The Only Birthday Cake You’ll Ever Need

Sometimes we want to go the extra mile and make a birthday cake from scratch for our loved ones. Or because we’re alone and bored on a Friday night. However, that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, we have the perfect recipe that has simple ingredients and it’s delicious. Brought to you by the culinary genius that is Alison Roman.

Here are the ingredients you will need: 

Makes one 9-inch cake

Birthday Cake

For the Vanilla Cake:

Nonstick spray

4 cups all-purpose or cake flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 ½ cups buttermilk

½ cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

½ cup lightly packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs

4 large egg yolks

For the Chocolate Frosting:

12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

Alison suggests you do these three things before you begin mixing and baking in order to make everything go smoothly:

1. Arrange the two racks in your oven so that one is in the top third of the oven and one is right in the middle: You’ll need both to bake all three layers.

2. Get all your ingredients together and measure them out.

3. Make enough space in your fridge to hold a large cake. The bottom shelf is a good place.

Now, let the action begin! 

1. Start by combining the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and whisking it all together.

2. In another bowl, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter. (PS- make sure butter is at room temp! It needs to be soft to the touch.)

3. Use an electric mixer and mix the butter and sugars on HIGH until the mixture gets fluffy. This should take about 4 minutes.

Make sure there are no visible clumps of brown sugar!

4. Now add the eggs and egg yolks, ONE AT A TIME, beating each egg or egg yolk into the mixture before adding the next one.

5. Now, mix until everything is light, pale, and fluffy — about five minutes total. 

5 minutes seems like a long time, but it’s important because this step is going to make the cake light and fluffy!

6. Combine the buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.

7. Now, we’re going to mix all three of the mixtures together! (Buttermilk, sugar and butter, and the dry ingredients.)

In this step there IS a sort of method to it. You’re going to want to add a little bit of the buttermilk mixture to the sugar/butter mixture, mix it up, then do the same thing with the dry mixture. So, you should be mixing a little bit wet, then mixing a little bit of the dry, then repeat until everything is mixed together.

When it’s all said and done, this is what the batter should look like: 

And now we dish it out! Divide the batter evenly into three 9 inch cake pans. BUT before you put the batter in, spray all three pans with nonstick spray. (Even if they’re non stick pans.) After putting the batter in, smooth out the tops of the batter, making it as even as possible.

9. Now place the three cake pans in the oven: two pans on the top rack and one on the middle rack. Bake for 35–40 minutes.

About halfway through baking, rotate the cake from the middle rack to the top rack (and move one from the top to the middle). This way, they’ll all cook in the same amount of time.

You’ll know the cakes are done when they turn a nice golden brown color and you can smell them. You can also tell a lot by the way the cake feels. Press the center slightly — it should spring back, not sink in. If you’re still not sure, stick a toothpick in it, and if it comes out with no batter on it, you’re good!

10. Now cool the cakes: The fastest (and best) way is to turn the them out onto a wire rack. The holes in the rack allow heat and steam to escape. That prevents moisture from building up and cools the cakes faster.

If you don’t have a wire rack, do not fear! Just sit them out and let them cool in their pans.  It will just take a little longer. The one thing Alison pleads you NOT to do is put them in the refrigerator.

Now, while the cakes cool, let’s make the frosting!

Ingredients are:

12 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

11. Combine the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. (I just rinse out the bowl I made the cake batter in.) Beat this mixture on high until it’s really airy and turns almost pure white, about six minutes.

12. Turn the mixer down to low and add melted chocolate (it should be pourable, but not hot) and beat that into the butter mixture. Turn the mixer back up to high and beat until it’s totally blended, about two minutes.

It should look like this!

13. Now, let the frosting begin! With the cakes still upside down on the rack, spread some frosting evenly over the first layer, then put another cake layer on top and frost that. Repeat with the last layer.

Notice how each cake is being stacked upside down. That’s how you get a suuuuuper smooth top on a tiered cake! Because usually the top of a cake is uneven.

14. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake. Don’t worry about making it pretty at this point, you just want to make sure there’s no naked cake peeking out. This is called the “crumb coat.” Think of it as your base coat.

If you get crumbs in this coat, DON’T FREAK OUT! It’s just the base coat, and you will put another coat on later.

15. Place the cake, still on the rack, in the fridge. Chill it for at least two hours. 

This allows the first layer of frosting to harden, which makes the second layer go on super smooth!

16. Take the cake out of the fridge and frost it one more time. This time, use a butter knife or offset spatula and make it pretty. (If it’s not pretty, don’t worry…sprinkles are coming!)

17. NOW we decorate however we want! Personally for me it’s sprinkles, but throw on whatever your heart desires!

18. If you’ve decorated the cake on the wire rack, use a long, flat spatula (like a fish spatula) to lift the cake and transfer it to a fancy cake stand or a plate.

AAAAAAAND VOILA! The perfect birthday cake, courtesy of Alison Roman!