This is everything a Classic Birthday Cake should be – indulgent, excessive and a cake to remember. This particular cake truly is perfection with its three layers of the easiest, most moist and tender yellow cake filled and finished with a really easy chocolate buttercream.
The entire cake is easy to make, easy to assemble and easy to finish.
While better known for my love of Italian and French buttercreams, this is an American cake and I thought it should have an American buttercream. While this chocolate buttercream is not as dark as some it is equally as intense in flavor.
Both the recipe for the cake and the buttercream have appeared on this blog but never put together as the Classic Birthday cake.
THE CLASSIC BIRTHDAY CAKE
This cake has a light texture, golden crust and stays moist for days. What I love most about making this cake, is how very easy it is to mix. This cake is known as a high ratio cake which simply means it has about an equal amount or more of sugar to flour and is mixed differently than most cakes. It goes together in literally minutes yielding a thick, velvety luxurious batter that bakes into a tender cake than never fails to please.
Make sure the butter is around 72°F to 74°F to mix well with the other ingredients.
The beauty of this cake is its ability to last for days and stay moist and tender.
It is easily scaled up and accepts any number of fillings. For how to photos, please go here.
The easiest, least stressful way to fill and finish a cake is to have the layers frozen or nearly frozen. This prevents tearing the tender cake while applying the buttercream. It also allows you to reposition the layers to keep the cake straight on the sides if need be.
SPIRITED CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
While Italian and French buttercreams are butter heavy, American buttercream depends upon powdered sugar as its base. I have seen people scoff at this type of buttercream, but truthfully, it has its place just as do the others. I think that judgement may have been passed when it was typical to use shortening as the fat of choice. Shortening has no flavor and as such, the predominant flavor was whatever extract was added. But it lacked any depth and often left a greasy mouth feel.
I wouldn’t think of taking a cake or cupcakes with one of the European buttercreams to a picnic in the park on a warm or hot summer’s day. But either one would be welcome if finished with American buttercream as it is much less likely to melt.
Fast forward to the era of butter. Nowadays, American buttercream is greatly enhanced by the use of butter. The trick with American buttercream, is to beat it a lot. For one thing, it adds volume and lightness to the buttercream and keeps it from feeling heavy. The second is the use of powdered sugar which dissolves readily with the soft butter.
This buttercream is lighter in color than most you see on a Classic Birthday Cake. I did this purposefully because I feel that really dark, chocolatey buttercreams can overtake the delicate yellow cake. I think the balance between the cake and the filling is why so many people love this cake.
If the buttercream is too stiff to spread well, add a little cream or milk and mix again.
THE OPTIONAL CAKE LAYER WASH
Sponge Cakes, including the French Genoise cake layers are often washed with a flavored water or syrup. They have a tendency to be dryer because they don’t contain much butter, if any. The wash adds moisture.
But that isn’t the only reason to use one. While this cake is extremely moist, I use and Amaretto wash to infuse the layers with more flavor. I’m particularly fond of doing this and use this technique with a lot of my cakes.
I once saw someone exclaim that their cakes don’t need a wash or syrup because they are moist by themselves which is fine. But, more moist and more flavorful is always better.
I know it’s popular in this country to keep any kind of alcohol away from children. I grew up in a European family where small amounts of wine were given to us on celebratory occasions as young children. Christmas and Easter were huge with family coming in from all over. My grandfather had a smoke house and we had slow roasted pig or lamb on many of these occasions. The food was incredible.
I mention this because the small amount of alcohol used in many of my recipes will not affect a child in the least. Their cough syrup has more alcohol than anything I suggest. I know many people do not partake of wine or spirits because of religious or other reasons. All of this is fine. Either omit the wash or flavor it with a non-alcoholic flavoring. By the way, most extracts state alcohol as the first or second ingredient.
CUTTING THE CLASSIC BIRTHDAY CAKE
So now you’ve made the cake and it’s time to cut it. But you want the slices to be as pretty as the finished cake. A couple of tips will help you get that look.
Hopefully, the cake is room temperature.
First, take the cake back to the kitchen. Run the knife under really hot tap water, quickly wipe dry with a paper towel and let the knife almost melt through the top layer of buttercream, then cut straight down.
Second, do not pull the knife back up through the cake. When you get to the bottom of the cake, pull the knife straight out. This prevents cake from sticking to the knife and messing up the top and layers as you bring it out.
Repeat rinsing the knife and drying it for every cut.Print
Classic Birthday Cake Perfection
An easy, moist yellow cake and an intense light chocolate buttercream make the perfect Classic Birthday Cake.
