Count me among those crazy folks who actually would prefer to make their own birthday cake. It’s the perfect chance to make whatever you want, however simple or elaborate, classic or adventurous. For me, I think it also relieves a good bit of the stress I often associate with making cakes, because I’m only trying to please myself!

My birthday was last week, and this year, probably due to a combination of global events and personally being under the weather, I wanted nothing but comfort, plain and simple. (Could they be related? An immune system strike in response to the state of our world? Stranger things have happened. Ugh.) Enter this cake, stage left. 

You’ll love this first off because it is simple to make. Mix wet ingredients, dry ingredients, combine, and voila. No separating eggs, warming milk to 110.5 degrees, or anything else that adds steps and dirty dishes. Now, there are many wonderful cake recipes that do call for such steps, and there is a time and place for that, but if you were me last week, that was definitely not the time or the place.

So anyway, this is so simple to make, but when you bite in, the cake is perfect. Moist crumbs, light texture, and full of rich butter and vanilla flavor. An amazing combo. The kind of cake that makes me, and possibly you, too, smash the back of your fork gracelessly onto your plate to be sure you’ve nabbed every last possible crumb. Oh, and, if you want flat cake layers to assemble, you’ll need to level the tops (a long bread knife works great for this), which will result in cake scraps you might as well eat, too. (You’re welcome!)

Finally, the frosting. I personally prefer the taste and texture of “soft” chocolate frostings, and only recently did it dawn on me that nearly any frosting recipe that calls for melting down chocolate will yield a finished product that hardens back up, at least slightly, because (duh) the chocolate will tend to return to its original state when left at room temperature or chilled. So, I went back to basics here and embraced this recipe, which is only slightly adapted from the painfully simple but also painfully delicious Hershey’s chocolate frosting. Basic, but hey, only trying to please yourself has some merits! 🙂

Butter Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Note: I made this in 2 8-inch round cake pans, but it will also work in 2 9-inch rounds without any changes to the ingredient amounts. Your cake layers will just be, well, wider and flatter. If you want to make changes for a different size pan, I’ve found this conversion chart helpful.


For the cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus a bit for greasing the pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a bit for dusting the pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour*
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

*If you don’t have cake flour on hand, but do have cornstarch, just substitute 2 tbsp. corn starch for 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour per cup. The easiest way to do this, I think, is to measure 2 tbsp. of corn starch into your measuring cup, then fill up the rest with all-purpose flour. Easy! If you don’t have cake flour or cornstarch, you can use 3 cups of all-purpose flour, but your cake is likely to be less light and airy.

For the frosting:
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. espresso or instant coffee powder**

**The espresso or instant coffee powder is optional but helps to amplify the chocolate flavor.

To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease the inside edges of two 8-inch round cake pans with butter, then dust the edges with flour, tapping out any excess. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk together and set aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed to ensure an even consistency. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer running on low speed, pour in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk. Mix each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between your prepared cake pans. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time if needed, until the cakes are golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes before inverting the cakes out onto the rack. Peel off the parchment paper, and let the cakes cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, add the cocoa powder to the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat or whisk quickly to remove any large lumps. Add the butter, and beat on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes, until mixture is smooth and well-combined. Incorporate the powdered sugar in three additions, alternating with the milk, beating well so that the frosting regains an even consistency after each addition. Add the vanilla and espresso powder; combine well. (If the frosting is too dry or too wet for your taste, adjust by adding a small amount more milk or powdered sugar, accordingly.)

To assemble, level the cake layers, then place one on a serving platter or cake board. Smooth about 1 cup of frosting out over the top of the first layer. Top with the remaining cake layer; frost top and sides with remaining frosting. Cake will keep at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 3 days. If storing in the fridge, allow the cake to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Source: Cake from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook via Annie’s Eats; frosting adapted from Hershey’s and Add a Pinch