Baking Blog

The Secret to Perfect Birthday Cake? It’s How You Mix It

It might not be your birthday. But don’t let that stop you from making this perfect birthday cake recipe. 

The Best Birthday Cake Recipe

Make every birthday happier with this classic, perfect birthday cake!

Photos via CakeSpy

Birthday cake is one of the most common requests for cake decorators. It is a special food; it carries connotations of celebration and joyful indulgence, and it tastes like pure happiness.

But how is it possible to attain perfectly fluffy layers that don’t fall flat in the flavor department? The secret to success lies in the mixing: by whisking the egg whites separately and then folding them in to the batter right before baking, you’re able to attain a buoyant texture yet rich, buttery flavor. The addition of sour cream in the batter is a little secondary secret, adding a rich flavor to the cake and ensuring that it won’t dry out. Once topped and filled with buttercream, this cake is a picture-perfect version of a classic birthday cake. It’s well worth making space for it in your recipe repertoire.  

As Julia Child once said, “a party without cake is just a meeting.” With a cake like this, the party is made!

Birthday cake slice
cake decorating startup library

Make your prettiest cake yet!

Join expert Jenny McCoy in this comprehensive beginner’s class, where she’ll teach you the basics of making cakes that look as good as they taste.
Watch in Craftsy Unlimited
FREE for 7 Days
Get the Class

The BEST birthday cake recipe

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 cup sour cream (see recipe notes)

For the buttercream:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • Pinch salt
  • Food coloring in your desired colors
  • Milk or cream, to thin (if needed)

To garnish (optional):

Note: International readers may enjoy our handy metric conversion guide.

Step 1:

Make the cake. Adjust an oven rack in the middle position; preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease, flour and line the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans with circles of parchment paper. 

Tip: For more information on this step, check out our post on how to prepare a cake pan

Step 2:

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set to the side.

Step 3:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Transfer the mixture to a bowl for the moment, and set to the side.

Step 4: 

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a rotary beater. In the bowl (it’s fine to use the same bowl you just used for the egg whites; no need to wash), cream the butter until fluffy and light, 2-3 minutes on medium-high speed. 

Step 5:

Add the sugar(s), and mix until combined and smooth, about another 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Stir in the vanilla. 

Birthday cake batter

Step 6:

Add the sour cream and flour mixtures alternately, in 2-3 additions each. Mix until the batter is smooth and lump-free, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The batter will be fairly thick.

Step 7:

By hand, fold the egg whites into the batter, stirring gently and only until no streaks of white remain.

Fold in the egg whites

Step 8:

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating at the 20 minute mark. To test doneness, insert a cake tester or toothpick in the center of the cake. It should come out mostly clean. 

Batter divided between pans

Step 9:

Remove the cakes from the oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. Then, run a sharp knife around the perimeter of each pan, to loosen the edges. Turn the cakes out onto wire racks, gently peel off the parchment paper, and let cool completely. Once cooled, level the cakes if necessary. 

Tip: Need help leveling? Check out our tutorial on how to level a cake.

Cakes, baked

Step 10:

Make the buttercream. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes, or until very smooth. Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar and the salt, and stir to combine, first on low then on a higher speed as the sugar is absorbed. Continue adding the sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the buttercream has attained your desired spreading consistency. Stir in the vanilla and any colorings you’d like to add. If at any point the buttercream becomes too thick, add milk or cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the consistency has thinned out to your desired consistency. 

Step 11:

To assemble, stack one of the cake layers on a platter, and apply a generous amount of buttercream on top, spreading it evenly all the way to the edges of the cake surface. Place the second cake layer on top; if you have leveled the cake, place the cut side down so that the flattest surface is facing up.

Buttercream on cake

Step 12:

Apply a crumb coat (a thin coat of buttercream that is meant to contain crumbs and doesn’t have to look pretty), and let the cake chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Once the crumb coat has set, use the remaining buttercream to ice the top and sides of the cake. You can pipe designs or take any liberties with cake decorating that you like! Garnish with sprinkles and birthday candles.

Tip: For more help with this step, refer to our full tutorial for how to crumb coat a cake.

Birthday cake

Recipe notes:

  • This cake will keep for 3 days at room temperature in an airtight container; it can also be frozen for up to 1 month. Refrigeration is not suggested. 
  • You can substitute yogurt or buttermilk for the sour cream in this recipe. Do not substitute milk, however, as the acidic component is necessary. 
  • You can substitute any icing or buttercream recipe you like for this cake; some other variations that might taste great would include chocolate buttercream, Swiss meringue buttercream or seven minute frosting.
cake decorating startup library

Make your prettiest cake yet!

Join expert Jenny McCoy in this comprehensive beginner’s class, where she’ll teach you the basics of making cakes that look as good as they taste.
Watch in Craftsy Unlimited
FREE for 7 Days
Get the Class



Your tutoring is really eye opening. Loads of info. Thumbs up Craftsy!


The vanilla sponge is still one of my all time favourites for celebration cakes. I played around with the recipe a bit until I was happy and it’s quite close to yours above. I get rave reviews for it every time. I’ve never tried the method of folding in the egg whites just before baking but it makes perfect sense. I’m going to try this next time. Thanks.

