Makes 1 (6-Inch) Layer Cake, 5 - 6 Inches Tall
Course: Dessert


  • 1 (6-Inch) Cake Ring
  • 2 Strips Acetate, Each 3 Inches Wide, 20 Inches Long
  • Stand Mixer With Paddle Attachment
  • Quarter Sheet Pan
  • Parchment Paper or Silpat
  • Spatula
  • Wire Rack
  • Small Bowl
  • Pastry Brush


Birthday Cake ( 1 Quarter Sheet Pan )

  • 4 Tbsp. Butter Room Temperature
  • Cup Vegetable Shortening
  • Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. Light Brown Sugar Tightly Packed
  • 3 Eggs
  • ½ Cup Buttermilk
  • Cup Grapeseed Oil
  • 2 tsp. Clear Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Cups Cake Flour
  • tsp. Baking Powder
  • ¾ tsp. Kosher Salt
  • ¼ Cup Rainbow Sprinkles Plus 2 Tbsp. Rainbow Sprinkles
  • Nonstick Cooking Spray

Birthday Cake Soak

  • ¼ Cup Milk
  • 1 tsp. Clear Vanilla Extract

Birthday Cake Crumb ( Makes About 2¼ Cups )

  • ½ Cup Granulated Sugar
  • Tbsp. Light Brown Sugar Tightly Packed
  • ¾ Cup Cake Flour
  • ½ tsp. Baking Powder
  • ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Rainbow Sprinkles
  • ¼ Cup Grapeseed Oil
  • 1 Tbsp. Clear Vanilla Extract

Birthday Cake Frosting ( Makes About 2 Cups )

  • 8 Tbsp. Butter Room Temperature
  • ¼ Cup Vegetable Shortening
  • 2 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. Glucose
  • 1 Tbsp. Corn Syrup
  • 1 Tbsp. Clear Vanilla Extract
  • Cups Confectioners' Sugar
  • ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
  • A Pinch of Baking Powder
  • A Pinch of Citric Acid


Prepare Birthday Cake.

  • Heat the oven to 350°F.
  • Combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
  • On a low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. Don’t rush the process. You’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for that liquid. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and the ¼ cup rainbow sprinkles. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Spray nonstick cooking spray on a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a Silpat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of rainbow sprinkles evenly on top of the batter.
  • Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.
  • Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

Prepare Birthday Cake Soak.

  • Note on vanilla extract: We use two different kinds of vanilla extract, brown Patisse brand, and clear McCormick brand. Neither is of any fancy caliber, but we use these specific vanilla extracts on purpose because they are the flavor that most people relate to in their baked goods. Vanilla beans and fancy vanilla paste do not taste like home to me, but commercial vanilla extract does.
    We use brown (standard) vanilla extract in 90 percent of our baked goods. It’s the extract that flavors nearly every homemade chocolate chip cookie. We use clear McCormick vanilla extract for the birthday cake, birthday cake crumb, and birthday cake frosting. It is vanilla in flavor, but not flavored by any actual vanilla beans. It’s “vanilla” in more of a guilty tub-of-frosting, box-cake way. The two are not interchangeable in recipes. Both Patisse brown extract and McCormick clear vanilla are available online.
  • Whisk together the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Prepare Birthday Cake Crumb.

  • Heat the oven to 300°F.
  • Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined.
  • Add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to distribute. The wet ingredients will act as glue to help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue paddling until that happens.
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 300°F.
  • Let the crumbs cool completely before using them in a recipe or scarfing by the handful. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
    Once we got birthday cake crumbs down, we moved on to our larger quest of making a funfetti cake, canned frosting and all, from scratch. Turns out that looking on the side of the cake mix box at the master ingredient list was really helpful in getting the “secret” stuff we couldn’t figure out by taste.

Prepare Birthday Cake Frosting.

  • Combine the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • With the mixer on its lowest speed, stream in the glucose, corn syrup, and vanilla. Crank the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and a glossy white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter. Crank the speed back up to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you have a brilliant stark white, beautifully smooth frosting. It should look just like it came out of a plastic tub at the grocery store! Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Assemble Cake.

  • Put a piece of parchment or a Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out two circles from the cake. These are the top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
  • Layer 1: The Bottom
  • Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring.
  • Put the cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
  • Dunk a pastry brush in the birthday cake soak and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half of the soak.
  • Use the back of a spoon to spread one-fifth of the frosting in an even layer over the cake.
  • Sprinkle one-third of the birthday crumbs evenly over the frosting. Use the back of your hand to anchor them in place.
  • Use the back of a spoon to spread a second fifth of the birthday cake frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.
  • Layer 2: The Middle
  • With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake.
  • Set a pre-cut cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1 (if one of the cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top). 
  • Layer 3: The Top
  • Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Give it volume and swirls or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. Garnish the frosting with the remaining birthday crumbs.
  • Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
  • At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
  • Slice the cake into wedges and serve.