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School-Night Birthday Cake

February 28, 2018 | By Jeremy Scheck | 12 Comments

School-Night Birthday Cake
Processed with VSCO with a8 preset
School-Night Birthday Cake

I am a firm believer that every birthday of a loved one deserves a homemade birthday cake, and that birthdays in the middle of the week are no exception. This delicious yellow cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen paired with my recipe for vanilla cream cheese frosting gives you all you want in a classic vanilla birthday cake, requires less than 20 minutes of active work, and only needs one bowl (if you wash it before you make the icing 🙂 ). I think it looks elegant to take it out of the pan, but you could even serve it directly from the tin like my mom would to do when I was little.

Cake Recipe from Smitten Kitchen Every Day cookbook by Deb Perlman (which I highly recommend you buy)

School-Night Birthday Cake


For the cake

  • 6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (160g) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk*
  • 1 and 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons (180g) all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the icing

  • 6oz full fat cream cheese (3/4 of a block of original Philadelphia), at room temperature!!!
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar (to taste, half to 3/4 of a one pound box)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Rainbow sprinkles (because, duh!)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F, spray a 8" square or round baking tin, and line with parchment paper. This is a good time to take out the butter and cream cheese for the frosting too!
  2. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar for a few minutes until much lighter and fluffier. Add the egg and additional yolks, and beat very well.
  3. Sprinkle the baking powder, baking soda, and salt over the mixture and beat well.
  4. Add the buttermilk and vanilla slowly, beating to incorporate. Don't worry if it looks curdled.
  5. Add the cornstarch and flour, and beat just until no streaks of flour remain.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle, and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, before inverting on a wire rack to cool completely. If you want to save time, place the cake on a plate and freeze.
  8. Once you have a completely cooled cake, start on the frosting.
  9. Beat the butter with the cream cheese for 2 minutes until very creamy.
  10. Add the powdered sugar in a few additions and beat well in between each addition. Add the vanilla and mix in to combine.
  11. Spread the frosting generously over the top, and, using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, create a swoopy or swirly design. Pepper with rainbow sprinkles, and you've got yourself a birthday cake. Refrigerate if you have several hours before you want to serve it, but don't forget to take it out at least 15 minutes before you serve.

*BUTTERMILK: A delicious acidic ingredient to react with baking soda, BUT I don’t regularly have it on hand (because you have to buy 1/4 gallon when you only need a bit and then it spoils) so I either substitute 1/2 cup full fat greek yogurt + 1/4 cup whole milk OR use 3 tablespoons buttermilk powder, which is great to have on hand and stays good in the fridge for a long time. The buttermilk powder is mixed in with the dry ingredients and I use the same amount of normal whole milk where the buttermilk is called for in the recipe.

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  1. I baked my BFF this cake for her birthday yesterday and she LOVED it. I’m so bad at taking compliments and she honestly wouldn’t shut up about how good it was, so I figured I’d leave a review for one of my favorite tik tok chefs 🙂

  2. Hi, I’ve just made this recipe today for my mom’s birthday and I’ve gotta say this is one of the best vanilla cake recipe I’ve tried. It’s not too sweet, super spongey and moist, and just an overall treat. Thank you !!

  3. I just made this tonight and let me tell u it was fantastic! Similar to a box cake texture with so much more flavor. I did half vanilla and half almond extract in the cake and it was muy bueno!!!!

  4. I’m struggling with this recipe 😩 I made it using buttermilk the first time, and everyone loved it but it felt a little dry to me. Then I tried it again and used the yogurt and milk substitution, and though it was much improved in moisture, it still wasn’t as moist as I was hoping. Maybe I’m leaving it in the oven too long? But I take it out when it springs back! ::sigh:: Thank you for the recipe! I will keep working on it lol

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