How to Make the Perfect Birthday Cake

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I have a friend (shout out to Callie!) who makes the most amazingly beautiful cakes. I have tried to make pretty cakes, but the fact is…I usually fail.

how to make the perfect birthday cake

I make ugly cakes. The one thing I’m good at, though, is making cakes that people LOVE to eat. They taste amazing. And once you’ve had a piece of my cake, you’ll overlook their outward appearance.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?


Want to know my secret to making great tasting cakes? I’m ready to tell you. I even baked a cake just for this post (ok, really, Reese had a birthday on Sunday. I HAD to make a cake…).

The secret to the perfect cake

The secret is….the frosting matters SO much more than the actual cake. I can dress a mediocre cake up with fabulous frosting and everyone will gobble it down. But if I try to frost a really good cake with canned frosting, the cake sits uneaten.

I typically start my cakes (except for specialty flavors like my apple cake or Texas Sheet Cake) with a standard cake mix from a box. Shocking, right? The fact is, I have tried many different cake recipes and the basic-flavor mixes stack up just fine.

Then, the secret ingredient: the perfect frosting. Some of my favorite pairings are yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, spice cake with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

Here’s how I do it (it’s so simple, I swear!). I got my trusty old recipe from an old Pillsbury baking cookbook that has literally fallen apart from love and over-usage.

favorite cookbook

Stand-by Buttercream Frosting

2/3 cup butter, softened (not melted)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp milk

In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy (I typically use hand beaters, but a stand mixer will work as well). Gradually add powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in vanilla and milk until you have your desired consistency.

2/3 cup butter
Note: ALWAYS use real butter. Don’t substitute margarine. Food coloring can be added along with the vanilla and milk for colored frosting.

Chocolate buttercream frosting

Use the same recipe as above but add 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa with the powdered sugar.


perfect, but ugly cake
It’s seriously as easy as that. Use this frosting and people will call you a cake genius. The perfect birthday cake is as simple as the the frosting you put on top. It never fails.

© 2012 – 2014, Lolli. All rights reserved.

About Lolli

Lolli has written 3174 posts on this blog.

I became a mom in 1996, and in 2005 I had my fifth. Yes, 5 kids. In 2007, this blog was born (my 6th baby that will never grow up) and I've been sharing recipes, photography tricks, parenting tips, and everything in between.

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  1. I have tried to make homemade frosting but for some reason my family prefers it from a can. I think I need to use a new bag of powdered sugar the next time I try to make it instead of sugar I have had in the pantry.
    Stefani Tolson´s last blog post ..The Bella Life ‘Turn it On’ Mother’s Day Sweepstakes


    Lolli Reply:

    That is so funny! It’s all about taste – I know that some people think I’m crazy because I strongly prefer the “fake” pancake syrup over “real” maple syrup any day. Also….laughing because we go through powdered sugar so fast in our house I’m always running out. Sad but true!
    Lolli´s last blog post ..Built to Amaze – Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus #PSF


  2. I agree! Everyone’s first taste is the frosting! If the frosting is terrible – the cake is impossible!


  3. My 13 yr. old grandaughter always says, “Grammy, did you make YOUR frosting?”. She’s asked this question for years. She loves my buttercream frosting that is just like yours I detest canned frosting & so does she.


  4. I have a secret that makes the boxed cake mix even better! Substitute half of the water with vanilla (or whatever flavor you want) yogurt. The mixture will be thick, but the cake turns out AMAZING! People are always asking me for my “recipe.” :)

    I’ve also substituted some of the water with pureed strawberries, pureed blueberries in white/yellow cakes and coffee in chocolate cakes.


  5. I’m a total frosting snob. I would rather do without than have blech-y frosting. Actually, give me cake with milk instead of frosting any day! I love fruit basket cake with a stabilized whipped cream frosting. Your buttercream sounds rich and delish!
    Annie~SavorThisMoment´s last blog post ..What’s for Dinner, March Week 2


  6. So had to share.
    At my girlfriends on Sunday, she took a box mix, added apple sauce instead of oil. Then in her grinder did a cup of walnuts ground to granular size and added it in.
    OMGawsh !!!
    By Word of Mouth Musings´s last blog post ..Wordy or Wordless Wednesday, use your blog for good! 3/14


    Lolli Reply:

    Yep – I’ve substituted apple sauce before, but I love the idea of ground nuts. YUM!


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