Technically, any cake can be a birthday cake. But for many of us, “birthday cake” means one thing: a moist yellow cake topped with rich chocolate frosting, a shower of sprinkles, and of course, plenty of candles.

But all too often, yellow cake recipes yield cakes that are dry, or tough, or flavorless — it's hard to get it just right. And a birthday party is not the time to take a chance on a recipe that could let you down.

But not this one: We have the best birthday cake recipe. It’s our Classic Birthday Cake, a recipe so good we named it our 2019 Recipe of the Year.

What makes it special? It’s made using the hot milk method, one of our go-to techniques for the best birthday cake. In this method, milk and butter (and often oil) are heated until the butter melts. That warm liquid is then added to the whipped eggs, sugar, and dry ingredients and beaten briefly into a homogenous batter. The result is a moist, fluffy, tender cake with rich, buttery flavor. (And as a bonus, you don’t need to wait for butter to soften for the cake batter.)

Classic Birthday Cake Photography and food styling by Liz Neily
Learn more about why the hot milk method makes the best birthday cakes.

But while this recipe makes great cake, there’s another chief benefit: It’s extremely reliable. Oil ensures a moist crumb, while a full tablespoon of vanilla extract guarantees ample flavor. (Though make sure to include the optional almond extract for the full nostalgic bakery taste.) And we have a secret to making sure the cake releases easily from the pan every time: Use both parchment and non-stick spray.

This cake can also be customized, depending on the birthday person’s tastes. Add sprinkles to the batter (for a colorful Funfetti cake) or switch up the flavors by swapping out the chocolate frosting for Lemon Buttercream, Maple Buttercream, White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting, and more.

Is it the perfect birthday cake? We think so. But bake it and find out for yourself. Watch our own Kye make Classic Birthday Cake below, and see what you’re missing:

Cover photo by Mark Weinberg; food styling by Liz Neily.

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Classic Birthday Cake
Classic Birthday Cake
4.3 out of 5 stars 628 Reviews
3 hrs
one 8” or 9” two-layer cake
Recipe in this post
Filed Under: Recipes
Rossi crimping pie crust
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About Rossi Anastopoulo

Rossi Anastopoulo grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, which is how she fell in love with biscuits. She didn’t have any bakers in her household (with the exception of her grandmother’s perfect koulourakia), so she learned at a young age that the best way to satisfy her sweet tooth was to make dess...
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