Today I’m celebrating Sugar Spun Run’s 4th (un)Birthday* with nothing other than the BEST Birthday Cake Recipe. A classic, soft, and fluffy vanilla yellow cake loaded with colorful sprinkles and frosted with my favorite chocolate cream cheese frosting (though I include other possible frosting substitutions)!
Today marks 4 years of Sugar Spun Run, and we are celebrating with Birthday Cake!
This is a soft, fluffy, moist (sorry), yellow/vanilla birthday cake speckled with colorful sprinkles and covered with a thiiiick coating of chocolate frosting. It’s not the same as my vanilla cake recipe (though I’m dying to hear if you like it as much as that one!), it’s actually an adaptation of my vanilla cupcakes, and it’s so good.
I desperately wanted to share this one on Zach’s birthday a few weeks ago, but he insisted on my chocolate cake instead, probably because he knew it would be pointless for me to try to sneak any sprinkles in there.
This is a classic and uncomplicated 3 layer homemade Birthday cake recipe that’s surprisingly simple to make. Let’s get started.
Let’s Talk Birthday Cake Sprinkles
The sprinkles that you see in my pictures are pastel candy quins — flat, disc-like sprinkles. If you’re wondering, these are the exact sprinkles that I use (affiliate). However, classic colorful sprinkles or “jimmies” will work just as well in this recipe.
One thing I do not recommend is using non-pareils; the tiny colored ball-shaped sprinkles. These are unfortunately likely to bleed through your cake, turning it an ugly gray color.
Tips for the Best Birthday Cake
Avoid over- or under-mixing
With most cake, cupcake, or muffin batters, mixing can make or break the ultimate texture of your baked good. It’s important that you stir well enough that all ingredients are completely combined, but don’t stir too much or your cake will be dense and dry.
For best results, use a spatula to frequently scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, that way you don’t have any pockets of un-creamed butter or un-mixed flour. Using all room temperature ingredients will also encourage your birthday cake batter to combine properly.
Alternating adding your dry ingredients and your buttermilk (or buttermilk substitute) to the batter will ensure that everything combines better than if you were to add either of these ingredients all at once. When stirring in your dry ingredients and buttermilk, make sure you do this step by hand, using a spoon or spatula, and not using an electric mixer. An electric mixer is much more likely to over-work your batter, leaving you with a dense/dry crumb.
Always avoid over-baking
A cake that’s been in the oven for even a minute or two too long runs the risk of being dry and crumbly. For best results, check your cake a minute or two before it’s supposed to be done. The cake should spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center should ideally come out with a few moist crumbs. If it comes out clean, it’s definitely done, get it out of the oven ASAP.
Over-baking can also happen if your oven runs too hot. I’ve never owned an oven that ran at the temperature that it said it was, it’s always either been too hot or too cold. To make sure I’m always baking at the proper temperature, I keep two inexpensive oven thermometers (affiliate) in my oven at all times. If your oven is even just five or ten degrees too hot, it can dry out your cake before it’s even supposed to be close to finished.
Birthday Cake Tips, Continued
All-Purpose Flour vs Cake Flour
I tested this birthday cake recipe using equal amounts of all purpose flour and cake flour and was satisfied with it both ways. Using cake flour will give the cake a slightly lighter, softer texture.
When measuring your flour, make sure that you never pack it into a measuring cup. Stir the flour, then use a large spoon to spoon it into a measuring cup before leveling it off with a straight edge (like a knife). For best results, use a kitchen scale and weigh your ingredients, it’s easier, produces fewer dishes, and guarantees accurate results. This is the kitchen scale I use (affiliate, I promise I didn’t mean for this birthday cake post to be a bunch of Amazon links but look what’s happened).
I used my chocolate cream cheese frosting to cover this birthday cake. It’s been my frosting of choice ever since I was a kid. However, if you’re not a fan of chocolate or cream cheese, I have plenty of other options for you:
All of the alternative frostings listed above were designed for 2-layer cakes. If you’d like to use one for today’s recipe, just be sure to increase the frosting recipe by 50% so that you have enough to cover this entire 3-layer cake.
Alright, now that we’ve covered our Birthday Cake basics, I need to thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sticking with me over these past four years (or even if you’re new, thank you for finding me and for staying!!)!! Thank you so much to everyone who reads these posts, comments, shares them on social media or Pinterest, or watches me on YouTube. Thanks to you, Sugar Spun Run isn’t just a hobby, it’s my job (which is just the craziest thing in the world to say), and I couldn’t be more grateful.