Nursel Wickert

Hi, Can you tell me the diameter for the cake pan please? Would like to make it for my daughters bithday 🙂

sukhi pahal

2x 8 inch cake pans for 1 recipe

Eden Passante

Awesome! Does it have to be my birthday or can I just eat this cake?! LOL


I found this recipe and decided to try it as I’ve been asked to make a cake for a 70th birthday. All I can say is WOW, this cake is definitely delicious! The texture is light and the cake looks so apetising, a must bake for any Occassion!


How would do this without a stand mixer.?


This is telling my age, but when I grew up we mixed everything by hand. You need to build up those arm muscles and work hard, but it’s all doable. I really had an eye opening moment when I went from a hand held mixer to the Kitchenaide. It beat so much more air into the creamed ingredients and made my bars much lighter than the handheld mixer did. My sister didn’t recognize one of the bar recipes we made as kids because we simply didn’t cream it as well by hand. The end product wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as light. So be prepared for a workout, but don’t give up.


Hello,I would like to bake this cake.wanted to ask if you could help me change the ingredients into grams because where I live we measure in grams .thank you.


Hello, I wanted to have clarifled whether to sift the flour prior to measuring (or INTO the measuring devise) or to measure THEN sift. I made this once to test the recipe and it was very tasty however, very DENSE and dried out over a day. As I reread the listed ingredients I noticed “2 1/4 cups sifted flour” but also noticed in the directions “sift the flour baking powder and salt”


Please sift the flour before you measure. The reasons for sifting are twofold, to remove lumps and to make it light and airy. After you sift the flour into a separate bowl, lightly spoon the flour into a measuring cup meant for dry ingredients and take a straight edge across the top to remove any excess. Now you have an accurate measure. When I was a kid I was curious if this really made a difference so I tried it both ways, then compared the difference. In two cups I almost had 1/4 cup more flour in the measure that I didn’t sift. That can make a big difference in your cake. Happy baking!


I noticed in the pictures that this cake really rose a lot in the center. It helps to avoid that dome if you put a damp towel strip around the outside of the pan sides while it bakes. You can make a strip by cutting strips of towel and pinning them together around the pan, or you can purchase strips that are specifically made to go in the oven. The damp towel equalizes the heat around the edges of the cake, compared to the middle, so it bakes more evenly.
I’ve also seen a lot of videos where a baker levels their cake off with a knife. I don’t expect to ever be that good at maintaining a nice level cut. I bought a cheap little cake leveler that is basically a wire that can be moved up or down the edge braces. Pulling a wire through the cake is less disruptive to the crumb and I can make sure that wire is perfectly level on the first cut.
Happy baking!

Courtney Strine

I made this over the weekend and got lots of compliments. If I use the recipe for cupcakes how long would I bake them for?

Jessie Oleson Moore

Hi Courtney,

I would say set the timer at 15 minutes and start checking them then. It’s been a while since I have done these as cupcakes but probably about 20 minutes total.


Hi Jessie,

Any idea how long I would bake this for in 4″ round pans? I’m thinking of halving the recipe. Thanks!


Can you use low fat sour cream in this recipe? (I happen to have some I need to use.)

Hayley Walden

My birthday tomorrow & I’ve been looking for an excuse to bake yet another cake after Christmas – this is it! Looking forward to it, recipe sounds great. Thanks!

Alicia Lip

How do i make it less grainy… when it spreads there is bits of unevenness that is driving me crazy…


Could I make this as sheet cake?


can I use this recipe for 2x 9inch springform tins? or do I have to increase ingredients?

Mere Kaleca

Hi guys this cake is literally in the oven baking as I type. The only thing I missed out was the sour cream or yogurt ( yes I missed the notes) so I am hoping it will turn out well with the milk substitute instead. its for a birthday tomorrow. wish me luck.



It’s been a while since I bakes a cake. I wanted to know if the flour will be sifted twice. Once for measuring and then with the baking powder and salt. If someone could briefly explain I would gladly appreciate it.

Thanks a bunch


I made this cake for a friend’s party. I had no problems with the instructions nor in baking the cake.

The cake was a hit! Not a crumb was left once the cake was cut. Thank you for this recipe!

Stephanie Clarke

Hands down…one of the best cakes I ever made!!!!

Fabiana Silva

I made this cake for my son’s birthday and everyone was in love with the taste and softness. Thank you very much!!!


Can you tell me what changes I should make to prepare this cake at a high elevation (7000′)?

Marie Freeman

I want to make this cake for my daughter’s birthday. I am going to bake it in the morning and serve it after dinner on the same day. The temperature where I live is 32 Celsius. How can I store the cake to prevent the icing from turning to a puddle? Thank you!!


Hands down, THE BEST CAKE EVER when it comes to traditional birthday cake. 2nd time I made it and even more impressive than I remember. Tastes SO GOOD – like what good wedding cake SHOULD taste like – moist and freaking phenomenal. This is a favorite…a definite keeper. Make it like the recipe states and don’t sub stuff thinking you know better. It’s perfect as is. Use baking strips to bake a level cake. You won’t be disappointed!


I would like to make this cake for a crowd. Will this cake turn out well if I double the recipe?


Has any one used this recipe as a sheet cake?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply