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Birthday cake with chocolate frosting

Classic Birthday Cake

This classic birthday cake is the only recipe you need. It starts with a moist and tender vanilla cake that's not too sweet and has a beautiful golden yellow color. Then it's frosted with swirls of creamy chocolate frosting. The recipe is better than any bakery but simple enough for a novice baker.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword Birthday Cake, Yellow Cake
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Cooling 45 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings 14 pieces (or 12 large pieces)
Calories 605kcal


  • two 8-inch round cake pans (with high sides - about 2 inches)
  • parchment paper



  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour* measured properly - see recipe notes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter* softened to room temperature, but not melty
  • 1 ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs* room temperature
  • ½ cup sour cream* room temperature
  • cup whole milk* room temperature

Chocolate Frosting

  • 1 ¼ cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature (2 and ½ sticks)
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar sifted
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons whipping cream or milk


Baking the Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees. If you have a convection oven, the temperature should be 325F (160C) - some convection ovens do this automatically.
  • Line the bottom of two 8-inch round pans (with high sides - at least 1.5 inches) with parchment paper. Lightly grease the sides and sprinkle the sides with flour. Or brush the sides with cake pan release. *See recipe notes for additional pan sizes.
  • In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk the ingredients together (about 5-10 seconds). Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy - about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  • Mix in the oil and vanilla extract.
  • Mix in the eggs 1 at a time, continuing to turn off the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  • With the mixer on low speed, mix in about ⅓ of the flour mixture. Then mix in the sour cream.
  • Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, mix in ⅓ of the flour mixture, followed by the milk. Turn of the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then mix in the rest of the flour. Stop beating as soon as the everything is combined.
  • Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pans and smooth the top. You can weigh the pans to ensure that they're the same side. Gently drop the cake pans on the counter (from about 1 inch above) to remove any excess air bubbles.
  • Bake in the preheated oven with both pans on the middle rack. The cakes will bake for about 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool the cakes in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then carefully insert the cake pans onto a cooling rack to cool the cakes out of the pan.

Chocolate Frosting

  • In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth and fluffy.
  • With the mixer on low speed, beat in 2 cups powdered sugar.
  • Add in the cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and beat together with the mixer on low speed.
  • Beat in the rest of the powdered sugar about ½ cup at a time, alternating with 1 tablespoon of cream/milk until the desired sweetness and thickness is reached. The frosting should be thick, but thinner than peanut butter.

Assembling the Cake

  • Wait for your cake layers to be 100% cooled before assembling the cake. If your cakes are domed on top, use a serrated knife to gently slice off the rounded top of each cake.
  • Arrange 3-4 strips of wax paper or parchment paper around the edges of your cake stand/cake plate (whatever you plan to serve the cake on). Place 1 cake on the pan with the bottom facing down. The strips of parchment should be slightly under the cake, and cover the exposed part of the cake plate.
  • Frost the top of the cake with about ⅓ of the frosting, creating a layer of about ¼ - ⅓ inch thick.
  • Place the second cake on top, with the bottom facing down.
  • Frost the sides of the cake with about ⅓ of the frosting. If you notice the crumbs are coming up/getting into the frosting, frost the edges with a very thin layer of frosting. Let it harden, then frost the sides.
  • Then frost the top of the cake, and go over the sides and edges of the cake as needed. Very gently pull the pieces of parchment paper/wax paper out from under the cake.


  1. For different cake pan sizes:
    • 3 8-inch (20 cm) round sandwich tins. The bake time will be around 25 minutes at 350F.
    • 2 9-inch (23 cm) round cake tins. The bake time will be around 25-27 minutes at 350F.
    • 3 6-inch (15.25 cm) round cake tins. The bake time will be about 30-35 minutes.
    • 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) rectangular cake tin. The bake time will be 35-40 minutes. Divide the frosting recipe in half for this recipe. 
    • If you want cupcakes, then I suggest using this yellow cupcake recipe.
  2. Make sure to measure the flour properly, otherwise the cake will get dry. Whisk the flour first. Then spoon it into dry measuring cups and level off the top. Or use a measuring scale. 2 and ¾ cups weighs 344 grams or 12.1 ounces.
  3. The butter should be softened to a cool room temperature, but shouldn't seem slimy or melty. If you gently press your finger into the butter, it should gently press down. Take the butter out of the fridge about 15-30 minutes before getting started and cut into small cubes.
  4. The eggs, sour cream and milk should be room temperature before getting started. Take them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before getting started.
  5. Cake storage & make ahead tips: Cake is best if served the same day as it's made or the next day, although this cake will stay moist and tender for about 3-4 days. Store unfrosted cake in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 4 days. Store frosted cake covered or in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Remove the cake from the fridge about 30 minutes prior to serving to let it warm up to room temperature. 
  6. Freezing: Unfrosted cake layers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in a freezer bag or container and frozen for up to 2 months. Wrap each layer individually. Thaw cake in the fridge overnight.
  7. Nutrition information is an estimate only and based on 1 slice of cake with frosting, assuming that the cake is sliced into 14 equal-sized pieces and all the frosting is used. 


Calories: 605kcal | Carbohydrates: 73g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 34g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 133mg | Sodium: 244mg | Potassium: 199mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 51g | Vitamin A: 1004IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 69mg | Iron: 2mg