How to Make Birthday Cake

Skip the box and learn how to make your own birthday cake right at home. This light, tender cake is exactly what festive celebrations call for. Don't forget the sprinkles!

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When you’re looking for a fun and delicious homemade birthday cake, there’s really only one option: confetti cake. A great confetti cake is celebratory (thanks to all the sprinkles stirred into the batter), light, fluffy and has friends asking for a second slice. Sure, you can go for the boxed mix in a pinch, but you can really wow your guests by making your own version from scratch.

Making a homemade birthday cake is a great project for bakers of all skill levels and you’ll be wowed at how amazing it tastes—it’s definitely worth skipping the box. We’ll show you how to make our favorite version (plus a few fun twists).

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The Best Birthday Cake Recipe

Birthday cake on cake stand with gray background.Courtesy of Trina Harris

Our Test Kitchen’s favorite from-scratch birthday cake comes to us from Courtney Rich of Highland, Utah. Courtney is a prolific cake baker—you can follow along with her on her blog Cake by Courtney. She created this cake recipe based on memories of her childhood, specifically a delicious cake her mom made for her eighth birthday. “It’s the quintessential birthday cake. It’s a classic!” she says.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles

For the chocolate frosting:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions

Step 1: Stir Up the Birthday Cake Batter

Start this cake by beating together the softened butter, oil and sugar until light and fluffy—about six minutes. Add in the whole eggs, then the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each. All this time beating will help incorporate lots of air into these ingredients making a lighter, fluffier cake.

Next, add in the vanilla. Since this is essentially a vanilla cake with sprinkles, you’ll want to be sure to use the good stuff here. You’ll really taste it. Our Test Kitchen likes this vanilla extract from Nielsen-Massey.

In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: cake flour, baking powder and salt. Courtney says that cake flour will help give the cake a fluffier texture—the kind we really crave from a cake like this.

Add the dry ingredients into the beaten wet ingredients alternatively with buttermilk. Using buttermilk helps create a moist, tender cake (though if you don’t have any on hand, Courtney says that sour cream will also work—so will making buttermilk from scratch).

Finally, the best part: Fold in the sprinkles.

Step 2: Prep Your Cake Pans and Bake

Now it’s time to get your cake pans ready. Grease three eight-inch round cake pans and line with parchment or waxed paper. If you’re new to this step, follow our guide for how to grease a cake pan.

Then divide the batter equally between the three pans. You can do this with a kitchen scale, using measuring cups or just eyeball it. A kitchen scale is the most accurate way to do this, though.

Next, pop the cakes into a 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then remove them from the pans (you can do this by inverting them onto a wire rack) and let them cool completely.

Step 3: Make the Chocolate Buttercream

To top off this light and moist cake, Courtney recommends a lush chocolate buttercream. It’s a cinch to make.

Start by combining the chocolate chips and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring gently after each stint in the microwave. Continue heating until the mixture is melted and blends together nicely. Let this mix cool to room temperature.

In another bowl, beat your room temperature butter until light and creamy, then gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar. Add in the vanilla, salt and cooled chocolate mix and continue beating for another five minutes or so—until the frosting is light and fluffy (or until you can’t resist sampling a spoonful).

Step 4: Frost

Frosting a layered birthday cake.Courtesy of Trina Harris

All that’s left to do is put all the pieces together. Start by placing a small dollop of frosting on your cake plate or board to keep the base layer from budging.

Then spread the frosting between the layers. Getting the right proportions here can be hard, but Courtney says that about a cup between each layer is right. Use a measuring cup if you’d like to make sure the frosting layers look even once you slice.

Once you’ve stacked up the cake layers, give the outside of the cake a very thin layer of icing, often called a crumb coat. This helps contain the crumbs and gives you a good base for spreading on pretty frosting swirls. After your crumb coat, chill your cake in the fridge for 30 minutes or in the freezer for ten. This technique is one of our best frosting tips.

Frosting a birthday cakeCourtesy Trina Harris

After chilling, frost the cake. An offset spatula is going to be your best friend here. Use it to smooth the frosting on the sides and top of the cake. To get that perfectly imperfect finish on the outside, Courtney recommends setting a timer for yourself. “Don’t overwork it,” she says of the frosting. “The less you play with it the better.”

You can follow our guide on how to frost a cake for detailed instructions.

When you’re done frosting the cake, top with a few extra sprinkles and candles and serve! If you’re not ready yet, pop the cake in the fridge until about 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve. To get picture-perfect slices, use a knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry. This will cleanly through all the layers of cake and frosting.

When you slice, get ready for guests to ask for seconds. This cake is exceptionally fluffy and moist all at the same time—exactly what you want from a good birthday cake. Plus the sprinkles add that perfect pop of color. And while vanilla frosting may be the traditional accompaniment to a confetti cake, this light chocolate buttercream is a welcome twist (and it’s so good that you might make it your go-to frosting recipe).

Birthday cake with candles and sprinkles.Courtesy Trina Harris

Twists on the Recipe

This cake isn’t just delicious, it’s also extremely versatile. It can be easily converted into other styles of cake. Here are some of Courtney’s favorite riffs.

13×9 Confetti Cake

Birthday cake with lit candle in a 13x9 pan.Courtesy of Trina Harris

Sometimes you don’t want all the fuss of a layer cake. They definitely take some extra effort. If you just want a delicious party-ready cake, you can bake this same confetti cake recipe in a 13×9 pan. It’ll take a bit longer to bake (about 40 minutes in a 325ºF oven) than the smaller layers, but you’ll save some hands-on time with the decorating. Just shake some rainbow sprinkles on top of a great basic buttercream frosting and call it a party.

Birthday Cupcakes

Yep, you can turn this cake recipe into cupcakes, too. Just scoop the batter into lined muffin tins—don’t overfill them, though. About three-quarters full is enough. Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. When cool, frost away! Here are some of our favorite easy cupcake decorating ideas.

4-Layer Drip Cake

Tall layered birthday cake with drip icing being cut.Courtesy of Trina Harris

If you want to go even more over the top with this confetti cake, transform it into a four-layer beauty complete with drip decoration. To make this cake, simply divide the batter into four six-inch cake pans. To decorate, make a great vanilla buttercream and stir in even more sprinkles to make it even more fun. Then, for the drip decoration, make a basic ganache. You can do this with chocolate chips or any other baking chip.

Many slices of cut birthday cake on a table.Courtesy Trina Harris

However you slice it—13×9, three-layer, four-layer or cupcake—this homemade confetti cake is light, airy and oh-so moist. It’s exactly the kind of cake you want to bake up for a birthday party (or enjoy on your big day).

Even More Birthday Cake Ideas
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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.