This vanilla cake was one of the many sweet treats we had at Betsy’s 1st birthday party, but the only one I made from scratch. I am a sucker for cake mixes a lot of the time. They’re easy, reliable, and pretty tasty. But there’s something about a scratch cake that is just special. And if there’s a time to have a special cake, it’s at a birthday party!
This vanilla cake is from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. I picked the cookbook up after a trip to visit my sister in New York where I went on a cupcake tasting tour (guided by yours truly with only one participant…myself). I tried Magnolia Bakery, Cupcake Cafe and Billy’s Bakery. I think there was one other? I don’t remember. I’ve had 2 kids since then. But Magnolia is one of the best and the shop is darling and wonderful. It’s definitely a fun place to visit…unless you end up fighting someone for a cupcake after waiting in line for hours. The first time I went there was hardly a soul in the place and so it was a very pleasant experience for me. Another time I was going to go with my sister and as we approached the store and saw the line we turned around and returned empty handed. Workdays are probably a good bet, but I’m not making any promises since I don’t have enough experience. I do think it’s safe to say that weekends will always be crazy.
To make this cake a little special I dyed the layers in shades of purple. It didn’t turn out as “ombre” as I would’ve liked. The colors are too close to the same shade, so if you decide to try the ombre cake make sure that the batters are very different from each other.
The vanilla buttercream is from the same cookbook and is tremendously delicious. I love frosting. This one comes out beautifully white, especially if you use this vanilla. This clear vanilla has a nostalgic flavor for me and is different than pure natural vanilla. In most cases I prefer natural vanilla, and often I use this vanilla paste because I love the vanilla bean flecks. But with a classic vanilla birthday cake I think the clear vanilla is the way to go. Use what you have, but do give the clear vanilla a try if you see it somewhere!
This is definitely a cake I’ll come back to and recommend others try when they want to bake a cake from scratch. It’s really not terribly difficult or time consuming and it’s a nice change from a box cake. Eat up and enjoy!
Vanilla Birthday Cake
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups white sugar
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with a parchment circle, grease parchment and flour the pans. Set aside.
- Combine the flours in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter until light, then gradually pour in the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each. Scrape the bottom of the bowl and beat again to combine.
- Alternate adding the flour and milk in 5 parts, beginning and ending with the flour, beating until just combined in between additions. Fold the batter a few times with a large spatula to make sure it is mixed well.
- Now you can either dye your layers or divide the batter between the pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool on racks for 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges and remove the cakes from the pans. Peel off the parchment and let cool completely.
To Dye the Cake Layers
- 4 small bowls
- 4 small spatulas or spoons
- purple (or any color) gel color
- Take about 1/2 cup of batter and put it into a small bowl.
- Dye the cup of batter by scooping some gel color out of the pot and mixing it in very well. You want this to be dark, a little darker shade than you want your darkest layer. Adjust by adding more batter or more color.
- Divide the rest of the batter evenly into three small bowls.
- Take your dyed batter and add one spoonful to the first bowl, 3 spoonfuls to the second bowl and 5 spoonfuls to the third bowl. Divide any remaining colored batter among the bowls to achieve shades that are very distinct. Fold gently until the color is evenly distributed. Be careful to not overmix.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake as above.
*If you’re analyzing these instructions you’ll realize that after adding the colored batter your bowls of batter won’t be divided equally anymore. You’ll have more batter in the darkest layer. So just go with it and accept that they won’t be exactly the same OR you can divide the batter a little unevenly to begin with and then even it out with the colored batter. That method would involve too much brain power for me. The reason I did not add the color directly to the batter is that you have to do more mixing to get a solid and even color, and overmixed cake batter can lead to a heavier cake texture. This less precise method led to better overall color in my cakes and the cake was still light.
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons clear vanilla
- pinch of salt
- Beat the butter until creamy.
- Beat in 4 cups of the powdered sugar, the milk, salt and vanilla until very smooth and creamy.
- Add the remaining sugar, one cup at a time, beating well, until it reaches the desired consistency.