If you’re searching for a recipe for the Best Classic Yellow Birthday Cake With Chocolate Frosting stop right here. This cake is easy to make, moist and tender, and flavorful. Perfect for a celebration—or any night of the week really!
King Arthur Flour’s website proclaimed
…great homemade versions of this chocolate-on-vanilla duo are somewhat elusive. But after months of testing, we think we’ve nailed it. This golden-hued, moist, tender vanilla cake with its layers of rich chocolate frosting is so good that we’ve declared it our 2019 Recipe of the Year.
After such a rave review, how could I not give it a try?
I used King Arthur Flour’s high altitude baking guide to adapt the recipe to my altitude, 5,000 feet. At high altitude, you need to bake the cake in a hotter oven, reduce the sugar a little, and increase the flour and liquids a little bit.
Making A Three Layer Yellow Cake
This yellow cake uses vanilla and a little almond extract to flavor the cake. I love using vanilla bean paste, so I substituted that for vanilla extract in the recipe.
I also love these pre-cut round parchment papers from King Arthur Flour. Lining the cake pan with parchment is optional but when I use parchment paper, my cakes never stick to the bottom of the pan.
Did you know you can quickly bring eggs to room temperature by putting them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes? That it’s easier to make a cake when you weight the flour?
The technique they use in this cake recipe is a little different. First, you whip the eggs and sugar until they’re pale and thick. Then you mix in the dry ingredients, and finally, you mix in warm milk and melted butter.
You can make this cake in two 9-inch cake pans, but I’ve been loving my three 8-inch cake pans. It makes a taller more impressive cake and it isn’t much more work. You just divide the batter between three 8-inch pans instead of two 9-inch pans.
To evenly divide the batter between the pans, I like to use a digital scale. It’s so much easier than measuring the batter and I’m terrible at eyeballing how much batter to use. I’ve included how many grams of batter you’ll need for three 8-inch pans, as well as two 9-inch pans.
One thing you’ll like about this cake, is the cake layers bake up really flat, so you don’t need to trim the top off the cake. The edges stuck to the sides just a little bit, so be sure and run a knife around the edges before turning the cakes out.
You’ll want to peel off the parchment paper while the cake is upside down. Then place it back on the cake and turn it over. The parchment will keep the cake from sticking to the rack while it’s cooling!
For me, it’s so much easier to make the cake over two days. I’ll bake the cake layers one day and then decorate the cake the next day. I put the 8-inch layers in Ziploc bags and freeze them overnight.
Decorating a Triple Layer Cake
The next day I’ll make the icing. It’s important to sift the cocoa before mixing it to get out all the clumps. You can measure and sift your cocoa at the same time when you’re measuring it with a scale instead of using measuring cups.
There’s no need to thaw the cakes before frosting. The cake layers are easier to move around while they’re frozen. These layers are fairly sturdy though, so even if you don’t freeze them, they’ll be easy to work with.
An offset spatula makes spreading the frosting easier. You just want a thin layer of icing between the layers. If the layers are slipping around while you’re trying to frosting them, put the cake in the fridge for a short while to set the frosting.
Remember you need to add the sprinkles while the frosting is still wet or they won’t stick to the frosting.
If you’re still unsure about baking a layer cake, check out my post baking tips for layer cakes. It has great step by step information and pictures to help you feel confident that you can bake a gorgeous layer cake for someone you love.
This really is a great classic vanilla yellow cake. It was easy to make and the frosting was fudgy and delicious. I know it’s one you’re going to want to try too.
High Altitude Classic Yellow Birthday Cake With Chocolate Frosting
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons 258 grams Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons 365 grams granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon almond extract; optional for enhanced flavor
- 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons 273 grams milk (whole milk preferred)
- 4 tablespoons ¼ cup butter, cut into pats
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 1 ¼ cups 106 grams natural cocoa powder (sifted) *
- 1 cup 113 grams + 3 cups (340 grams) confectioners' sugar (sifted if lumpy)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 16 tablespoons 1 cup butter, softened
- To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center. Spray three 8” x 2” or two 9” x 2” round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray; line the bottom of the pans with parchment rounds and spray the parchment, optional.
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, either using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract, if using, until thickened and light gold in color, about 2 minutes at medium-high speed. If your stand mixer doesn’t have a whisk attachment, beat for 5 minutes using the paddle attachment. The batter should fall in thick ribbons from the beaters, whisk, or paddle.
- Add the dry ingredients to the mixture in the bowl and mix — by hand or on low speed of a mixer — just enough to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then mix again briefly, to fully incorporate any residual flour or sticky bits.
- In a saucepan set over medium heat or in the microwave, bring the milk just to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and oil, stirring by hand until the butter has melted.
- Slowly mix the hot milk-butter-oil mixture into the batter, stirring on low speed of a mixer until everything is well combined. Scrape the bowl and mix briefly, just until smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly between the pans. You’ll use about 2 ¾ cups (about 580g) for each pan if you’re using two pans and slightly more than 1 ¾ cup (390 grams) for each pan if you’re using three pans.
- Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top feels set, 21 to 26 minutes for two 9” pans, or 18 to 22 minutes for three 8” pans; a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the cakes should read 205°F. Remove the cakes from the oven, carefully loosen the edges, and allow them to cool for 15 minutes in the pans. Then turn them out of the pans and transfer them to a rack, right-side up, to cool to room temperature.
- To make the frosting: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, stir together - by hand or mixer - the cocoa powder, 1 cup (113g) of the confectioners’ sugar, and the salt. Stir in the water and vanilla, scraping the bowl if necessary.
- Add the butter and remaining confectioners’ sugar, stirring to combine. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the frosting at medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until lightened in color and fluffy, stopping halfway through to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- To assemble the cake: Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate; tuck pieces of waxed or parchment paper underneath the edge of the cake to keep the plate clean. Spread the bottom layer with about 1 cup of frosting, enough to make a ¼”-thick layer. Center the second layer bottom-side up (for a flat top) over the frosted layer and press gently to set it in place. Repeat with third layer if using.
- If your schedule permits, place the cake in the refrigerator or freezer, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours) to firm it up. This will make the layers less likely to slide around as you work, and the cake won’t shed crumbs as you frost. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip this step.
- To finish the cake: For the best-looking cake, do the frosting in two steps. First, spread a very thin layer of frosting around the sides and across the top; this is called a crumb coat. You should be able to see the cake through the frosting in spots, it’s that thin. Refrigerate the cake for 20 minutes to let this layer set. Again, skip this step if time is a factor.
- Once the cake is chilled, use the remaining frosting to coat it thoroughly and evenly.
- Store the cake, covered, at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if your kitchen is hot. Let it come to room temperature before serving.
- Storage information: The cake will keep at room temperature, covered with a cake cover, for up to three days; in the refrigerator, covered, for up to one week, or in the freezer, well wrapped, for up to one month.
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