In this post you will not only learn how I make my most requested cake recipe – the classic vanilla birthday cake – but also where I get all of my favorite sprinkles and other cake decorating essentials, the tools I use, ones you need and ones you can skip, and how to stack and decorate layer cakes like a pro. Buckle up ’cause this is a long one.
*This post does contain affiliate links to the products I use and love. I may make a small commission if you decide to purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Buuck Farms Bakery possible.
Let’s Talk Cake Tools
What must haves do you need? What can you skip? There’s a lot out there in terms of cake decorating tools and supplies and I’m here to help you figure out what you actually need, what’s nice to have but not necessary, and what to just straight up pass on. If you’re the typical home baker who just wants to be equipped to make pretty cakes for your friends, family, or little ones, you truly don’t NEED much.
Pans, Cake Strips, and Parchment Paper
Obviously, you’re gonna need some pans. My favorite are Fat Daddios 3″ deep cake pans. They’re extra deep to allow for thick layers, your cakes bake up evenly, and the pans clean up nicely. I’d suggest getting 3 8″ pans and 4 6″ pans. If you plan on making mini or smash cakes, the 4″ pans are great for that! Some cake bakers will suggest using cake strips to help cakes bake evenly and prevent doming. I don’t use them and don’t find them to be necessary, but if you struggle with your cakes doming, it could be worth testing them out!
Now, how are you going to keep your cakes from sticking to the pans? Butter and parchment paper is an option that works well, but my secret weapon is Baker’s Joy – non stick spray that contains flour and is total magic. A quick spray to your pans and sticking won’t be an issue. But again, it contains flour so opt for parchment if you’re baking a gluten free cake.
Spatulas, Turntables, and Cake Smoothers
For ninety percent of the cakes I make, I only use two spatulas. A 4 1/2″ offset and a 6″ straight spatula. If large wedding cakes are something you plan on making, you’ll need some bigger spatulas, but for most home bakers, these two are all you’ll need. If you want rustic swoops and textured sides on your cakes, spatulas or spoons is all you’ll need. But, if you want those perfectly smooth sides or striped details, you’ll have to invest in some cake combs/smoothers. I prefer the stainless steel ones, because you can use hot water to heat them up to get the smoothest finish on your cakes.
As for a turntable, please don’t waste your time or money on the flimsy white Wilton ones. (sorry Wilton, you do a lot of things well, but turntables aren’t one of them!) I have this one from Ikea. It’s affordable, sturdy, and easy to clean. Another tool that I use every time and think it super helpful is a non slip mat. It prevents your cakes from sliding all around the turntable while you’re decorating. I also always put a cardboard cake board at the bottom of each cake, making it easy to transfer the cake from the turntable to a cake stand for serving. You want to use a cake board the same size as the cake, so that once it’s frosted, the cake board isn’t visable.
Piping Bags, Tips, Food Coloring, and Sprinkles
Once you start decorating you’ll need some piping bags, tips, and food coloring for your buttercream. Nothing super special or groundbreaking here. I like the disposable piping bags best, like these. For tips, the two I reach for the most are Wilton 1M and Wilton 8B. I’d also recommend a couple smaller star tips, like #21 and #18 and a small round tip like #12 and large round tip like 1A.
The world of food coloring options can be SUPER overwhelming, because there’s SO MUCH out there. From liquid to gel to powdered, and more color options than you could possibly wrap your mind around. My favorite for coloring buttercream is Americolor Gels, and I only keep a handful of colors on hand. If you just have a few basic colors, and understand a bit about color theory, you can mix thousands of colors and shades. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I lean towards a more dusty and muted color palate. My favorite Americolor Gel Colors are –
- Super Black
- Bright White
- Royal Blue
- Chocolate Brown
- Dusty Rose
I have a few favorite places to get sprinkles. One of my top picks is Sweetapolita.com They have a HUGE variety and offer everything from the prettiest classic rainbow jimmies to seasonal and holiday sprinkle blends that are truly special and beautiful. I also pick up sprinkles (and lots of other things) at Country Kitchen, which is a local baking supply store here in my hometown, but they ship and you can find a lot of their stuff on Amazon! And if you know me, you know I love a muted color palette, and Watkins has a super pretty blend of gluten-free, natural dyed rainbow sprinks that I love.
Let’s Talk Cake Baking and Decorating
Okay, now that we’ve discussed tools, let’s bake the actual cake. This was easily my most popular cake when I was doing weddings and custom orders – and for good reason. You really can’t beat a classic vanilla cake that’s dense, but still moist and crumbly. Mmm it’s just the best. This cake bakes up perfectly without any doming, holds up to being stacked high, and is a total crowd pleaser. It’s the OG of my career in recipe development, and I’m thrilled to finally be sharing the recipe.
