The Ultimate Guide to Birthday Cake

Break out the candles! This guide contains our best birthday cake recipes, tips and decorating ideas.

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It’s not a proper birthday celebration without a cake. Whether your favorite flavor is chocolate, vanilla or red velvet, birthday cakes give you the magical opportunity to make a wish and blow out the candles.

Even if your last bake looked like a scene straight from Sleeping Beauty, you don’t have to turn to a fancy bakery to get the perfect birthday cake. We collected all of our essential birthday cake information, from recipes to techniques to decorating ideas, into this guide so your next baking project turns out just as sweet as the birthday boy or girl.

Homemade Birthday Cake Recipes

cut cakes on tableCourtesy Trina Harris

Few things are as festive as a towering birthday cake that’s loaded with frosting and candles. But the key to the best birthday cake is starting with a quality recipe that’ll ensure each piece is as moist and delicious as the next. Keep things simple with these classic flavors:

New to baking? Try our easy birthday cake recipes that have simple steps—perfect for the beginner baker. Be sure to check out our cake baking guide, too, for more expert tips and tools to help get you started.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, take a peek at our top-rated birthday cake recipes to challenge your cake-making skills. You’ll find everything from Unicorn Cake to a Decadent Fudge Cake with a marbled chocolate topping that’ll make you want to celebrate your birthday every day.

And for the little ones (or kids at heart), these adorable kids’ birthday cakes are sure to be the center of your celebration.

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Birthday Cake Baking Tips

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Whether you’re a baking newbie or have been whipping up birthday cakes for years, there’s always room for improvement. We ask the Test Kitchen for their need-to-know birthday cake tips.

  • Resist overbeating your ingredients! Overworking the batter can develop too much gluten, giving the cake a dense, pancake-like texture. Here’s how to avoid other common cake mistakes.
  • Nothing is as disappointing as a cake getting stuck in the pan. Learning how to grease a cake pan will help take away some of the stress of the day.
  • Ensure your layer cakes are perfectly baked by using cake strips. These $10 tools help your cake layers bake evenly and prevent doming.
  • Remember: just because it’s a birthday doesn’t mean you have to bake a layer cake. Sheet cakes and single-layer round cakes are much easier to make and frost, and are just as festive.
  • If you find the top of your cake is sticky and difficult to frost, you may have covered it before it was completely cooled. Doing this traps heat, making a cake tacky and tough to work with. Always let cake cool on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature.
  • Free up some time by making a birthday cake in advance. We show you how to store a cake correctly and even how to freeze a cake.

Homemade Frosting Recipes and Tips

pink birthday sheet cakeCourtesy Trina Harris
There’s no better way to complement a beautifully baked cake than with homemade frosting. Start with our simple frosting recipes to learn how to make buttercream frosting, cream cheese frosting, chocolate ganache and more.

  • Our No. 1 cake frosting tip is to make sure the cake is completely cool before adding the frosting. Otherwise, all your hard work might melt right off the cake!
  • The secret to picture-perfect cakes is a crumb coat. By taking just a couple minutes to apply a thin layer of frosting to seal the cake layers, you’ll prevent pesky crumbs from mixing in with the frosting.
  • If you don’t have piping bags but want to add some flare to your cake, learn how to frost with a plastic bag.
  • As long as you’re not using delicate whipped cream frosting, you can frost your cake a day in advance without a problem.

Birthday Cake Decorating Ideas

Blogger Courtney Rich decorates birthday cake on kitchen counter.Blogger Courtney Rich of cakebycourtney.com; Courtesy Trina Harris

When it comes to birthday cake decorations, the sky’s the limit! You can go simple and elegant or completely over the top; just leave room for some candles. Whichever way you go, here are some ways to make sure your decorating goes off without a hitch.

More Ways to Decorate
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Essential Tools

Beyond basics like bowls and a mixing spoon, these are the tools our Test Kitchen cooks turn to whenever they’re making a birthday cake.

via FancySprinkles.com

Cake Decorations to Buy Online

  • Stand mixer: From mixing batter to whipping up a perfect Italian meringue frosting, a stand mixer will help you with just about every step of the birthday cake making process. If you don’t have the spare space or funds, a trusty hand mixer is a good alternative.
  • Kitchen scale: Baking is a science. Get the most precise measurements for best-ever cakes by using a kitchen scale.
  • Offset spatulas: Smooth frosting and spread fillings with our Test Kitchen’s favorite offset spatula.
  • Cake stand: Put your masterpiece on display with one of these unique cake stands.
  • Candles: OK, they’re not a tool, but candles are still a must! Wilton has a range of birthday candles, including letters, numbers and lots of color.

Store-Bought Birthday Cakes

Don’t have time to make a birthday cake from scratch? No worries! By using top-rated cake mix and utilizing ingredient and decoration upgrades, your guests will be none the wiser.

Next up: You don’t have to stop at cake. Make these confetti-filled treats, too!

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Caroline Stanko
As an Associate Digital Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.