Life is Great

The Delicious Appreciations of Pick Yin

Not exactly predictable.
Has enough brains for codes
(but can be completely clueless on other more important matters).
Likes her Joe (and her man?) black, her chocolate dark and her food spicy.
“Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu.” — Seneca

Total Posts   191      Last Updated   23 November 2015 12:00 PM (GMT +8)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Best Birthday Cake

Things got ahead of me and I find myself catching up on writing up posts the week after they're supposed to be up. This is what happens when you're stuck with a day job, not at your own home half the time of the month and not very good at following up with emails. So on this second day of Eid (probably the first if you're in Australia, New Zealand or Indonesia, Eid Mubarak!), while I have a celebration-feast-worthy recipe to share with you as you make merry with family and friends, that'll have to wait - till next week - if things don't go way ahead and leave me scrambling.

'Twas my birthday last week and yes, there had to be cake, and no, I'm not trying to kill you with yet another cake recipe. Cake is important when you're a couple of years pass thirty. Candles, not so much, but cake is. At least to me. So while I was away for work in Shanghai, I spent more time than I should thinking about it. Last year's cake was about painting a pretty picture - chocolate layers, peppermint, smooth as silk Swiss meringue buttercream, more chocolate - the works. This year I wanted something easier to pull off since the big day would come not long after a tiring business trip. But while I won't entertain the idea of piping finicky chocolate decorations, the cake must in no way compromise on awesomeness. You know, not when you're a couple of years pass thirty.

So I did some research and spent my room serviced hotel nights indulging in one of my favorite past time - studying cake recipes. The result was at first between Rosie's salted caramel chocolate fudge cake because of the chocolate (and hey salted caramel!), and Dorie Greenspan's perfect party cake for it was pretty obvious I wanted to have a blast with it. Then I remembered this cake, which I have seen last year while reading Deb's entire blog and thought of as quite unassuming.

Until I went over to the post again and saw that it had 700 over comments. Over a yellow cake with chocolate frosting? Okay, chocolate sour cream frosting but still, something must be up (or down) with this cake. Even the bestest chocolate cake didn't get people so hot and bothered. So I put on my other pair of eyes and went through all the feedback. There were so many negative ones amongst rave reviews, they surprised me. Did Deb lose it with her own recipe two years ago when the cake was an equally big deal for her before Jacob came along? The frosting was too sour/bitter/horrible/don't-even-go-there, the cake dried up the next day, tasted like a very good corn bread but not a yellow cake, too 'eggy', okay but was really dismissible - the list went on and on.

That changed my plans and I knew I had to make this cake. A yellow cake would be special. I have made more than a few chocolate cakes. Yet another one, even one with some burnt sugar and salt, can probably wait. This one would be easy - the frosting didn't even call for an electric mixer. I had all the ingredients in my pantry. But yes, more than any of those reasons, I wanted to rise to the (easy?) 'challenge' and see for myself. Would this be a complete disaster, ruin my birthday and drive me to tears or would it be a total hit as Deb promised?

It was the latter. So much so people who had it asked for seconds. People who weren't sure there were seconds risked it and asked if there were any left. A friend who knew there was definitely none left saved her piece (she said it was too previous) and ate it in three separate seating. Vijay declared it awesome after the first bite. The frosting was phenomenal with the moist cake, he stressed. He halfheartedly gave away his final piece for the love of sharing. As for me, I had a grand total of one and a half piece because there was not enough of it to go around, despite all of its towering 8-inch layers and all. So don't say I didn't warn you. I'll have to make two the next time I'm baking this for whatever reason - and you don't really need one. Not for this cake.
Best Yellow Layer Cake
Adapted barely from Deb Perelman's Best Birthday Cake at Smitten Kitchen.
Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers OR
22 to 24 cupcakes OR
Two 8-inch squares cake layers OR
A 9×13 single-layer cake OR
Three 8-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers.

Note: I followed Deb's recipe exactly and only made my own buttermilk (2 cups whole milk + 2 tablespoons vinegar, you can also use fresh lemon juice) because the store at my neighborhood didn't have any. If you're anything like me and have gone through all the 700 over comments on Deb's original recipe with some amount of weariness, I can safely say that the cake came out awesome without anything different done to it. I made the cake layers two days in advance and froze them before the day of frosting. Like all good cakes, it remained moist and soft even after five days of covered refrigeration. This really could be your best birthday cake too!