I always bake the cake layers at least 1 day before whatever event I’m making it for. Sometimes, I’ll make it up to a week in advance. This just helps break up the process, makes it less stressful, and allows plenty of time for the cake to cool and then chill before frosting and decorating. If you make the cake 1-2 days before frosting, just wrap the cooled layers in plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge. If you make the cake 3+ days in advance, first wrap in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil, then freeze. Freezing your cake layers will no effect the flavor or texture, don’t worry! Just be sure to use the cake within 3 months. Alright, let’s do this!
Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake
This classic vanilla birthday cake is the most perfect, dense, moist, delicious, crowd-pleasing, reliable vanilla cake recipe in all the world. Ok, maybe a bit dramatic, but it IS incredible and you’re gonna love it. Let’s go.
Bake the Cake Layers
Preheat the oven to 350 and spray 3 8″ round cake pans with Bakers Joy. (Or line with parchment and butter/flour the pans) Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and oil for 7 minutes. Yes, it’s a long time, but don’t skip it! The mixture should lighten to almost pure white and be very light and fluffy. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed.
In a separate small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites together. Whisking them before you add them to the batter helps them incorporate easier and will help to prevent the whites from settling at the bottom of the mixing bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the whisked eggs. Once they are all incorporated, mix for 1-2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure none of the egg settled in the bottom of the bowl.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. Then, alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the mixer in 5 total additions, starting and ending with flour. So – add 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 the buttermilk, then another 1/3 of the flour etc.. You can do this whole process while the mixer is running on low. Once you’ve added all of the ingredients, do a final mix with a rubber spatula, the batter will be thick. Then, evenly divide the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake at 350 for 25-27 minutes, or until the tops and sides of the cake is slightly browned, and a toothpick comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs attached.
Remove cake from the oven and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then flip them out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Once cool, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge to chill. *or wrap in plastic wrap and foil and put in the freezer. Let cake chill completely before frosting.
Make the Buttercream
When you’re ready to decorate the cake, make the buttercream. You can also make the buttercream a day in advance, just always re-whip it before decorating.
Let the butter sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before making the buttercream. You don’t have to let it fully come to room temp, and I prefer not to. I have found that if the butter is too soft, it will effect the texture and could result in a thin, runny, or greasy buttercream.
Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter by itself for 10 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl every 2-3 minutes. The butter will become super light and smooth and almost white in color. While the butter is mixing, sift the powdered sugar. If you are planning to do completely smooth sides on your cake, sifting the powdered sugar is a must. If you’re going to do textured swoops or a more rustic finish, totally skip the sifting.
After 10 minutes, mix in the vanilla. Then, mix in 1/2 of the powdered sugar at a time, mixing for 3 minutes on medium low after each addition. Mixing on too high of a speed will incorporate too much air. When you add the second half of the powdered sugar, it will seem really thick, but just keep the mixer going for 3 minutes and it will fluff up! Then, add the heavy cream 2 TBSP at a time until the buttercream is at your desired consistency. Finally, do a final mix with a rubber spatula to help release any air bubbles.
Frost and Decorate this Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake
Start with a Crumb Coat
What’s a crumb coat? Basically a thin layer of frosting that locks in the crumbs and helps you achieve that smooth finish we all want. Start with a completely chilled cake. Grab a turn table, non slip mat, cake board, buttercream, and an offset and straight spatula. Center the non slip mat on the turntable and then place the cake board in the center of the mat. You can also decorate the cake right on the cake stand, but it’s a little more difficult.
Use the offset spatula to spread about 2 tsp of buttercream onto the center of the cake board. This will act as glue and help keep the cake from sliding around on the board. Place the first layer of cake in the center of the board. Press down gently to get it to stick to that buttercream. Fill with buttercream. Hot tip: use an ice cream scoop with a trigger to portion the buttercream between layers. This way, all the layers have an equal amount of buttercream. For an 8″ cake, I do three scoops of buttercream.
Spread the buttercream into an even layer using the offset spatula. Add another layer of cake, and repeat until all three layers are stacked. Get down so that you are eye level to the top of the cake to make sure it is level. Then, add frosting to the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Use your free hand to slowly spin the turntable while you hold the spatula stationary to get a level top, although don’t stress about it being perfect at this stage, just make sure the whole cake is covered. Let the excess frosting spill over to the sides. Then, switch to the straight spatula and spread frosting on the sides.
Use the straight side of a cake comb to smooth the sides. Hold the cake comb against the cake at about a 45 degree angle, not directly perpendicular to the cake. You want a soft, but firm grip. Press the cake comb against the buttercream softly, but have a firm hold on the comb. Use your free hand to turn the cake in a complete circle. Hold the cake comb stationary. while the turntable moves. Wipe off the cake comb between passes. Add frosting in any low spots and continue smoothing. It doesn’t have to be completely smooth and perfect at this point. The most important thing is that the cake is covered and that the coat of buttercream is fairly even.
