It’s All About the Cake

Simple recipes for making your kid's next birthday cake from scratch!

Nothing makes a kid’s eyes light up like a frosted birthday cake decked out with sprinkles.

Layered cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes and Bundts – no matter the cake, it’s often the focal point of the party…. and the pictures.

In a social media age, the cake seems to have taken an even bigger role, since it will be photographed and liked and shared by friends and family. But cakes have long been important. Look back at pictures of your own birthday, or your parents’ birthdays, and you’ll find kids gathered around a cake.

Those nostalgic cakes were often made by mom, with sprinkles from the grocery store and your name written in frosting.

These days, cakes run the gamut from several-hundred-dollar cakes dressed in fondant to the tried-and-true sheet cakes made by the grocery store bakery. But we all know, besides the initial wow factor from those cakes that look almost too pretty to eat, kids don’t care where the cake comes from.

Perhaps the most photographed cake of a kid’s life is his first. The first birthday cake has become as much an event as a cake. Many parents opt for a smash cake alongside a traditional cake. Watching baby take her first bite of pillowy cake and super sweet frosting is a rite of passage not to be missed.

Cake designers will tell you trends change year to year. One that seems to be hanging on is the round layered cake, sometimes smaller stacked layers on top – mimicking the design of a wedding cake, although in kids’ favorite colors like purple or red and bedecked with characters like Superman or Elmo.

Also popular this year are drip cakes, with either chocolate ganache or frosting “dripping” down the top layer for an almost modern art aesthetic.

Another cake we’ll continue to see is the “piled on” cake. Imagine a Hurt’s doughnut with all the toppings – then picture it in cake form. These frosted cakes are piled with either candies, macarons or even doughnut holes.

For home bakers, the trend continues for using natural food for taste and color in place of artificial flavorings and dyes. Think pink cupcakes with frosting made from pureed beets. Home bakers also have more control for making cakes free from gluten, eggs or other food allergens.

Really, it doesn’t matter whether the cake is homemade or store bought. As long as it’s covered in frosting and topped with candles, kids will gather around to sing “Happy Birthday to you….”

This recipe from the Sesame Street cookbook, “Let’s Cook!” tastes great. Use it for a layered cake, sheet cake or cupcakes. Note: If you want a layered cake or sheet cake, double the recipe.

Zoe’s Sweet and Special Birthday Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, or line 12 muffin pan cups with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, oil and sugar until well mixed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the vanilla just until blended.

With a rubber spatula, scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes for a cake layer and 18 minutes for cupcakes. Transfer to rack to cool for 15 minutes.

Run the tip of a knife around the side to loosen the pan. Place a plate or another rack on top of the cake pan, invert and turn the cake out. Frost the cake or cupcakes with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, beat together 8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese and 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Heat 2 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate chips in the microwave for 20 seconds. Stir, and heat for 20 seconds longer. Repeat until just melted. Stir into cream cheese frosting.

Note: Double this frosting recipe if you’re making a layered cake or a sheet cake.

Sweet Ricotta Filling

If you’re making a layered cake, try this filling in between your layers. In a blender or food processor, combine 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese and ½ cup confectioners’ sugar. Whirl for 30 seconds or until very smooth.

Want to try your hand at making a beautiful bakery-style cake yourself? This recipe is a great place to start. Decorate with edible flowers, tinted frosting or fun candles. Double the frosting if you want to pipe flowers or polka dots.

Classic Three-Layer Buttermilk Cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 large egg whites


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Pour in the buttermilk and begin mixing slowly. Continue to mix until well blended. Add the flavorings and stir.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake for about 25 minutes more or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and cool on racks. After 10 minutes, remove the cakes from the pans and continue cooling on racks.

For frosting: Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth.

When the cake is completely cooled, frost the layers and assemble.

Tip 1: Butter or grease and flour bottom of cake pans, then place cut parchment paper into bottom of pan. This will help the cake to easily pop out of the pans.

Tip 2: To make sure the layers are stable, insert a few wooden dowels through the three layers to stabilize cake.

Categories: Features, Food, Party Planning