cake) and both sets of coworkers demolished it, which is the sign of a successful cake in our book.

So have your cake and eat it (for breakfast) too.

Chocolate Swirl Babka Coffee Cake

Adapted from Joy the Baker and Smitten Kitchen


We used the cake recipe from Joy the Baker but, not wanting to track down chocolate wafers, we swapped in the filling from Smitten Kitchen’s Better Chocolate Babka. We didn’t use streusel because the original doesn’t and Kitra, like a monster, doesn’t enjoy it but both coffee cakes and babka often include it. Should you want to add it, use whatever recipe you like best (it’s included in other recipes from both Joy and Deb) and sprinkle it generously on top of each chocolate layer and/or on top of the whole thing.

This recipe calls for 2 cups of sour cream; a 16-oz container of sour cream contains about 30 tablespoons, which will put you just shy. We used the entire container and didn’t find it lacking, but if you happen to have the extra 2 tablespoons accessible it will make the cake slightly more moist and delicious.


  • 9 oz dark chocolate, or approximately 1½ cups of chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (100g) powdered sugar
  • ⅔ cup (60g) cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups (500g) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 (400g) cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups or 16 oz. sour cream (see note)


Preheat your oven to 350° and butter and flour a bundt or tube pan (or coat it with baking spray).

First, make the filling. In a medium bowl, microwave butter and chocolate until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir together until smooth, then mix in powdered sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon. Set the filling aside while you make the rest of the cake.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add the softened butter and sugar to a separate large bowl and use an electric beater (or stand mixer) to beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until roughly combined between each, then add the vanilla.

Add half of the flour mixture and gently beat to combine. Repeat with all of the sour cream and then with the remaining half of the flour. Your batter will be quite thick, which is normal.

Scoop about 1½ cups of batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth it; no need to measure carefully here. Add several large dollops of chocolate (Joy says about ⅓ of a cup; Jordan says just eyeball it) and smooth that as well—we recommend using separate spoons for the chocolate and the batter so that you don’t mix them too much at this stage. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the batter and filling, ending with a layer of batter on top.

Bake for 70 to 80 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of batter. Let cool in the pan for at least half an hour before turning it out onto a cooling rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Classic Cake Day: Red Velvet Ghost Cake


[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake in October 2017.]

Jordan: Last year’s Halloween cake was probably going to be a cake covered entirely in candy eyes, like a sprinkle cake (but eyes).

Kitra: Which we should still do.

Agreed. But it was worth postponing because: ghost pretzels. Ghost. Pretzels. They look like the poor unfortunate souls from The Little Mermaid! You can’t not love them.

We had way too much fun making ghosts. Also just saying the word “ghosts”.

Imagine Kitra saying “ghosts” with a Minnesotan accent over and over and you’ll get the idea.


Rather than just covering any old cake in ghosts, we went for the most disturbingly blood-like of cakes: red velvet.

I’ve used Alton Brown’s recipe before, and it’s lovely. Except where it looks like the inside of our meat suits.

That was gross. I’m sorry. This cake is delicious, but be warned that between the cake, cream cheese frosting, and a solid coating of yogurt-covered pretzels, it’s VERY sweet.

And also your fingers will be a weird color for days unless you’re very careful.

Recommended order of operations for this:

  1. Make the cakes so that they can cool
  2. Make frosting
  3. Make a million tiny ghosts
  4. Start thinking of puns that combine both ghosts and cake
  5. Assemble the cake
  6. Make a really bad video
  7. Profit???



I was really insistent about the video. I also love it. In fact, I showed it to someone this month for no particular reason other than I feel it is a work of ART.

In summary, we’re not really inventing the wheel here on red velvet cake, but we are making it a lot spookier.


Red Velvet Cake with Pretzel Ghosts

Cake from Alton Brown, ghosts inspired by Dessert Now Dinner Later

Alton Brown stubbornly insists that you use weights when baking, and while he’s correct that it’s better that way, it’s not convenient if you don’t have a baking scale. You can convert your ingredients here if you like.