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons/480 grams cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 teaspoons/10 grams baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon/5 grams table salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup/1/2 pound/225 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups/400 grams sugar
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk/475 milliliters, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. You can also use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to simplify things.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla extract. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will be curdled). Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly into prepared cake pans, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles (I used Deb's dropping method as well, make sure to repeat a few times for each layer). Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes (mine was done at 30 minutes). Cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes, and then run a knife around the edge of pans to release. Invert onto wire racks and discard parchments, then cool completely, for about one hour.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Adapted from Deb Perelman's Best Birthday Cake at Smitten Kitchen, original recipe from The Dessert Bible
Yield: 5 cups of frosting, enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake/three layer 8-inch cake

Note: If you haven't already heard enough of what I have to say about this frosting, let me just reiterate - you have to try this, even if you're not a fan of sour cream. As long as you adjust the sweetness according to the chocolate you're using, the frosting will neither be bitter nor sour. Caveat - fight off the urge to lick your spatulas when frosting.

  • 15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate)
  • 2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over just simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. You can also melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid. Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined.

Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until the desired level of sweetness is achieved (I used Callebaut's dark chocolate and all the 1/2 cup of corn syrup). Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency, for about 20-30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out on the counter until it softens again before frosting.

59 Comments on Best Birthday Cake

Your cake looks deadly gorgeous! A happy belated 32nd birthday to you! I understand about the day job part, which explains my MIA. Hahaha!

Posted by Anonymous Pei-Lin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:04:00 PM  

Wow wow wow, Pickyin - this looks absolutely awesome!! You are really serious about your cake I can see and boy, are you good with the layering and frosting! Happy belated birthday! young, I feel so ancient...

Posted by Anonymous shirley@kokken69, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:04:00 PM  

Thanks Pei-Lin and Shirley! I'm 33 really, used the term 'a couple' loosely... heh heh...

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:04:00 PM  

i triple shirley's wow wow wow! the layering is so neat!! wish I had that kinda skill...

happy belated birthday! we are almost the same age~

Posted by Anonymous Alan (travellingfoodies), at Feb 1, 2012, 5:04:00 PM  

Randomly came across your blog because of your pandan cake post. All your cakes and food look so amazing!!

Posted by Anonymous Fiona Chian, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:05:00 PM  

your military precision of cutting the slice is flawless.

happiest of birthday wishes to you!

incidentally, your cake creations as of late have inspired me to make a "grown up" one this weekend and it happens to be the salty caramel cake you linked, i'm working out the kinks to make it dairy free but hopefully it'll turn out nice.

Posted by Anonymous Lan, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:05:00 PM  

Your first paragraph sums up my dilemma between real life and blogging perfectly. *sigh*

And how beautiful is this cake! You are becoming quite a cake queen now!

Posted by Anonymous, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:05:00 PM  

Bookmarked for sure! Love how you did the frosting on the top!

Posted by Anonymous Mrs Ergül, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:06:00 PM  

Happy birthday dear...
I love the way you do the frosting... so pretty

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:06:00 PM  

Love the way you did your frosting.... so cantik :D

Happy Birthday...

Posted by Anonymous Lisa H., at Feb 1, 2012, 5:06:00 PM  

Alan: Thank you thank you. Don't be silly, layered cakes are no comparison to your delicate PH, Aoki and Sugino desserts lah.

Fiona: Thank you. Hope you'll try out the pandan chiffon.

Lan: It helps to cut the cake when the texture is just right, this may require it spending some time in the fridge. Am glad to have inspired you, hope your salted caramel chocolate cake will be awesome. Can't wait to see how you make it dairy free - I have a friend with a lactose intolerent son, would be great for her!

anh: Sometimes I think I spend more brain power and heart in the kitchen and the photos (not giving me a cent) than my actual day job (which pays the bills AND fund my passion). Isn't is ironic? Cake queen? NOoooooo... I don't do a lot of things cake queens do - you know, like fondants, royal icing, sugar paste etc.

