Ready to try the best-ever vanilla birthday cake? Get the butter ready. Like any good dessert recipe, this one calls for many of your favorite ingredients—and a few you may not bake with too often! If you’re sick of store-bought, or just want to impress guests with a flavorful cake, try this delicious vanilla birthday cake recipe from Karen Berner of New Canaan, Connecticut. You won’t be disappointed.
The Ultimate Vanilla Birthday Cake Recipe
For the Cake:
- 2-1/4 cups cake flour (this is what makes cake flour different)
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup 2% milk
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles
For the Buttercream:
- 4 large egg whites (here’s what to do with the egg yolks)
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 1-1/2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon yellow food coloring
- Confetti sprinkles
Step 1: Prep the ingredients
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by coating the bottom in oil or butter, then line them with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the flour (make sure you’re measuring it right!), sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat in the butter, then add the egg whites—one at a time—beating well after each addition. Slowly add the milk and extracts, then add the sprinkles.
Step 2: Get to bakin’
Evenly distribute the batter between the two pans, then bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean—about 20–25 minutes. Slide a butter knife around the edge of the cakes, cool ’em in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Step 3: Make the buttercream
First, read our expert tips on making meringue (especially if you’re a first-timer). Then, bring a pot of water to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. In a stand mixer (we recommend this one), whisk the egg whites, brown sugar and salt, then place over simmering water—whisking constantly—until a thermometer reads 160 degrees. Remove from heat, then whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form. Beat in butter—a few tablespoons at a time—until smooth, then add vanilla and food coloring.
This cake is also delicious with one of our other homemade frosting recipes.
Step 4: Ice the cake!
Spread the frosting on top of the first layer, top it with the second layer, then frost the sides. Decorate with sprinkles, then top with candles because it’s your birthday and you deserve them!
What makes this cake so special?
In a word? The ingredients. This cake is loaded with a number of delicious ingredients that elevate the texture and flavor, including:
Unless you bake cakes on the daily, you likely just have all-purpose flour in your pantry. Cake flour contains a higher protein count than AP flour—it develops less gluten and it’s processed into a fine powder, making the end result much lighter and airier than it would be with regular flour. If you have extra cake flour, these recipes will help you use it up.
Almond extract doesn’t get enough love, and frankly, that’s tragic. Its nutty aroma is powerful, so adding just a few drops to your bake can drastically improve the flavor.
You don’t usually see brown sugar in frosting; typically, we see confectioners’ sugar. This recipe not only uses brown sugar, which provides a bolder sweetness, but by heating it for several minutes, it gives the frosting an almost caramelized flavor. Learn how to keep your brown sugar soft.
Beating those egg whites to stiff peaks? Yeah, you’re making a meringue—and it’s delicious. Thickening the frosting with meringue instead of heavy cream and sugar makes it sweet, light and stiff enough to shape.
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- (If you love sprinkles, you need these recipes in your life)