Two bags of pretzels will likely give you more than you need, but it’s good to have extra so that you can discard (aka eat) the broken ones.



5 1/2 oz all-purpose flour
4 oz cake flour
1/2 oz cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk, room temperature
2 T red liquid food coloring
1 T white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 1/2 oz brown sugar
4 oz. (1 stick, 4 T) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs


Preheat your oven to 350°. Line two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Set both dry and wet ingredients aside while you do the next step.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), use an electric mixer on low and cream butter and brown sugar about 2 minutes, until it is lighter in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until fully combined.

Add one third of the flour mixture and mix on medium speed mostly combined. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and mix until mostly combined. Repeat with another third of the flour, the other half of the buttermilk, and the last of the flour. Mix until the batter is fully smooth.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool fully.

To Decorate


2 12-oz bags of yogurt-covered pretzels
2 packages of candy eyes
cream cheese frosting of your choice (we made ours up as we went, but Alton’s original recipe includes one)
food coloring (if desired)


Scoop about half a cup of frosting into a small bowl and set aside. If desired, add food coloring to the remaining frosting until it reaches your desired shade. Set the tinted frosting aside.

Using a butter knife, dab a small amount of the reserved white frosting onto the back of a candy eye and place it on a pretzel, over one of the two upper holes. This is usually easiest if you place it toward the top or bottom of the hole, so that the candy eye has as much surface area covering meeting the pretzel as possible. Eyes at the top make them more ghoulish; eyes at the bottom make them more adorable. Set ghost aside to firm up. Repeat until you run out of pretzels, eyes, or time.

Frost your cake and arrange pretzel ghosts to your liking. While a two-layer cake will neatly fit two rows of ghosts if you stagger them (think like the pattern of bricks), know that this makes the cake very hard to slice and we don’t recommend it.

Red Red Wine Chocolate Rage Cake


Jordan: So this week happened.

Kitra: 😡

This week happened, and then I googled “rage cake recipe” and mostly got gender reveal cakes(?).

Which do, in fact, fill most of us with rage. Gender is a fucking construct you assholes, get it together and just buy some tiny baby overalls. They’re unisex.

Kitra is still in a generally angry mood.


My first impulse was “what kind of cake involves smashing things” but alcohol was a close second. Smitten Kitchen, ever the source of great ways to drown your sorrows, provided us with this cake.

My response was “I am on board with the red wine cake provided I can write something along the lines of ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH on it in melted chocolate.”

Other options included “wtf y’all” and “honestly fuck Susan Collins” but we decided to keep it simple. Turns out I’m not half bad at icing in cursive. This is probably not what my third-grade teacher intended.

This cake is exactly what it claims to be. It tastes like wine and chocolate.

(Red Red Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiineeeeee)

The frosting tastes like sweetened condensed milk, though you could use a standard cream cheese frosting.

Speaking of sweetened condensed milk, during the making of this cake, I revisited some classic Buzzfeed quizzes including “What kind of milk are you?” which is deeply embedded in my personality.

“Do you want to start writing the blog post?” “Hold on, I need to finish finding out what kind of soup I am.”

I’m minestrone. She’s miso.

Getting back to the cake: It’s one-bowl, it’s not too sweet, and it includes two cups of wine. This is a cake to make when you want to smash the patriarchy, when you have that damn UB40 song stuck in your head, when you want to cry into dessert, or when you just want a good chocolate cake. Swear words highly encouraged, because fuck eloquent discourse.

So, from two 2% milks to all of you, have some rage cake.


Red Wine Chocolate Cake

This is the layer cake version from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but the single-layer cake on the website is essentially identical.