Mrs. Ergül: Thanks, I have an obsession with swirly frosting tops currently, if it isn't already obvious. Hope it'll be good for you too when you make it.

Lisa H: Terima kasih dear, Eid Mubarak (again)!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:07:00 PM  

Happy belated birthday, Pickyin. Wow..this is another awesome creation..your're leaving us speechless again! Hope you're not stopping your loved ones who are trying to surprise you with a birthday cake from elsewhere; since the best one comes from your own kitchen Don't stop watching Masterchef!

Posted by Anonymous Reese@seasonwithspice, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:08:00 PM  

Reese: Thanks. This is really a simple one. I'm terribly picky when it comes to food, but there are good cakes out there, many better than mine so I won't mind surprises in those forms. Masterchef? Don't worry, I won't be able to stop myself. :D

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:08:00 PM  

Just...perfect! It was my birthday on the 30th and im going to be posting 'the' cake recipe in the next few days, but my goodness my attempt wasnt HALF as gorgeous as your birthday cake!! My goodness this is just beautiful and sounds like it tastes doubley as good too :)

Posted by Anonymous Sasha @ The Procrastobaker, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:08:00 PM  

Sasha: Thank you! Happy birthday to you too and I think your stout cake with Baileys cream was absolutely wicked to say the least.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:08:00 PM  

No conocia tu blog y es una autentica maravilla!!! y este cake es espectacular!!! me encanta el chocolate y no he podido resistirme en escribirte y felicitarte por esta estupenda tarta!!!!!
Un beso!

Posted by Anonymous Marymary, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:09:00 PM  

Marymary: Muchas gracias!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:09:00 PM  

Your cakes are stunning! If only I can learn to make them as nice as yours one day but I doubt it haha. You're truly skilled! Keep it up! =)

Posted by Anonymous Winston, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:09:00 PM  

Now kak pick yin, can u teach me how in this world could i make that swirl pattern on top of that cake? :Ddefinitely will be trying this recipe..tq!

Posted by Anonymous Ap, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:10:00 PM  

Ap: Check out this video here, which I used on my Magnolia cupcakes. Use a spatula and start from the outside in anti-clockwise. I don't recommend using a lazy susan/turntable as it is easy to accidentally turn the other way round when you stop to rest. Texture of the frosting is important, it cannot be too cold/hard. Good luck!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:10:00 PM  

wohhoooooooooooo thank you!!!

Posted by Anonymous Ap, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:11:00 PM  

Welcome Ap, nanti dah buat tu bagi la tau result dia sedap ke tak.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:11:00 PM  

Happy Belated Birthday Pick Yin it sure is an awesome cake! The layers are amazingly straight. It's perfect ;)

Posted by Anonymous Swee San @The Sweet Spot, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:11:00 PM  

Swee San: Thank you!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:11:00 PM  

I hope you had a lovely birthday Pick Yin! I am sorry I missed it. :( I hope this coming year is great for you. You are a much braver woman than I by baking this cake. That has to be one of the most stunning cakes I have ever seen. I had thought I would bake myself a pink layer cake for my 30 something birthday this year but then chickened out ... you definitely are a much braver woman! :)

Posted by Anonymous Sneh | Cook Republic, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:12:00 PM  

Thanks Sneh! This cake is one of the easiest I've made I tell you. A pink layer cake would be awesome, do it next year. You have many months to practice right?

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:12:00 PM  

I LOOOVE what you did with the frosting!! Hope you had a special birthday. And thanks for the advice you left for me on this cake........over baking is what I'm guessing my problem was, and after reading your post, I'm willing to give it another try. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is my husbands very favorite!