Once the sides are covered and smoothed, use the offset spatula to smooth the top edges. Think of this as if the spatula is a plane that you’re landing on top of the cake. Bring the spatula down towards the cake at an angle, and gently glide it across the top. Wipe it off after each pass. Chill the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This allows the crumb coat to set.
Apply the Final Coat and Decorate
After the crumb coat has set. Repeat the same process with the final coat. Coat the top and sides of the cake with frosting, then use the cake comb and offset spatula to smooth. Once you have the sides mostly smooth, run the cake comb under HOT water and then dry it off with a towel for the last couple of passes. Using a warm cake comb will help you achieve those perfectly smooth sides. Smooth off the top edges the same as you did for the crumb coat.
For this classic vanilla birthday cake design, I added rainbow sprinkles to the sides in a random pattern, piped extra buttercream along the top edges, and more sprinkles up top. To add the sprinkles, make sure you add them before the buttercream sets or they won’t stick. Hot tip: dip your finger in a bit of crisco then into the sprinkles to easily transfer the sprinkles to the cake. Add the extra buttercream to a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip. I used Wilton 8B on this cake. Pipe the buttercream around the edges, then top it off with extra sprinkles.
Serve immediately or store in the fridge uncovered for up to 3 days before serving. This classic vanilla birthday cake will serve 16.Print
The perfect dense and moist vanilla cake recipe with vanilla American buttercream along with all of my tips on recreating this design, and a look at all of my favorite cake tools.
For the Vanilla Cake
- 1 C (227g) Salted Butter, at room temperature
- 1 3/4 C (375g) Granulated Sugar
- 1/3 C (65g) Vegetable Oil
- 3 Lg Eggs (160 g) + 3 Egg Whites (102 g) at room temperature
- 2 1/2 C + 2 TBSP (345 G) All Purpose Flour
- 6 TBSP (55 g) Cornstarch
- 2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1 C (250 g) Buttermilk, at room temperature
For the Vanilla American Buttercream
- 1 1/2 C (3 Sticks, 339g) Salted Butter
- 2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
- 6 C Powdered Sugar
- 4–6 TBSP Heavy Cream, at room temperature
*Rainbow Sprinkles optional
For the Vanilla Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 and line 3 8″ round cake pans with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and oil for 7 minutes. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed.
- While the mixer is going, whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt, in a separate medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Stir the vanilla extract into the buttermilk. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites, then with the mixer on low, slowly incorporate the eggs into the batter. Once all the eggs are added, mix for 1-2 minutes, until smooth and glossy. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure no egg has settled in the bottom of the bowl.
- Alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk in 5 total additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
- Once incorporated, do a final mix with a rubber spatula, then evenly divide the batter into the prepared pans.
- Bake at 350 for 25-27 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with a few moist crumbs attached.
- Let cool for 5 minutes, then flip cakes out onto cooling rack, let cool completely, then wrap in plastic and place in the fridge to chill.
For the Vanilla American Buttercream
- Let the butter sit on the counter for 30-45 minutes before starting, but it shouldn’t be completely room temperature or too soft.
- Cream the butter in a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for 10 minutes, scraping down the bowl every 2-3 minutes.
- While the butter mixes, sift the powdered sugar.
- Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
- Add the powdered sugar 1/2 at a time, mixing on medium low speed for 3 minutes after each addition.
- Add the heavy cream 2 TBSP at a time until the buttercream reaches your desired consistency.
- Do a final quick mix with a rubber spatula to release any remaining air bubbles.
- Spread 2 tsp of buttercream onto a cake board or cake stand on top of a turn table.
- Place the first cake layer in the center of the board. This cake bakes up perfectly flat and does not dome when the instructions are followed closely. If your cake domes, make sure to level it off before stacking the cake.
- Spread buttercream in a thin even layer, then stack the second layer.
- Repeat until all three layers are stacked.
- Apply the crumb coat, and smooth.
- Chill cake for 30 minutes to allow the crumb coat to set.
- Apply the final layer of buttercream and smooth. Find tips and detailed instructions on this up in the post.
- Apply rainbow sprinkles in random pattern on the sides of the cake.
- Pipe extra buttercream around the top edge of the cake using a piping bag and Wilton tip 8B.
- Add extra rainbow sprinkles to top.
- Slice and serve.
*Unfrosted cake layers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and foil and frozen for up to 3 months before frosting and serving.
*Decorated cake slices can be wrapped in plastic wrap and foil and frozen for up to 3 weeks.
* Can also be baked in 4 6″ cake pans at 350 for 25 minutes
Keywords: vanilla birthday cake, how to layer cake, rainbow sprinkle cake, classic birthday cake