- 6 large egg yolks (100 grams or 3 ½ ounces)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 ¾ cups cake flour (340 grams or 12 ounces)
- 1 ½ cups sugar (300 grams or 10 ½ ounces)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened between 72°F and 74°f (255 grams or 9 ounces or 2 ¼ sticks)
Amaretto Wash, optional
- ⅓ cup water
- 2 to 3 tablespoons amaretto
Spirited Chocolate buttercream
- 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled (114 grams)
- 1 ½ cups butter (340 grams, 12 ounces or 3 sticks)
- 2 tablespoons crème de cocoa
- 1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted* (780 grams or 27 ⅓ ounces)
- 3 tablespoons cream
Ganache for the Chocolate decorations
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate (340 grams)
Yellow Cake - go here for how to pictures
- Spray the center only of three 9” cake pans with a non-stick baking release. Line the bottom of three cake pans with parchment and spray the center only. Set aside. See Cake Pan Prep or How to get a Flat Layer for why the pan is prepared this way
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Whisk the yolks, one fourth of the buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix briefly to blend.
- Add the butter and the remaining buttermilk. Mix on low until the ingredients are moistened, then raise to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down.
- Add the yolk mixture in thirds, beating about 30 seconds after each addition. Scrape down between additions.
- Divide the batter between the three pans (about 390 grams each or 13 ⅔ ounces each), Smooth the tops.
- Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. or until a tester comes out clean or it springs back when the center is lightly touched. The cake should not pull away from the sides of the pans.
- Cool in pans and release. For easiest assembly, freeze the layers.
Amaretto Wash, optional
- Stir together. Set aside.
Spirited Chocolate Buttercream - go here for how to pictures
- Measure or preferably weigh the powdered sugar first, then sift.
- Place the butter, crème de cocoa, vanilla, and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat until very light and smooth.
- Add the chocolate and beat again on medium to medium high. Do not underbeat. At this point, you are increasing the volume of the buttercream and lightening it. If too stiff to use, add the cream a little at a time to obtain a smooth, spreadable buttercream.
Assembly of the Classic Birthday Cake
- While I finished the cake with the Spirited Chocolate Buttercream and a chocolate ganache décor, you can opt out of the décor if you wish. But if you do, be less generous when filling the cake layers or you won’t have buttercream left for decoration.
- Place one layer of cake on a cake board. Brush it with ⅓ of the amaretto wash. Fill with 1 ½ cups of buttercream. Spread evenly.
- Turn the two remaining layers over and brush each of the bottom layers with ⅓ of the amaretto wash.
- Place one of the washed layers on top of the buttercream, right side up. Fill with another 1 ½ cups buttercream.
- Place the remaining cake layer, right side up on top of the buttercream.
- Not every cake needs to be undercoated. However, if the sides are to be left clean and undecorated, I recommended undercoating them as I did for this cake. Go here for how to pictures.
- I didn’t undercoat the Spirited Marble Cake. So, the choice is yours. Just use the buttercream sparingly if you decide to undercoat. It is only meant to contain the crumbs so they don’t show through when the cake is finished. It is fine for the sides to be somewhat exposed. Refrigerate to set the buttercream and then apply the top coat and finish the cake as desired.
- I used a number 5 Ateco pastry tip to make the lattice design on top of the cake. Just pipe straight lines across the cake about an inch or so apart. Turn the cake 90° and pipe straight lines again on the diagonal.
- The edges are finished with a number 864B Ateco pastry tip. The top edge is finished with a running “e” pattern and the bottom a shell. Go here for how to photos.
Ganache for the Chocolate decorations - Go here for how to pictures
- Place the cream in a pan large enough to hold the cream and the chocolate. Heat the cream until steamy, around 170 degrees.
- Remove it from the heat and submerge the chocolate, pushing it under the cream. Let it sit a few minutes, then gently whisk to combine.
- Use immediately. Alternately, pour the glaze into a rimmed baking tray – this is a ½ sheet tray.
- Cover the top with film and allow to come to room temperature to use. It should be firm enough to hold its shape. If it has been refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature to soften so it can be piped.
- You can literally see the tenderness of the cake in this photo. I also cut it when it was really cold which accounts for the slight separation of the buttercream. Allow the cake to come to room temperature if it has been frozen and thawed in the refrigerator or if it is cold.
The cake will last for days covered at room temperature.
You can literally see the tenderness of the cake in this photo. I also cut it when it was really cold which accounts for the slight separation of the buttercream. Allow the cake to come to room temperature if it if it is cold.