Posted by Anonymous TidyMom, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:12:00 PM  

Cheryl: Thanks! I did have a good one. Hope you'll get what I enjoyed in your next try. This cake was a surprising favorite for many of us.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:13:00 PM  

I love it, i just baked it mins ago.. instead i make the cupcakes. It made a lot more than 24... but it came out good. THe frosting.. its a little bitter. But i kept adding light corn syrup. but its still a little bitter :(

Posted by Anonymous Flyshortii90, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:13:00 PM  

Flyshortii90: Glad the cake bit turned out good for you. If you're averse to bitterness (unlike moi, who likes my chocolate dark and bitter), then I'd suggest using semi-sweet chocolate and skip the coffee (which may or may not contribute to your predicament). The chocolate you use should be able to be enjoyed by itself without sugar added as the corn syrup will not add much sweetness against the chocolate.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 1, 2012, 5:13:00 PM  

Your cake looks awesome so I decided to make it. I made the cake and the cake itself was amazing I love the flavor. I made the icing too and it tasted much better with the cake then by itself. Thanks for sharing your cake :)

Posted by Blogger kmbc20, at Feb 18, 2012, 11:21:00 AM  

kmbc20: Glad you tried it and liked it. I still think of this cake from time to time.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 18, 2012, 1:11:00 PM  

I made this today and absolutely loved it :) Thanks for sharing! Your photos are totally gorgeous.

Posted by Blogger Kaitlin, at Mar 14, 2012, 12:51:00 PM  

Thanks Kaitlin! Recipes from Deb's site had never failed me. This was literally the best birthday cake I ever had.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Mar 14, 2012, 2:44:00 PM  

Going to try this for my birthday...sadly not my 32nd...that's a dim and distant memory. Just have to say how much I love that you convert the weights and measures of your ingredients. Cheers!

Posted by Blogger Jeanmo, at Jul 21, 2012, 8:49:00 PM  

Jeanmo: Good luck and all the best. Regarding the conversions, I don't do it for every recipe. Sometimes the original sources already contain conversions, otherwise you can always refer to the Net for them.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Jul 24, 2012, 9:19:00 AM  

Absolutetly perfect!! i searched and searched and made this one.. couldn't have been better!!

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous, at Aug 9, 2012, 12:52:00 PM  

Your layers are perfect! Just stumbled across your blog and I'm so glad I did ^__^

Posted by Blogger Rebecca, at Aug 11, 2012, 12:06:00 PM  

Rebecca: Thank you for the sweet comment, hope you'll bake this cake one day!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Aug 13, 2012, 9:50:00 AM  

Simply this is the best birthday cake that i have ever seen. Dark chocolate layer cake that's amazing and delicious. I have no more words to express how it is good. Great effort and thank you very this excellent post.

Posted by Anonymous Birthday Cakes, at Aug 17, 2012, 10:07:00 PM  

Hello Pick Yin!

I am Zaki from Singapore. I love your blog and found it through another blog "Whiz Kid". Thank you for sharing with us all these gorgeous cake recipes. I am going to try making the Sour Cream Chocolate frost tmr. But I like to know if there is a substitute for corn syrup? I can't seem to find it on my local supermarket shelf. Please revert. Thank you again and have a wonderful day ahead. Keep on baking and inspiring us all!

Posted by Blogger ikaz, at Oct 12, 2012, 2:37:00 PM  

Where is that gorgeous wooden cake stand from???? The cake is totally gorgeous too- but that stand! Swoon!

Posted by Anonymous TuxL, at Aug 20, 2013, 8:39:00 PM  

This cake is sexy. There! I said it. I'm making this cake for a family friend. I'll most likely have to make two because I doubt my family will let it leave the house if it looks anywhere near this masterpiece.

Posted by Blogger Colleen, at Dec 11, 2013, 9:20:00 AM  

Zaki: Sorry for the late reply, you can get corn syrup from NTUC Fairprice or Cold Storage at the baking section. There is no real substitute for it.

TuxL: The cake stand is from IWannaGoHome I think. LOL!

Colleen: ALL THE BEST!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Dec 11, 2013, 10:26:00 AM  

One more question. I normally substitute butter in a recipe with oil. Do you think that would make the cake too moist? I will most likely make the cake the first time as your recipe calls, but I'm just curious. Thanks and wish me luck!

Posted by Blogger Colleen, at Dec 14, 2013, 6:43:00 AM  

Last question. I hope. the racks in my oven are uneven, so I can only bake one pan at a time. Where do I place the other two that are waiting for their baking time? I could put one on each rack, as long as they are dead center in the oven and the switch whose on top/bottom midway. But what about the one pan that is waiting her turn. On the counter or in the fridge for that half hour wait.

