I don't think that I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it
November 20, 2017 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a great, relatively simple birthday cake recipe? Amazing buttercream frosting is a must; other specifics inside.

I plan on baking my own birthday cake this year, so I want it to be as good as possible with as little hassle as possible. I've made plenty of cakes from boxed mix, and they're easy and fine but not particularly special. On the other end of the difficulty/tastiness spectrum is Momofuku Milk Bar's birthday cake, which looks crazy good, but has way more steps than I want to bother with. My ideal recipe would combine boxed-mix easiness with Milk Bar-level deliciousness, though I know I'll probably have to compromise.

These are the specific things I want out of a cake recipe:

- Simplicity: make cake, make frosting, assemble, done. I don't need five different cake components, and I don't want to spend more than a couple hours.
- No special equipment (I have standard round cake pans and a mixer) and no ingredients that can't be found in an average suburban supermarket.
- Relatively unfuckuppable for an average baker. Nothing that will collapse if I don't add the flour at exactly the right rate or whatever.
- Vanilla cake and frosting strongly preferred, but not strictly required. Not particularly interested in chocolate.
- The frosting must be great and it must be buttercream. No whipped cream, no cream cheese, no ganache, and absolutely nothing resembling fondant. Good frosting is more important to me than good cake, so standalone frosting recipes are fine. (Most of the buttercream recipes I've found via Google look simple and almost identical to each other, but perhaps you know an extra-great recipe?)

No allergies or dietary restrictions. I don't particularly care how the cake looks as long as it tastes good.
posted by Metroid Baby to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
alright, I'll go and find my buttercream recipe.

note: the big thing I believe in here is Italian buttercream not French buttercream. French buttercream is not done with a candy thermometer - Italian buttercream is. The difference is a texture and sheen. It'll take me an hour or so to rip through my culinary notes... I haven't made it in 6 years.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:35 PM on November 20, 2017

I have made this cake recipe several times, and it's delicious and always turns out well except for that one time I got carried away and thought I had time to shave my legs in the shower when it was baking and burned it and I'M STILL SAD but it was 100% my fault, not the cake's.
posted by phunniemee at 1:39 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for a straight up, delicious but simple birthday cake, I would recommend this one:


Almost equally as simple, but with funfetti:

When it comes to buttercream, I usually do it by taste. Just put in softened butter, powdered sugar, a splash of milk and a bit of vanilla and mix it until it tastes good :)
posted by valoius at 1:40 PM on November 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's hard to mess up buttercream frosting as long as you're using decent ingredients.

Confectioner's sugar, butter, a splash of vanilla, and a bit of milk or cream to thin to desired consistency. You really don't even need a recipe as long as your proportions are close: approximately 1 lb confectioner's sugar to 1 stick (1/2 c.) of butter is what I use. Expect to use about a teaspoon of vanilla extract and maybe a tablespoon or two of milk or cream. Make sure the butter is soft before you start and that your mixing bowl and beaters are clean and the rest practically takes care of itself.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:41 PM on November 20, 2017

Best frosting recipe:

1 cup unsalted butter
1 2/3rds cup confectioner's/powdered sugar
1 7oz jar of marshmallow fluff

Cream sugar into butter, whip on high until fluffy. Add marshmallow by heaping spoonfulls. Flavor to taste with just about anything.
posted by FritoKAL at 1:54 PM on November 20, 2017

I second the Italian buttercream, though it's more complicated than the quick-type of buttercreams others are recommending.
posted by nonmerci at 2:09 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

smitten kitchen's swiss buttercream is awesome (and YES YOU WILL PANICK WHEN IT DOESN'T COME TOGETHER; BUT JUST KEEP MIXING), but for simplicity's sake, the most generic buttercream is also pretty awesome:

Quick buttercream:
1cup butter (2 sticks softened. the key is that you should be able to poke it and it dents. if it isn't soft it needs way more beating and you may overheat/break your mixer.)
4 cups powdered sugar (roughly one box)
1 tablespoon of milk or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
beat forever, devour.
posted by larthegreat at 2:15 PM on November 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

There is like an answer to this question. Ruth Levy Beranbaum - her classic yellow cake and her italian meringue based buttercream.

Simply because her recipes are so precise and clear that if you follow them I believe its basically impossible not to have them come out perfectly.
posted by JPD at 3:20 PM on November 20, 2017

Ok - quarter this recipe if you are only making one cake and are not doing an intermediate layer of buttercream AND doing piping on the top, otherwise - halve it.

