There are few things more celebratory than a birthday. Gathering friends and family around a table draped with a giant, homemade cake is like the unofficial emblem of the big day. And while you can get away with a store-bought cake, it’s much more fun to make the occasion a DIY affair—especially when the baker has mad skills. It’s easy to make an amazing, no-fail birthday cake that will impress all of the guests—if you have a good recipe and the right decorating ingredients.
For a lot of us, nothing says happy birthday quite like a classic yellow cake with multi-colored sprinkles. “It’s a nostalgic thing,” Leah Morrow, executive pastry chef at the Williamsburg Hotel and Brooklyn Bread Lab, tells People. “It’s something that reminds you of your childhood, and it’s just a great way to celebrate a birthday.”
A good birthday cake is all about balance: light and fluffy layers with sweet buttercream frosting and lots of fun decorations. If you’re looking to give a birthday treat some extra wow factor, try adding a personalized message to the cake that is sure to make the birthday boy or girl feel special.
To keep your cake moist, this recipe uses two key ingredients: buttermilk and oil. Both help the cake stay soft and flavorful—even if you let it sit out for hours or days at room temperature. Buttermilk also helps the cake keep its shape, so it doesn’t become too dense as it cooks. For the best results, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, then vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt.
In the middle of the cake, plop dollops of buttercream, using an offset spatula, to form even rows. If you want to cover the entire cake in buttercream, that’s fine, too—but if you’d prefer to save some icing for the top, spread it over the cake instead of around each layer. Then pile on the sprinkles or other decorations, if you’re feeling fancy.
If you’re using a piping bag, first practice on a plate or some parchment paper to get the hang of it. When piping, use your dominant hand to hold the nozzle down and control the flow of icing, while your non-writing hand holds the bag steady so it doesn’t tip over.
The modern birthday tradition of putting candles on a cake is believed to have started in Ancient Greece, where worshippers brought moon-shaped cakes to the temple of Artemis, goddess of the moon and hunting. They would put a candle on the cake to represent each year of life and then, as it was lit, they’d make their wish. The family would replace the burning candles throughout the day and then, at dinnertime, the person celebrating their birthday could blow them out and dig in to the delicious treat. happy birthday cake