Posted by Blogger Colleen, at Dec 14, 2013, 6:52:00 AM  

I understand the comments about the cake. It does seem like cornbread. I should have trust my instincts and substituted the two sticks of butter with a 1/2 cup of oil. I do this with my red velvet cake and I should have done the same. I was also not a fan of the frosting. I will try a cream cheese base rather than sour cream. Yours turned out fabulous, mine not so much and I'm suppose to give this to someone as a birthday cake tomorrow.

Posted by Blogger Colleen, at Dec 15, 2013, 8:33:00 AM  

I want to correct some of my last comment. I made a two layer eight inch cake and a two layer six inch cake. The six inch cake was for us and it was dry. I believed I baked it too long. I baked it to the directions of the eight inch cake. So there is hope for the eight inch cake that I'm giving to someone else. I will make this cake again. And I'll replace half the butter with oil.

Posted by Blogger Colleen, at Dec 15, 2013, 9:03:00 AM  

Colleen: Regarding the cake layers, I bake one at a time as cakes are not meant to be disturbed halfway through baking. I just leave my other pans on the counter, they will not dry out in this humid weather.

As for substituting with oil, I find that there's no need to do so with this recipe, the cake came out soft, tender and perfect on my first attempt. I'm sorry I can't help in this area, you may want to try aerating the creaming stage more and baking for less time. Baking times in recipes as just guidance, the best approach is to check the cake every 5 minutes after 3/4 of the baking time stated.

The sour cream frosting is also perfect for me and everyone else who had the cake, I also used it to frost many cakes after this occasion. It remains as one of my favorite chocolate frosting to this day. Again, sorry you don't feel the same. :)

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Dec 16, 2013, 10:23:00 AM  

I will try this cake again. It is too beautiful to give up on. I will take your suggestions. THANKS for responding.

Posted by Blogger Colleen, at Dec 21, 2013, 9:43:00 AM  

My daughters birthday is coming up and she absolutely loves treats! She has been talking about what she wants her birthday cake to look like and taste like. Hopefully I can give her what she wants! This cake in the pictures looks amazing!

Posted by Blogger Unknown, at Oct 11, 2014, 4:20:00 AM  

Hi Pick Yin, I have been trying to get that smooth even frosting finish I saw right here on your cake for about a year now, but as with my latest trial yesterday, I haven't been able to get it quite right.

Would you please PLEASE provide a video tutorial about how you've gotten this cake to look this perfect? Pretty please? :)

Posted by Blogger Harsha, at Oct 11, 2014, 7:48:00 PM  

Harsha: I can't promise a video as I hardly bake or cook for the moment due to work.

Try to ensure your melted chocolate is tepid, not hot or warm before mixing in. Stir quickly means exactly that, you want the mixture to blend into a uniform temperature as soon as possible. This is one of the easiest frosting to make. Try again!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Oct 13, 2014, 8:35:00 AM  

I love this cake. Thanks for share

Posted by Anonymous Tanya, at Oct 19, 2014, 4:15:00 PM  

This birthday cake looks so yummy! I especially love the chocolate frosting. However, I don't think that I would trust myself to make a cake like this. This is one job that I will have to leave to the professionals.

Mary Jane |

Posted by Blogger Unknown, at Dec 2, 2014, 7:48:00 AM  

Looking delicious, Just awesome. My hands can't wait without making this cake. I will definitely make this chocolate birthday cakes.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous, at Apr 1, 2015, 5:55:00 PM  

My mouth is filled with water. You made me a guy who urgently needs a cake. By the way thanks for sharing this Happy Birthday Cake

Posted by Blogger Unknown, at Sep 7, 2015, 1:10:00 PM  

It seems the best birthday cake. Keep it up
Happy Birhtday Cake

Posted by Blogger Unknown, at Sep 14, 2015, 12:21:00 PM  

With all the perfection this cake is becoming the mouth-watering one. Not only this but the rich chocolate which is there on the top of the cake is making more delicious.

Posted by Anonymous simran, at Jun 29, 2018, 1:50:00 PM  

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