Italian Buttercream
2lb 5oz Granulated Sugar (Roughly 4.2 Cups)
12 oz Water (1 1/2 Cups)
1lb 4oz Egg Whites (~2 1/3 Cups)
3lb Unsalted Butter (sold in pounds)
1tsp Vanilla Extract (measured in tsp)

1. Cook sugar and water to 240 degrees F
2. Whip egg whites to full volume
3. low speed for your blender, pour hot sugar onto egg whites. Continue to run mixer until bottom of bowl is cool to the touch. I cannot stress this enough - you are running this until all the sugar is at room temperature NOT before
4. Place turn mixer to medium-low speed and add butter 1/2 pound at a time. Mix until mixture is light and fluffy. Add vanilla until incorporated.

To convert this down to a half recipe:
Italian Buttercream (half recipe by volume)
2 C Granulated Sugar
3/4 C Water
1+C Egg Whites
1.5lb Unsalted Butter
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:20 PM on November 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

I made this funfetti cake from Sally's Baking Addiction for my birthday this year. Straightforward, incredibly delicious, would be fine as a plain vanilla cake if you don't want the sprinkles. Come to think of it, everything I've ever had from Sally's Baking Addiction is great.
posted by ActionPopulated at 4:24 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree about the Swiss buttercream recipe from smitten kitchen linked above. Tastes phenomenal and is a million times easier than French or Italian buttercream.

I also agree with the suggestion to use Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe (the one above or any of them, really). I've never had a recipe of hers fail.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:35 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

My cake recipe is the bomb, but its a high ratio yellow cake and most people lose their mind when I ask for them to find fluid flex... so I've put in a substitute. This makes 2 cakes. Generally you would make just one cake, nip the top and bottom to level, and then slice the cake down the middle and frost the inside. Soak both halves in a simple syrup, (1lb sugar, 1lb water, and something like a liqueur) by painting it with a brush, turning it over and repeating.

*edit*: slice the cake down the middle.... so you have two round wheels, not two half circles.

Yellow High Ratio Cake
8 oz Milk
1lb 2oz whole eggs
10oz fluid flex OR (7.5oz Crisco AND 2.5oz veg oil)
1/2 oz Salt
1oz Baking Powder
1lb 4oz Sugar
1lb cake flour
2tsp vanilla extract.

1. Mix all ingredients on low speed until blended.
2. Whip for 4 minutes on medium speed.
3. Scrape bowl
4. Mix 3 more minutes on medium speed
5. Divide batter into 2 prepared (papered, sprayed) 10" cake pans
6. Bake at 375 degrees F until they spring back when gently pressed (~25 min iirc, then checking every 5)

Remember to Halve this recipe if you are only making one cake.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:39 PM on November 20, 2017

One small thing: Put almond extract in the buttercream in addition to the vanilla. I'm not sure why most people don't do this but it tastes amazing.
posted by Orca at 4:58 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I made the milk bar cake for my birthday last year and it was really good. But it was a time and the real standout part was DEFINITELY the cake crumb. I never knew I wanted crunchy bits in a cake until I had crunchy bits in a cake. So I know it's not what you're asking for, but I would recommend if you are okay with slightly more than dead easy, make the cake crumb. Make a double batch (I had to because I ate it all before I put the cake together and it was so good with leftover frosting). It's maybe an extra half hour to the process but it is a game changer.
posted by FakePalindrome at 5:51 PM on November 20, 2017

Thanks, everyone! This is totally what I’m looking for. I’m leaning toward the recipe phunniemee linked since it seems the easiest (and uses all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, bonus).

I absolutely believe all y’all about the superiority of Italian buttercream, but this time I think I’m gonna do it lazy-style.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:13 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a cake snob, but sometimes you don't have time to do the full-out from scratch thing. In that case, you can make any good box mix taste 100% better with the following trick:
1) use milk instead of water
2) use butter instead of oil
3) add 1 additional egg.

This will make the cake richer and more moist.

Also, as long as you are using fresh and good quality ingredients your various buttercream recipes will be good, but my secret for punch is to add not just vanilla, but some almond extract and a dash of orange blossom water or a drop of rosewater to make a complex and aromatic frosting. Mmmmm.
posted by oblique red at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

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