You could order a birthday cake, but this birthday cake recipe is even better than the bakery kind—and it's easy to make, too.
A favorite birthday cake recipe is a very personal thing. We all have our specific birthday cake needs and desires and if they’re not met? Well, let’s just say the party is ruined. But there's one sure way to get exactly what you want out of your birthday cake: make it yourself.
Sure, you could bake a cake from a mix or buy one from your local bakery. But shortcut cakes—even those beauties purchased pre-frosted and adorned with corner rosettes—just don’t taste that good. To be clear, presented with cake of any kind, I will eat it. Gratefully. But shortcut cakes are either too sweet for my taste or, sadly, a sugar-flavored vehicle for too-sweet frosting. That’s why I use this birthday cake recipe to customize my ideal cake.
My ideal birthday cake is simple, humble, and best eaten directly out of pan in which it’s baked. In this case, that’s a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Nothing fancy, just a glass Pyrex. I don’t need layers. But if you insist, you can bake this same birthday cake in two (8-inch or 9-inch) round cake pans. Want cupcakes? This recipe also works as 24 standard cupcakes. It's as adaptable as a box. But better.
Why is this birthday cake so good? Because it’s slightly reminiscent of the boxed cakes of my youth (a win for nostalgia) but with better flavor and structure (a win for me when I eat it). Lots of birthday cake recipes start with a foundation of room temperature butter. But this sends a cake careening into pound cake territory, that is, too dense to get frosted. But using a combination of vegetable oil (tenderness) and melted butter (flavor) instead, creates a lighter, more open-crumb than room temperature butter alone. The result? Unmistakable flavor, superior texture and color, and that quintessential “is someone baking a cake in here?” aroma.
It’s worth pointing out that a tub of store bought “Fluffy Vanilla” frosting is still one of my truest guilty pleasures. But there’s a time (11:30 p.m.) and a place (over the sink with graham crackers) for that. For birth- and other special cake days I prefer a whipped chocolate ganache: creamy, decadent, and very easy for lazy bakers (me) to make. Out of time? Don’t want to wash the whisk attachment you just used to make your own birthday cake? Then just pour the ganache over the cake for a shiny glaze. Or, for that "Fluffy Vanilla" effect, make the ganache with white chocolate. Or use a classic cream cheese frosting. You decide. Any which way, it’s a good idea to shower the finished thing with rainbow or chocolate sprinkles.