I originally posted this cake on the blog in 2010 and after years of making if for friends and family I thought it was worth reposting with new photos and a few recipe changes. This classic birthday cake we continue to make over the years is a simple but perfect yellow cake with chocolate frosting.
My dear friend, Matt, who some call Danny Tanner,( for he played the dad role among all of our friends growing up) used to bake me a birthday cake every year for my birthday. It was always yellow cake with chocolate icing and never plainly decorated. He commonly found random small toys or decorations to place on the top, probably found in the toy isle at the local grocery store. Ever since then I have it in my mind that a birthday cake must be exactly that: a yellow cake baked with love and smothered in chocolate frosting with some whimsy element for the top.
One of the great things about this dear friend of mine is that he didn’t just remember my birthday but he remembered all of his friends’ birthdays and still to this day calls me on my birthday or texts me something ridiculous to make me laugh. I hope I can be that kind of a friend to others.
Since Danny Tanner won’t give away his secret recipe, most likely found on the side of a Sara Lee box, I decided to venture out and find my own. I started with the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, a food blog I often rely on, then over the years altered it after finding my grandma’s yellow cake recipe. The chocolate frosting is from The Kitchn website and I think you’ll enjoy it too!
If you’re celebrating a friend’s birthday or just on a search for the best birthday cake, this one will do just the trick!
- 2 sticks butter 1 cup
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 2/3 cups cake flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 and grease extra well (or line with parchment and grease parchment) 2 9 inch round cake pans, 3 8 inch round cake pans, or one 8 x 12 oblong pan or one standard bundt pan*.
In a stand mixer, cream butter and add in sugar gradually. Cream until sugar is smooth. Add in one egg at a time and mix until fluffy.
Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt.
Alternate adding in the flour mixture and milk.
Stir in vanilla.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then tap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
This cake can be made in a variety of pans. You can use 3 8 inch round cake pans, 2 9 inch round cake pans, one 8 x 12 oblong pan, or one standard bundt pan. Make sure to grease the pans well especially if you're using a bundt pan!!
For the Frosting you’ll need: 1/2 cup butter, 5 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1/2 cup milk, 16 ounces powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan, and whisk in the cocoa powder. Whisk in the milk and heat just until bubbles appear around the edges. Pour over the powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until smooth and glossy. If it seems extremely runny, add more powdered sugar. Be careful, though; as it cools it will firm up considerably, so wait until the icing cools before adding too much more. Beat in the vanilla.
Use immediately, or let in cool in the fridge, then whip again until fluffy.
If you’re using immediately, pouring it over the cake is the easiest way. If you have a layered cake pour it over the first layer then top with another layer then pour over the second and repeat for the third.
This will keep for several days the fridge, but make sure it’s tightly covered. It will dry out and form a thin crust when exposed to air.
TIP FOR ICING CAKES: to accomplish a smooth iced cake, let cake cool completely then secure the crumbs by applying a very thin layer of icing all around the cake. Then refrigerate the cake for about 20 minutes. This should secure all of the crumbs on the exterior of the cake. Then apply a second layer of icing for the finished look.
Previous photos of this recipe using a layered cake pan :