In continuing my series of Classic Cakes, I’m so excited to share today’s Vanilla Buttermilk Birthday Cake. This light and fluffy cake is the quintessential celebration cake that’s perfect for every occasion. It’s soft, tender and moist, but sturdy enough to be stacked as a tiered cake, and can be paired with any flavor of buttercream. It’s a personal favorite of mine that I make over and over.
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How to Make Vanilla Buttermilk Birthday Cake
Unsalted Butter + Granulated Sugar
This is a butter based cake, and I use the traditional creaming method for mixing my cake batter. I like to beat the butter and sugar until they’re very light, fluffy, and lightened in color, which takes about 10-12 minutes. The creaming of the butter and sugar incorporates air into the batter which makes for a very light cake.
The egg whites add structure to the cake, and using only whites preserves the white color of the cake, as well. There’s no need to be intimidated by using just egg whites. There’s no whipping of the whites separately to soft peaks or firm peaks or stiff peaks, or anything like that. They are simply mixed into the batter. And the leftover yolks are perfect for homemade pudding or custard pies, custard-based ice cream, or lemon curd.
Buttermilk is a wonderful ingredient for baking. I use it in so many of my cake recipes. The acidity in the buttermilk adds tenderness to the cake crumb, and gives the cake a beautiful lift.
If you can, use a vanilla bean or vanilla bean paste in this cake. The flavor of the real vanilla bean is just incredible. Vanilla has been pricey for the last couple of years, but I’ve been able to find very affordable vanilla beans on Amazon lately!
Cake Flour + Baking Powder + Salt
Cake flour is best in this vanilla buttermilk birthday cake. It has a lower percentage of protein than all-purpose flour, and makes an incredibly soft and tender cake. The baking powder gives the cake its rise, of course, and salt balances the sweetness of the cake and enhances the flavor of the butter and vanilla bean.
Decorating Your Cake
I frosted my buttermilk cake with my Perfect American Buttercream. It’s fluffy and creamy, not too sweet, and can be made in any flavor you like. If you haven’t read through my buttercream post, I hope you do! It’s a comprehensive guide addressing common problems with making buttercream, and my recipe turns out perfectly every time.
For the pink buttercream border, I used Wilton tip 1M, which is my favorite versatile piping tip. I finished it with sprinkles and candles, which my toddler was thrilled about.
I’ve tested this cake recipe so many times to get it just right. So after the experimenting and baking was done, many cake pans and mixing bowls had been washed, much cake tasting had commenced and my toddler had blown out all the candles and gotten his fill of frosting, we agreed that this final cake was the quintessential “birthday cake” cake. The flavor is the classic vanilla birthday cake flavor that you expect from a box mix and love, although of course so much better. The crumb is simply perfection. Light, fluffy, soft, moist. Everything that you want in a cake. Happily finished with sprinkles.
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Buttermilk Birthday Cake
- Stand Mixer
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 egg whites, room temperature
- 2 ½ cups whole buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 3 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted
- 3 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp meringue powder (optional)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp coarse Kosher salt
- 2-4 tbsp milk or cream, if needed
- Preheat the oven to 350 and grease three 8-inch round cake pans. Sift the flour together with the baking powder and salt and set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar for 10-12 minutes, scraping the bowl down every few minutes, until very light and fluffy and pale in color.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites, buttermilk and vanilla, just to combine. With the mixer on low, add the wet ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture and mix for 1 minute to combine; it will look lumpy/curdled. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture, mix on low for 30 seconds, and then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes for a light and airy batter.
- Divide the batter between the cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the centers are done, then set the pans on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder and salt and mix until combined. Add the vanilla and milk, increase the speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy.
- When the cakes are cool, run a knife around the edges, remove from the pans, and frost with the buttercream.
- It’s important for the egg whites, buttermilk and butter to be at room temperature.
- Cake flour is best in this cake. It makes a much lighter cake than all-purpose flour does. Be sure to sift the cake flour after measuring.
- I used Wilton Tip 1M for the piping on the cake.