How to Make a Homemade Birthday Cake

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Add your own personal touch with a homemade birthday cake.
Add your own personal touch with a homemade birthday cake. (Image: stock.xchng)

Baking and decorating a birthday cake is one way to bring a personal and homemade touch to a special person's birthday. You can decorate this golden yellow butter cake in any number of ways to suit the cake's recipient with the vanilla buttercream frosting recipe. Additional decoration can be as simple as a grouping of birthday candles, or a colorful assortment of birthday cake toppers, candy sprinkles, chocolate shavings and chopped nuts. You can fill this cake with the plain frosting, or also add a layer of fruit jelly or fresh fruit.

Things You'll Need

  • For cake:
  • Two 9-inch cake pans
  • Shortening or nonstick cooking spray
  • Parchment paper
  • Electric mixer
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1¼ cup room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • For frosting and decorating
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. heavy whipping cream or milk
  • Fillings such as fruit jelly or chopped fresh fruit (optional)
  • Cake board or cake plate
  • Edible cake decorations such as sprinkles, chocolate shavings or chopped nuts
  • Birthday candles

Place one of your oven racks in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Fit the bottom of each pan with a piece of parchment paper. Rub a thin layer of shortening around the inside of both pans, or spray with cooking spray. Press the parchment paper against the shortening so it will stick, then grease the top side of the parchment with shortening, too.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt together into a large bowl, and set the bowl aside.

Whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract in a bowl, and set the bowl aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is light, smooth and fluffy. You shouldn't be able to see any individual sugar granules.

Pour half of the cake batter into each of the cake pans, making sure that each pan has the same amount of batter. Smooth out the tops.

Bake the cakes for 20 minutes. Insert a cake tester into each cake to see if they're fully baked. The testers should come out clean. If the cakes aren't fully baked, bake them longer, checking them until they're done.

Cool the cakes in their pans on cooling racks for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove them from their pans and leave them on the racks to cool completely. If the cakes are domed, make sure the domes are facing up, and slice them off with a serrated bread knife before assembling the cake.

Make the frosting while the cake cools.

Sift the powdered sugar.

Beat the powdered sugar and butter together until completely mixed and fluffy. This will take about 3 minutes with a hand mixer or stand mixer.

Beat in vanilla extract and cream until completely mixed. If frosting is too stiff, add more cream until frosting is easy to spread.

Place a small dab of frosting on your cake board to hold the cake in place.

Place one of the cooled cakes in the middle of the cake board. If you sliced domes off the cake, face the cut sides downward.

Smooth ½ inch of frosting on top of the bottom layer, almost all the way to the edge. When you place the top layer on, the frosting in the middle layer will be squeezed out all the way to the edge. You will also be able to push frosting in between the layers while you frost the outside. If you're adding jelly to the filling, either mix the jelly with the frosting or spread the jelly onto the cake first. If you're adding fruit, add the fruit after spreading the frosting on.

Center the top cake layer on top of the bottom layer. Make sure the edges are even.

Scrape the rest of the frosting onto the top of the cake, and smooth it toward the edges of the cake. The frosting should be only ¼ to ½ inch thick on top of the cake, with the rest hanging over the sides. Keep constant contact and steady pressure with your spatula to avoid tearing the cake while frosting.

Sweep the overhanging frosting around the sides of the cake. Cover the side of the cake and all the way to the cake board until the entire cake is covered.

Apply decorations, such as sprinkles, chocolate shavings, chopped nuts, themed toppers, or fake or edible flowers. Finish off the decorating with candles.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you don't plan to serve the cake within the next day or two, consider replacing part or all of the butter with butter-flavored shortening to extend the time the cake will remain moist. Don't use butter to grease your pan because it can make your cake stick to the pan, making it harder to get it out. Incorrect oven temperatures affect how evenly your cake bakes and how it rises. Give your oven enough time to preheat, and make sure it reaches the correct temperature. Temperatures in any oven, especially older ones, can be off by several degrees. The method of mixing used in the above steps make a sturdy cake, which can be easier to handle and decorate. To make a more delicate cake, first whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract and half of the milk in one bowl. Beat together the sifted dry ingredients, the room temperature butter and the other half of the milk until just blended, then for an additional 2 minutes at medium speed to aerate the cake, which will lighten the batter. Add the egg mixture very slowly while beating, and beat together on low speed to completely combine. Then separate the batter into the cake pans and complete as instructed.

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