When you think of the most classic birthday cake ever, what comes to mind? For me, it’s always been yellow cake with chocolate frosting. All throughout my childhood, my momma used to mix up a box yellow cake, bake it in a casserole dish, smear canned chocolate frosting on top, and write Happy Birthday on it with those little tubes of icing colors you can still find at the grocery store to this day. I loved those birthday cakes. And I’m really surprised that after all my years of caking, it’s taken me this long to nail down the perfect yellow cake recipe. Well, wait no more!
There are a couple reasons why I decided to focus my energy on developing this fluffy yellow cake this past week. The first was I got a DM on Instagram requesting it, which made me realize I’ve never actually even tasted a from-scratch yellow cake. So I went on a wild Google spree figuring out what makes it different than a vanilla cake, what makes it yellow, etc (all things I will get to in a minute). The second was I know that most of the world is stranded at home right now due to this crazy pandemic, still celebrating birthdays in quarantine. I wanted to provide an easy, amazingly tasty birthday cake to help you guys celebrate!
So back to the recipe. This yellow cake is the definition of light and fluffy – It is SO incredibly soft! I kept poking it over and over in disbelief because I swear it’s as close to box mix (but from scratch) as you’re gonna get. I tried something new with this one and basically took my favorite vanilla cake recipe, added an extra egg yolk, and substituted some of the butter with vegetable oil. The results were perfect: the softest texture ever, ultra moist, rich vanilla flavor, and pairs perfectly with my favorite chocolate buttercream recipe. In other words, birthday cake heaven!
So what makes it a yellow cake, exactly? In all my Googling I learned that yellow cakes are basically vanilla cakes made with whole eggs, whereas white cakes are vanilla cakes made with egg whites. The yolk is where the yellow color comes from, but honestly, if you want it as yellow as a box cake mix you’ll have to add a drop or two of yellow food coloring (which is definitely in the ingredients section on a box yellow cake). The all-natural version just isn’t as saturated, but I can promise you it tastes just as classic.
I filled and frosted this fluffy yellow cake with my decadent chocolate buttercream recipe and ran a Wilton Icing Comb over it to get the lined finish. Then, I used Wilton Tip 1M to pipe a rope border around the top edge and added some Sprinkle Pop Unicorn Rainbow Jimmies to give it a pop of color. You can decorate it any way you want, so feel free to go simple, over-the-top, or anywhere in between.
A great thing about this recipe is that it’s extremely versatile. You bake it in a casserole dish if you don’t have round cake pans, bake cupcakes with it, or half the recipe to make a mini version. If you don’t have cake flour on hand, you can make a DIY version using all-purpose flour with this homemade cake flour recipe.
Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting
A soft and fluffy from-scratch yellow cake that's packed with vanilla flavor and ultra-nostalgic. Filled and frosted with decadent chocolate buttercream for the most classic birthday cake ever.
- 2 1/2 Cups (265g) cake flour, sifted before measuring*
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 Cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 Cup (60ml) vegetable oil
- 1 2/3 Cup (340g) white granulated sugar
- 3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
- 1/3 Cup (75g) sour cream, room temperature
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 Cup (240ml) whole milk, room temperature
- 2 Cups (452g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 7 Cups (840g) powdered sugar
- 1 Cup (84g) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 Cup (120ml) whole milk, room temperature
- 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
Make the Yellow Cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch cake pans or two 9-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with a cooking spray (Baker's Joy is my favorite) and a wax paper circle fitted to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, you can grease and lightly flour the pans.
Sift the cake flour and then measure by spooning and leveling it in your measuring cup. Add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter for on high for two minutes until it's light and fluffy. Add vegetable oil and sugar, then continue to mix on med-high for another two minutes. Add the whole eggs and egg yolk one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix for one minute on high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more.
With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the milk slowly and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps (without over-mixing). The batter will be slightly thick, but pourable.
Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans (no more than 2/3 of the way full) and bake for 30-35 minutes. They're done when they spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for five minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack for an additional few hours of cooling. Make sure they're entirely room temperature before applying any frosting.
Make the Chocolate Buttercream
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip butter on medium speed until creamy and light in color, about four minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle and turn the mixer to low, then add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, milk, salt, and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium and beat for two full minutes.
Once the cakes have cooled, torte them before filling and frosting with chocolate buttercream. To create the design pictured, use an icing scraper to smooth the sides and make them straight, then gently drag a cake comb through the buttercream to create lined texture. Use Wilton Tip 1M to create a rope border around the top edge by piping overlapping rosettes. Add rainbow sprinkles to finish the look!
*DIY Cake Flour Recipe: To make your own cake flour, spoon and level one cup of all-purpose flour and remove 2 Tbsp. Add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Repeat per the amount of cake flour you need, then sift the flour and cornstarch mixture 4 times (don’t skip that step!). After sifting, spoon and level to re-measure the amount of cake flour you need.
Make Ahead Tips:
- The yellow cake layers can be baked, cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and left out at room temperature up to two days ahead of decorating. Unfrosted cake layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to two months before thawing and frosting.
- The chocolate buttercream can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day. Alternatively, you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature and rewhip with your stand mixer to bring back to frosting consistency.
To Make as a Sheet Cake: fill a sheet pan or casserole dish with the yellow cake batter no more than 1/2 full and bake at 350ºF for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
To Make as Cupcakes: fill cupcake tins no more than 2/3 full and bake at 350ºF for 17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Did you make this cake recipe? I wanna know what you think! Let me know in the comments below and feel free to tag @sugarandsparrowco on Instagram to show me. I love to see what you’re caking! Stay safe and healthy out there, lovelies.