This vanilla birthday cake is made from just two small 6” layers of yellow cake covered in chocolate Swiss buttercream frosting. It is the perfect classic vanilla birthday cake recipe with soft crumbs and creamy frosting, only in smaller form.
Happy birthday blog baby! Yes, this month marks year 5, half a decade, of this blog existence in the world wide web. That’s like 50 years in blog years and a century of blood, sweat, and tears. But it’s also the birthday month of my most favorite person in the world, my partner in crime, best friend, my Carl in UP, the only one I’d trust in an apocalypse. Hence, this classic birthday cake combo of yellow cake with chocolate frosting is the only thing to make, always a a favorite, classic but never boring.
Are yellow cake and vanilla cake the same?
Yes and no. A yellow cake can be a vanilla cake but a vanilla cake can be either a yellow cake or a white cake. This depends on whether whole eggs or egg whites are called for in the recipe. But a yellow cake flavored with vanilla extract is always a vanilla cake.
What is the difference between yellow cake and white cake?
Yellow cake gets its name from the golden hue of the cake which comes from whole eggs, or more specifically the egg yolks. As opposed to white cake which uses only or mostly egg white in the cake batter.
Yellow cake is typically made with all-purpose flour. It’s richer, denser and sturdier, which holds up well to layering and frosting. White cake tends to call for cake flour. It’s more delicate, cloud-like and spongier. Yellow cake makes me think birthdays and white cake makes me think weddings.
How to make yellow cake from scratch
Most people associate yellow cake with boxed cake mix. Nothing’s wrong with that if it’s your thing, but making cake from scratch is easier than you think. I used to be intimidated by cakes, so I started with cupcakes and slowly work my way up to making small cakes like this.
- For this recipe, I use my stand mixer to beat together whole eggs, sugar and vanilla for two whole minutes.
- Once beaten, the mixture should be light in color and look creamy. Though it won’t be thick.
- Then, in a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients together and add it to the stand mixer bowl.
- Stir until completely incorporated. Now the mixture will thicken.
- Next, warm the milk in a heat proof bowl; the easiest way is to zap it in the microwave for just under a minute. Alternately, you can heat it on the stove top, but for a small amount of milk like this recipe calls for, microwaving is entirely acceptable. Melt the butter in the hot milk and mix the oil in as well. Pour this mixture in the stand mixer bowl with the speed set on “stir”.
- Use a spatula to scrape the side and bottom of the bowl to make sure the batter is thoroughly incorporated.
- Divide the batter into two 6” cake pans. You can eyeball it but I like to use a kitchen scale to make sure they have the exact same amount of batter because 1) I’m slightly OCD and 2) this will help the cakes bake evenly in the oven.
- Bake just until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean.
Can I use both butter and oil in cake?
Absolutely! This small vanilla cake recipe calls for both butter and oil. Cakes with oil tends to be more moist than ones with all butter. Oil is 100% fat, and fat inhibits gluten formation. Whereas butter typically contains 15% water, and water strengthens gluten formation. Too much gluten can result in denser crumbs and dryer cakes. But butter imparts a more delicious flavor that we all know and love. This cake gets the best of both world with a balance of both butter and oil in the batter.
As for the frosting, I went with chocolate Swiss buttercream because it is currently my obsession, and also because it’s delicious, and it makes for a classic birthday cake combo. This cake might be small, but it’s mighty! It will serve 8 easily, and 6 very generously, perfect for a small birthday dessert without too much left over to tempt you the next day.
More Birthday Cake Idea
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment, rate it and don’t forget to tag me @wildwildwhisk on Instagram. I’d love to see what’s cooking up in your kitchen. Cheers!
Homemade Vanilla Cake
- 1 cup all-purpose flour ((125 g))
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt ((1g))
- 1 teaspoon baking powder ((4 g))
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup granulated sugar ((135 g))
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract ((14 g))
- ½ cup whole milk ((122 g))
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter ((28 g))
- 3 tablespoon vegetable oil ((40 g))
- 3 oz egg white ((85 g))
- ½ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar ((104 g))
- ½ teaspoon vinegar ((3 g))
- 7.5 oz unsalted butter ((213 g, room temperature, cubed))
- ½ teaspoon vanilla ((2 g))
- 3 oz dark chocolate ((85 g))
- 1 tablespoon dutch-processed cocoa powder ((7 g))
Make the cake
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Butter two 6” cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a piece of round parchment paper cut to fit (optional but highly recommended).
- In a small mixing bowl, add flour, salt, baking powder and mix with a whisk to distribute evenly. Set aside.
- Add egg, sugar and vanilla extract to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
- Heat the milk in the microwave for 40 - 50 seconds, add butter and oil to the hot milk and stir until the butter is completely melted. Add milk mixture to the stand mixer bowl while stirring to combine. Scrape the bowl with a spatula to ensure thorough mixing.
- Divide batter evenly between the 2 prepared cake pans, about 280 g of batter per pan.
- Bake in the middle oven rack for 20 - 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool to the touch. Run a paring knife along the edge to loosen the cakes if necessary and remove them from the pan. Peel off parchment paper if using and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the frosting
- Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water just until most is melted. Continue to stir as you take it off the heat until all the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.
- Add egg white to the stand mixer bowl and beat with a wire whisk attachment on medium low speed until frothy.
- Increase speed to medium and slowly add sugar, one tablespoon at a time to allow it to incorporate into the egg white. Half way through adding the sugar, stream in the vinegar. Then continue to add the sugar until all gone.
- Increase speed to medium high speed and beat until stiff peak forms and the meringue is shiny and smooth.
- Reduce speed to medium low and slowly add the room temperature cubed butter, one cube at a time and allow it to incorporate into the meringue. When all the butter is added it will look chunky, like cottage cheese.
- Add vanilla and increase mixer to high speed and beat for 4-5 mins until buttercream is formed and smooth. Add the completely cooled melted chocolate and cocoa powder and beat until incorporated and fluffy.
Assemble the cake
- When the cakes are completely cool, place 1 layer on a cake stand or plate. Put a few pieces of parchment paper underneath the cake to cover the cake stand or plate. This is to keep the frosting from smearing everywhere.
- Add ½ cup of frosting on top of the first layer and even it out with an offset spatula. Add the second layer of cake on top.
- Frost the side and top to your liking. If there is any left over frosting, add piping decoration on top and side. Carefully pull out the pieces of parchment paper underneath the cake.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Classic Birthday Cake Recipe.
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