Classic Birthday Cake

Birthdays have been celebrated for centuries, so of course there are many different forms of birthday cake. But if you live in the United States, it is likely that a fluffy yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting is the image that comes to mind when you think of birthday cake.

My son’s second birthday party seemed like the perfect occasion to try my hand at this classic cake. I adapted a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen and, as usual, their recipe produced perfect results. The cake was moist, sweet, and fluffy, and the frosting was rich and smooth. I added colorful sprinkles for some childlike whimsy. After all, birthdays are supposed to be fun, right?

Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

Ingredients

Cake
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2.25 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, separated, plus 3 large yolks, room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
pinch of nutmeg

Frosting
20 tbsp (2.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 ounces, milk chocolate, melted and cooled

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F with oven rack in middle position. Grease, line with parchment paper, grease, and flour two round 9 inch cake pans.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 1.5 cups sugar, and pinch of nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks. Set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium high and whip whites to soft billowy mounds, about 1 minute. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup granulate sugar and whip until glossy, stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
  5. To the now-empty bowl, add the flour mixture. With mixer on low, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated, about 15 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, beat on medium-low until smooth and fully incorporated, about 10-15 seconds.
  6. Using rubber spatula, stir one-third of whites into batter, then gently fold in the rest until no streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between  pans, smooth tops with rubber spatula, and gently tap pans to release air bubbles.
  7. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 20-30 minutes. For more even baking, rotate pans halfway through baking. Cool cakes in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pans, discard parchment, and let cool completely, about 2 hours, before frosting. (Cooled cakes can be stored for up to one day wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Cooled cakes can also be frozen for up to one month if first wrapped in plastic wrap and then wrapped in aluminum foil; defrost cakes at room temperature before unwrapping and frosting.)
  8. For the frosting: Process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process just until combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape down bowl, then add melted chocolate and process until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. (Frosting can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 hours before frosting cake and refrigerated for up to 3 days. If refrigerated, let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.)
  9. To assemble: Line edges of cake platter with parchment paper to keep cake stand clean. Place 1 cake layer on the prepared stand. Place about 1.5 cups frosting in center of cake layer and, using large spatula, spread in even layer up to the edge of the cake. Place second layer on top, making sure layers are lined up, then frost as first layer, this time spreading frosting slightly over the edge. Gather more frosting on the tip of the spatula and gently spread frosting onto sides of cake. Decorate as desired. You can use extra frosting to pipe special decorations as well. When finished, gently pull out parchment paper strips and discard.

Enjoy!

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