Yellow Birthday Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

March 2, 2021


My Essential Yellow Birthday Cake is a recipe I think every home cook should have in their back pocket. Whether it’s for your best friend whose birthday slipped your mind until the day of (it happens to ALL of us) or your son’s birthday in the midst of a crazy work week, this go-to birthday cake recipe comes with easy variations to satisfy everyone’s birthday wish. And one key component of the essential birthday cake is FROSTING! Beautifully topped cakes, cupcakes, or cookies will have everyone fooled that your dessert was frosted at the best bakery in town. Here are a few techniques I always rely on:


Before frosting, make sure your cake or cupcakes are completely cool. I like to put them in the freezer to get them super chilled. Also, if you are frosting a cake, apply a thin, preliminary layer of frosting, called a crumb coat, on the chilled surface and chill it again. This locks in all of the crumbs, giving you a smooth surface–this makes it much easier to apply that smooth final coat of frosting!


This tool makes frosting so much easier and faster. I like having a small one on hand for things like cookies, and a larger one for frosting cakes. (Find my favorite offset spatulas included in this month’s Products I Love!) 


The spatula should never touch the surface of the baked good; it should only be making contact with the frosting. I use the tip of the spatula with light pressure and back-and-forth strokes. Avoid lifting the spatula straight up as that could pull off crumbs.


To give your baked goods a smooth and shiny finish, dip your spatula into hot water and dry it. Then carefully slide the heated surface over the frosting, melting just enough to give it a smooth finish. Repeat as needed.

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Essential Yellow Birthday Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • Author: Kelsey Nixon
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x


The beautiful fluffy yellow cake has a crumbly texture and the vanilla buttercream is just sweet enough–and easily adapted to other flavorings!




  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ cup rainbow sprinkles


  1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Generously butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper circles, and butter the parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the buttermilk and vanilla, and mix until just combined. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and tap the pans on the counter several times to get rid of any air bubbles.
  5. Bake until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
  6. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Run the blade of a butter knife around the edges of the pans to release the cakes. Invert the cakes onto a wire rack and discard the parchment. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. Wrap both layers in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
  7. For the buttercream: Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and milk and beat on medium-high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
  8. Remove the frozen cake layers from the freezer and unwrap. Put on layer on a cake stand and spread about one-third of the frosting onto the top of the layer. Put the second layer on top of the first and top with another one-third of the frosting. Spread the last one-third of the frosting on the sides. Decorate with the sprinkles and serve.



Chocolate Buttercream: Sift 1 cup cocoa powder together with the powdered sugar before creaming with the butter and salt.

Orange Buttercream: Add 1 tablespoon grated orange zest to the mixture.

Almond Buttercream: Substitute 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract for the vanilla extract.

  • Prep Time: 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Category: dessert

Keywords: cake, birthday

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