The Classic Birthday Cake

King Arthur Classic Birthday Cake | apt 2b baking co
King Arthur Classic Birthday Cake | apt 2b baking co

It’s birthday season in Apartment 2 (we lost the B in our move, years ago) and you all know I love a big ol birthday cake. I have to admit that I have been a chocolate cake/vanilla frosting devotee for many years but after trying this yellow cake recipe my preference just may be flipping upside down. It is straight from King Arthur so you can head on over to their site to check it out.

The method for mixing the cake is a little unusual, but it gives this cake a really nice crumb and moist texture. I find yellow/white cakes can be kind of bland and dry, but not this one! Make sure to use high quality cocoa powder in the frosting, it makes a huge difference.

A Chocolate Cake fit for Celebrations


I take birthday cakes pretty seriously, in fact, I think it is one of my adult culinary responsibilities to be able to make kick ass birthday cakes. They can be tall and chocolatey and covered with fluffy frosting like this one or a bit more humble, maybe without any frosting at all. All I care about is seeing my pals smile and make a wish for themselves while bathed in flattering golden light from a mass of burning candles poked into the top. Can you think of anything more magical than an edible monument of joy that we are encouraged to stick with candles and set on fire? Me neither.

The recipe below is for my go to chocolate cake and my favorite chocolate frosting which I admit is a bit more labor intensive than American style buttercream. I won't blame you if halfway through you are standing over your mixer cursing me, but I promise if you see it to the end you will be rewarded will the smoothest, creamiest chocolate buttercream you've ever tasted.

Chocolate Cake

yield 1, 3 layer, 10'' cake

4c sugar

3 1/2c flour

1 1/2c cocoa powder

1T baking soda

1T baking powder

2t salt

2c milk

1c canola oil

1/2c sour cream

4 large eggs

1T vanilla extract

1 1/2c strong coffee

Preheat oven to 350º and prepare 3, 10'' cake pans by buttering, flouring and lining with parchment paper (see note for other size options)

1. Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Put the sifted ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer (or very large bowl) and stir well to combine.

2. In a medium bowl or pitcher, whisk together the milk, oil, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low, pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are moistened. Stop the mixer, scrape down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated, then turn the mixer up to medium and mix for 2 minutes.

3. Turn the mixer back down to low and slowly pour in the coffee. Stop the mixer and scrape down to the bottom of the bowl and finish the stirring by hand.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake for 20-25min or until a cake tester comes out clean. Double layers of cake will take 35-40min to bake.

5. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 15 min then invert onto a rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

yield, enough to fill and frost a 10'' cake, plus a little extra

For the Ganache

18oz chopped bittersweet chocolate

1 1/2c heavy cream

1T vanilla extract

1T strong coffee or espresso

1/4-1/2t salt, depending on your taste

For the Meringue Buttercream

5 egg whites

1 1/4c sugar

1lb butter, room temp

pinch salt

1T vanilla extract

To Make the Ganache

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl. In a small saucepan heat the heavy cream over medium heat until just before it boils. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the mixture sit for 5 min, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla, coffee and salt then set aside the mixture to cool until it is cool but still soft. Don't let it harden completely or you will not be able to whip it into the frosting.

To make the Swiss Buttercream

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch, 5-7min.

2. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture until stiff glossy peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 10min.

3. Switch to the paddle attachment and reduce the speed to low and add the salt then add butter a few tablespoons at a time and beat the frosting until smooth. During this step it is very likely that the frosting will "break" and you will think you messed up. Good news! You didn't! Mine breaks sometimes too. All you have to do is turn up the  speed on your mixer for a few seconds and the frosting comes back together. Continue until all of the butter is incorporated then add in the vanilla.

To Make the Chocolate Swiss Buttercream

1. Whip the room temperature ganache into the meringue buttercream until no lumps remain. The finished buttercream will be glossy, smooth and fluffy.

To Assemble the Cake

Peel the parchment paper from the layers and trim the cakes so the tops are flat. Place one layer onto a serving platter or pedestal and spread about 1 1/2c of the frosting onto the cake in an even layer. Place the second layer on top and repeat. Finish by placing the last layer on top, trimmed side down so the top of the cake will be nice and flat and crumb free. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting (crumbcoat) and refrigerate for about 30min. (My apartment was so cold when I did this step, I just put my cake by the window for a few minutes, ha!) Pull the cake out of the fridge and add a second, heavier coat of frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with cacao nibs and chocolate sprinkles. Serve at room temp. Store any extra frosting in an airtight container in the freezer where it will keep for a few weeks.


- I usually bake this cake in 3'' tall pans. I fill one about 2/3 full and trim it cake into 2 horizontal layers, the remaining batter is used to make the other layer.

- You can also make a nice tall 9'', 3 or 4 layer cake with this amount of batter. Just make sure to only fill the cake pans half full of batter. If you don't have enough pans to bake all of the batter at once, store the batter in the refrigerator between batches.

- This chocolate cake tastes equally great with a simple vanilla buttercream if that is more your speed.- I used Cordillera Cacao nibs that I got from the Pantry at Delancy to garnish this cake and they are the most delicious nibs I've ever used. If you are anywhere near Seattle, you should pick them up and try to take a class while you are at it!

- The sprinkles came from Seattle Home Cake Decorating Supply Co. which is an incredible hole in the wall shop with a very helpful and knowledgable owner. Again, if you are in Seattle and you need any cake or cookie decorating supplies, this is your spot. You can find similar sprinkles online here.