*You can check out my previous (un)Birthday celebrations (and learn why I call it an “Unbirthday”) in my Funfetti Cake Recipe and in last year’s Cookie Dough Pops post.
Birthday Cake Recipe
- 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened (265g)
- 3 cups granulated sugar (600g)
- 3 large eggs room temperature preferred
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (500g) (may substitute 500g cake flour)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 2 cups buttermilk¹ room temperature preferred (475ml)
- ½ cup colorful sprinkles²
CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING³
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened (175g)
- 12 oz cream cheese softened (340g)
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 5 ¼ cups powdered sugar 656g
- ¾ cup natural cocoa powder (90g)
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and grease and flour the sides and bottom of three 8” or 9” baking pans. For extra security I also recommend lining the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan.
- Add butter to the bowl of a stand mixer or to a large bowl. Use a paddle attachment on your stand mixer or an electric mixer to beat until smooth.
- Add sugar and beat until well-combined.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Stir in vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- Using a spoon or spatula (but NOT the electric mixer any longer) add about a fourth of the flour mixture (no need to measure, just eyeball it) to the butter mixture and stir until just combined.
- Now add approximately ⅓ of the buttermilk and stir again until combined. Repeat alternating adding flour mixture and buttermilk until all ingredients are completely combined. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- Stir in sprinkles.
- Evenly divide batter into prepared pan. Transfer to 350F (175C) oven and bake for about 28 minutes if using 9” pans and 32-34 minutes if using 8” pans, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
- Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes then run a knife around the edge of the pan and carefully invert each layer onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting. While cakes are cooling, prepare frosting.
CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- You will need a large bowl, this recipe makes a lot of frosting to cover all three layers of cake!
- Combine butter and cream cheese in your stand mixer or in a large bowl with electric mixer and beat until creamy and well-combined.
- Stir in vanilla extract and salt.
- Gradually, with mixer on low-speed, add powdered sugar (check out my video below the recipe for tips on doing this without making a giant mess of your kitchen!). Once all sugar has been added, stir in cocoa powder. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that all ingredients are well-incorporated.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase anything through these links I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Please view the disclosure policy for more information.
I make this cake for every birthday, sometimes in cupcakes, sometimes in a sheet, sometimes with chocolate frosting, but always this cake recipe. It’s easy to make and delivers all of the “mmmm”s. Thanks Sam!
I’m so glad it’s been such a hit for you, thank you so much for commenting! 🙂
Hi! Preparing to make this cake! But hoping to just do it in two layers. Should I halve the ingredients? Will post on the results!! Can’t wait! 🙂
Hi Priscilla! You can reduce it by 33% or just make it as is and use any leftover batter for cupcakes. Cutting it in half will leave you with 2 pretty thin layers. 🙂
I have loved every recipe I have tried the first time, but this one I will try again. The cake had a great taste, but it was dense and dry. I had a increase the bake time by 10 minutes and I knew my layers did not come out the way I expected. Will try again!
Disappointed to hear this one wasn’t a winner for you, Teresa! If it is any help, most often when cakes come out dense/dry it is a result of accidentally over-measuring the flour, over-mixing the batter, or over-baking. I am happy to help troubleshoot further if needed and I wish you better success on round two! <3
Would I be able to make this in a bundt pan? If so how would I adjust the time and temperature?
Hi Jessica! I haven’t baked in a bundt pan. It should work, but I’m not sure how long it would need to bake. 🙂
I want to use a 9X13 pan so how long should I bake this for? If I want to make this frosting, do I still use the 5 cups of powdered sugar, or do I use less?
Hi Sheela! This will make too much batter for a 9 x 13 so make sure to not overfill your pan. I’m not sure of a bake time on it. I would make the frosting as is and just discard any excess as I’m not sure how much icing you will use. I hope you love it! 🙂
Terrible recipe. Every layer of my cake sunk, despite following the instructions to a “T.” A lot of time and money wasted – and no birthday cake to show for it. Do not recommend.