The mascarpone in the frosting gives a noticeable dairy flavor, but you could sub cream cheese easily. Our frosting was a little thin and grainy, but we suspect it’s because our mascarpone was nearly room temperature. It should whip up better if you keep it cool. The online version has a very lightly sweetened whipped mascarpone topping instead, which would be good option for something that’s not so sweet.

Use whatever red wine you like; we used Wish Flower from Trader Joe’s because Jordan had an open bottle of it she wasn’t going to drink.


16 T (225g, 2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups (340g) packed brown sugar
⅔ cups (135g) white sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups red wine
2 tsp vanilla extract
2¾ cups (345g) flour
1⅓ cups (115g) cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp salt


Preheat oven to 325°. Line three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and coat the insides with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add brown and white sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and mix to combine, then add red wine and vanilla. Mix until more or less smooth; the batter will look somewhat curdled at this point, which is fine.

Sift all of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients; no need to combine them in a separate bowl first. Mix until combined; a few lumps are okay.

Divide batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then remove cakes to wire racks to cool completely. When cool, top with frosting.

Mascarpone Frosting


16oz mascarpone
2⅓ cups (280g) powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract


Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake


Kitra: There are two dishes that define summer to me: ratatouille and this cake. What they have in common is that, like in most rural areas, where we grew up zucchini is both a gift and a curse. In trying to use it up as fast as it grows (impossible), people get crafty. Since this cake came into our lives, I’ve looked forward to zucchini season. And then “forgetting to clean up bits of grated zucchini and trying to scrape it off the counter weeks later” season.

I only have a hazy memory of where this cake came from. It’s on a printed ¼ sheet of computer paper, and in my head it came from someone at the school where our mom used to work.

Jordan: I had no idea, so we texted our mom to ask and she said “Somewhere in the back of my head I think someone at Riverside gave me the recipe, but I could be wrong.” At which point Kitra enthusiastically gave herself a high-five, then gave me a high-five.

Self-fiving didn’t work well enough, so I had to high-five the doubters.

Wherever it came from originally, it’s a great cake. It actually doesn’t use a ton of zucchini, but it has the benefit of being a great use for the infant-sized zucchinis we always had around, the ones that aren’t particularly nice to eat on their own.

You know, the ones that are better as weapons than as food.

In this case, the zucchini isn’t really noticeable but helps keep the cake nice and moist. This is a lightly chocolatey cake—light enough that even I, the person who doesn’t like chocolate cake and thinks chocolate chip cookies would be better without chocolate chips, enjoy it.

It’s a cake’s cake. Like a man’s man, but… a cake’s cake.


Chocolate Zucchini Cake


The recipe calls for half a cup of chocolate chips, but you can use as much as you like. (Though we wouldn’t recommend omitting them.) Kitra doesn’t bother measuring and just adds handfuls until she finds it aesthetically pleasing. You want to shoot for at least one chocolate chip per bite, but not so many that they overwhelm the cake.

This cake keeps well at room temperature, so go ahead and eat it for breakfast. It’s got vegetables.


½ c milk
1 ½ tsp white vinegar (or lemon juice)
½ c (1 stick) butter, softened
½ c vegetable oil
1 ¾ c (350g) sugar
2 eggs
2 ½ c (300g) flour
¼ c (20g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
2c grated zucchini (about 240g or 8.5oz, from a 9-inch zucchini
½ c (110g) chocolate chips, or more as desired


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 pan.

Combine milk and vinegar in a bowl or liquid measuring cup and set aside to sour while you do the next step.

Cream butter, sugar, and oil together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and beat until the mixture is fluffy. Add sour milk and beat until creamy.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and baking powder. If your cocoa is especially lumpy, you may want to run it through a sifter.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir gently until mostly combined; it’s alright if there’s still some white streaks at this stage. Fold in the zucchini until the batter is completely combined.

Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Scatter chocolate chips evenly across the top; feel free to add more chocolate chips if you like.

Bake 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out free of batter. Let cool slightly before serving; eat warm or at room temperature.