Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake

I’ve been watching food documentaries about 3 Michelin star restaurants and it simultaneously stresses me out/makes me hungry/gets me excited. Nitrogen pineapple and frozen olive oil are cool and all, but what ever happened to cake?!

I wanted to reboot this blog with something we all know and most of us love, The Birthday Cake. No fluff or frills (unless a mini paper banner falls under that category), just a basic staple of parties and celebrations. If you’ve ever thought about making a vanilla birthday cake for your friend or cousin or niece or nephew but got scared and went to the refrigerated cakes at Publix instead….I want to tell you that YOU CAN DO IT! I will show you!

First we start with your basics: two cake pans, some parchment paper, some sort of grease, and flour for dusting. I used two 6 inch pans for this cake, but the recipe below will be enough for two 8 or 9 inch cake pans.

I also used coconut oil spray from Trader Joe’s as my grease, but butter, vegetable shortening, or vegetable oil will work just as well.

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Grease the inside of those pans real good, place a circle of parchment with the same diameter of the pan on the bottom, grease that up real good as well, then dust both lightly with flour, tapping out any excess that doesn’t stick to the sides. This is a MAJOR help in getting those cakes to fall easily out of your pans. Make sure to grease up the corners and crevices especially, that is where cake likes to stick the most!

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Once your pans looks something like this, you’re ready to start your batter.

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One of the many and probably most valuable things culinary school taught me was something called mise en place. It is fancy and French essentially meaning everything in order and everything in its place before beginning a recipe. Your oven is on, you flour is measured out, your milk is poured. You made sure you had two eggs and not just one. The number of times I have run out to the store in the middle of making something is countless (and the most frustrating thing ever!), but that number has dramatically decreased since I began culinary school.

Mise En Place. Check your ingredients, make sure you have enough, measure them out, and your baking will be that much smoother. Trust. Also make sure your cat doesn’t eat your flour (don’t worry I threw that flour away).

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Dry ingredients are whisked together while the butter is sliced and allowed a minute to soften.

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Throw the dry and the butter into a bowl and mix with a paddle attachment or hand-held mixer until the mixture resembles course crumbs (or like slightly wet beach sand). This is good.

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Whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined before adding it to your butter-flour-crumbly mixture. With your mixer on low, slowly add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, beating until the mixture is combined. Don’t over beat! This will make your cake a little tougher than you’d like. Mix just until no flour bits remain.

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Fill each cake pan just about halfway full (this batter has a good rise to it) and place in a preheated 350 degree oven. All ovens are different, but I like to set mine at the suggested temperature with about 5 minutes less on the timer, checking periodically to look for a no longer wet center/top. Doneness can be checked with a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean with no crumbs attached, your cake is done!

On to the best part! Frosting (and a lot of sprinkles).

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To accompany the cake we are making a vanilla buttercream. I decided to tint my frosting pink and decorate with lots of colorful jimmies. But you do what makes your heart sing.

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Another pro tip: sometimes your butter is cold or even worse…frozen. But your buttercream frosting can’t wait! Not to worry. Slice your butter thin like American cheese, set out on plastic wrap and soon your butter will be soft and recipe ready in no time.

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Once you’re cakes are completely cool and ready to frost, place a few strips of parchment paper under the edge of your cake to help with easy cleanup and cleaner lines. It’s like magic.

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Be generous with your frosting. Unless you don’t like a lot of frosting, then don’t. Also kitty likes the camera a little TOO much.

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Garnish with sprinkles and if you have all the time in the world like I did today, make a tiny little paper banner for an extra festive feel.

I hope you like this cake. I hope you make it and eat it and then make it again. And I’m excited to share more recipes with you all very soon!


Makes one 9 inch two layered cake

Recipe from Joy the Baker

2 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup whole milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a handheld beater and beat on slow speed until the mixture is a sandy consistency and everything is combined.  Gradually pour in half of the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated.

Whisk the egg, vanilla and remaining milk together in a separate bowl for a few seconds, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated.  Scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side or the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Continue mixing until the batter is smooth and no flour bits remain. Don’t over mix.

Fill your cake pans halfway full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until light golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool slightly in the pan, about 20 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.  This is important! Frosting a warm cake is baaaadd news.


makes enough to frost 1 two layer 9 inch cake

recipe adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft

6-8 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1/2 cup of milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then half of the milk and all the vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar. You made need more or less depending on the consistency you like. I prefer a denser butter to a weepy one, so I make sure I add less milk and more powdered sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. Use and store icing at room temperature, as icing will set if chilled. Can store in an airtight container for up to three days.

NOTE: Sometimes the addition of the milk to the butter can cause the frosting to break and look slightly curdled. This can be avoided by adding just a few tablespoons of milk at a time, watching the consistency of your frosting and making sure it doesn’t become too loose. It is better to add too much powdered sugar and loosening it back up with the addition of a little milk, then adding too much milk.

Also, making frosting still sort of freaks me out. Such a fine balance. But I love it enough to make it all the time.


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