I’m so sorry this happened, Amber. Most of the time when a cake sinks it was over-mixed or under-baked. 🙁
What the difference in texture between this birthday cake sponge and your vanilla cake? I made your vanilla cake few times and love it so would you not just use that as birthday cake sponge
Hi May! The vanilla cake will definitely work here. You can just add sprinkles to it. The flavor is a little different between the two cakes. 🙂
I never thought I would become a person who comments on recipes (years-old recipes at that) but here we are. This recipe deserves it. I made this cake for my partner’s birthday yesterday and it was SO good. Delicious, fun, pretty, everything a birthday cake should be. Birthday Boy and I were both thrilled, and I am currently struggling not to have cake for breakfast. I only made a slight modification – this cake is a big boi and there are only 2 of us in the apartment so I cut the recipe by a third. This made a perfect 2-layer cake instead of 3 layers. I also don’t have enough 9-inch round pans so I used two 8-inch square pans. The math worked out here as well. All of this is a roundabout way of saying: this recipe is superb, thank you for sharing it, and I will definitely check out your other treats.
Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much. 🙂
Great recipe! It was delicious but not as moist as I had hoped. It still worked out great and I baked a cake for my mom’s 50th birthday. Thanks!
I used two 9 inch pans. Both of them sunk in the middle. When I stuck the toothpick in to test if the cake was done, it fizzled like a balloon. 🙁
Hmm there are 2 things that can cause this. Either the cake was under-baked or the ingredients may have been over-beaten when the ingredients were creamed together. 🙁 I hope it turns out better next time. 🙂
Does this recipe work with gluten free flour? ( it’s a 1:1 ratio)
Hi Eileen! I’m not sure so I’m hesitant to advise here. I think it should work if you are using the 1:1. If you do try it I would love to know how it turns out. 🙂
I had to bring all the ingredients down a third because I make 2 tier cakes. I swapped the cocoa powder for white chocolate chunks in my icing. It turned out very well all together. It was very good for my first birthday cake! Only thing I done wrong was I added too many sprinkles in my batter. Love it! Your recipes work!!!
I am so glad you enjoyed it so much, Brian! 🙂
No, I didn’t. I did forget to mix in the sprinkles, so I put them on top. But I doubt that would cause the overflow.
No, that definitely would not cause it. All I can think is something might have been accidentally over-measured, there’s no reason it should overflow and I’ve never experienced this 🙁
I am trying this recipe tomorrow. But I want to make two cakes instead of 3. I am using 8 inch pans. How long should I bake the cakes?
Hi Parul! I haven’t split the batter into 3 pans instead of 2 so you will just need to keep an eye on it. If you increase the batter by 50% you can have 3 regular layers and the bake time won’t change. 🙂
Hi my name is Precious I love your baking tip’s and the way you dress your cake.
Thank you so much, Precious! 🙂
It was my first time baking a cake for my son’s 2year birthday.
It was easy and so delicious! My husband said the most delicious cake in his life.:)
Thank you for sharing the recipe.
I am so glad everyone enjoyed it so much, Iny! 🙂
I measured the ingredients the first time I baked this tonight. It baked for nearly 50 minutes. Weird texture. I thought maybe I measured incorrectly so I started all over and weighed all my ingredients. It really needs to bake in 4 layers. They ran over in my oven and made a huge mess. They still did not bake properly. Had to bake for nearly 20 minutes more than stated. As soon as they come out of the oven, they collapsed in the middle. Very gluey texture. Ugh. What a mess. This was supposed to be a birthday cake for my husband tomorrow. We have a big bowl of wonderful frosting is the only positive.
I’m so disappointed to hear this Valarie! This cake really does bake in 3 8 or 9 inch pans. Did you make any substitutions? It sounds like somehow there may have been too much of a rising agent in the batter. If they sink after baking they most likely weren’t finished baking. 🙁
do I need to alter the baking time if I divide the recipe in half?
Yes, you will need to reduce the time. By how much will vary depending on the size pans that you use.
I divided the recipe by 3 (I checked my math a few times to be sure!) because I’m making a 1 layer cake, 9″ pan. The pan COMPLETELY overflowed while baking! I wish I had followed my instincts before putting it in the oven because I knew it looked too full but thought maybe it was just the recipe. What could have gone wrong???
How tall is your pan? My pans are about 2 inches tall. If you cut it in thirds it shouldn’t overflow. I find sometimes when cakes overflow people have used self rising flour and that is not a good substitute here. That being said it is important to never overfill a pan. 🙂
I followed the recipe, using 3 standard 8″ pans. It overflowed HORRIBLY. I have a horrible smell in my kitchen, which I hope doesn’t taint the flavor of the cake. I should have used 4 pans.
That is very strange, you can see in the video that I use three pans with no issue. Did you use self-rising flour by chance?