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Birthday Cake

April 14 2008 by Kristin at The Kitchen Sink in Uncategorized » 19 comments

At a restaurant, I love to peruse the menu and think about what the people at the table with me will order. It’s too bad that this isn’t a game in Vegas, because—frankly—I’m prett-y, prett-y good at it. When it comes to predicting Kevin’s order, I’m usually spot-on. And, while I’d love to claim prescience, it’s not exactly rocket science: he’s a man who knows what he likes. If there’s anything on the menu involving deep-frying, a delicious steak or molten-chocolate-ness, you can safely bet Kevin will find it, order it and love it. (At this point, I should mention that Kevin is, inexplicably, quite thin and in very good health. We don’t recommend, however, that you try this at home.)

So, when Kevin lodged a very specific request for his birthday cake—white cake with chocolate frosting—I knew better than to deviate. But, predictably, I had to gussy it up just a little bit, which led me to a vanilla bean cake with chocolate ganache frosting. I ran it by the boss, of course, and he graciously granted his consent.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

Good thing, too, because it was delicious. Appropriately, it was a cake that practically screamed birthday. Its festive four layers lent a towering height that demanded a crown of flickering birthday candles. And its decadent frosting all but begged the birthday boy (or the baker) to swipe a furtive finger-tip-ful for himself (or herself). And its delicate, fragrantly vanilla cake layers played perfectly against its jacket of deep, dark ganache. It was a happy birthday to Kevin, indeed.

Vanilla Bean Cake

1 cup buttermilk
1⁄2 cup whole milk
9 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 1⁄2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
2 1⁄4 cups sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter and flour two 9- inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract and beans; set aside. In another bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until combined, about 2 minutes.

Working in several batches, alternately add the flour mixture and milk mixture, ending with milk mixture. Beat after each addition until the mixture is just combined.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cakes are beginning to brown around the edges and a tester comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in their pans on a rack for about 5 minutes. Remove the cakes from their pans and allow to cool completely.

If the cakes are domed, slice off the domed portion to create a flat cake. Slice each cake horizontally into two even rounds. Set one of the four layers on a cake stand, slipping pieces of parchment paper between the layer and the stand. Using an offset spatula, slather the top of the cake layer with frosting. Top it with another layer and repeat with the next two layers. Finally, place the fourth (last) layer on top and heap on the remaining frosting. Smooth the frosting out over the top and down onto the sides of the cake.

Allow the cake to set for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

Chocolate Ganache frosting recipe here (note: I made 1.5 times this recipe and had a perfect amount to ice the four layers).

19 comments so far. »
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  1. Kevin says on April 14 2008 at 7:57 am:

    Well I can say that all three slices I’ve had have basically knocked me out. They were big slices. But it was well worth it. Definitely my favorite birthday cake yet. Thank you! Although the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream cakes as a child were really breathtaking as well.

  2. Ali says on April 14 2008 at 10:16 am:

    This looks awesome!! I hope the birthday celebration carries over into our big family dinner plans tomorrow night… (aka, Kevin don’t eat it all before I get there!)

  3. Patricia Scarpin says on April 14 2008 at 12:48 pm:

    I think most men prefer to play it safe when it comes to many things in life, including food. :)
    That cake looks beautiful!

  4. Maria says on April 14 2008 at 2:19 pm:



  5. brilynn says on April 14 2008 at 4:08 pm:

    That cake looks awesome and vanilla bean would have made it extra special!

  6. eggsonsunday says on April 14 2008 at 4:45 pm:

    Vanilla bean in the cake sounds like a great idea!
    I love the photo of the frosting squidging out between the layers…mmm. What a lovely birthday cake! –Amy

  7. Kaykat says on April 14 2008 at 10:54 pm:

    Wow! Insanely decadent. I could totally use a (huge) slice right now :)

  8. Mandy says on April 15 2008 at 8:58 am:

    What a pretty cake! I need to find a special occasion to bake this.

  9. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on April 16 2008 at 6:01 am:

    Kev: Thank you. But I’m pretty sure you’re required to say these things.

    Ali: By now, you know that I managed to tuck away a couple slim slices for you (or …. an entire half a cake … which you really should share with your roommates).

    Patricia, Maria, Brilynn: Thanks!

    Amy: I am so using the word squidge as much as possible from here on out.

    Kaykat: We’ve got so much leftover, so I wish I could share!

    Mandy: Thanks! If you try it, let me know how it goes. I’d be especially interested to get feedback on the cake (versus the ganache).

  10. brandi says on June 24 2008 at 8:18 pm:

    Hi! I clicked over here from Serious Eats today and I love your site. This cake looks delicious, but the reason for my comment is to ask… is your “prett-y prett-y good” a Curb Your Enthusiasm reference? I really hope so. I say that all the time and no one ever gets it!

  11. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on June 25 2008 at 6:02 am:

    brandi: Thanks for stopping by! And, yes, it was a Curb reference. Glad someone got it …

  12. pam says on June 19 2009 at 9:31 pm:

    i will try the cake for my daughter’s birthday, but I have one question…so, you buy a vanilla bean and scrape it with a knife so you end up with little splinter like pieces?

  13. Kristin thompson says on March 08 2010 at 12:26 pm:

    I am on the hunt for a white cake recipe for my boyfriend’s birthday, and I think I am going to try this one. The only thing, though, is that i’ve noticed other recipes that call for two 9-inch cake pans seem to use nearly half the flour! (and less of other ingredients also). Are your cake pans extra deep? I think I only have 8-inch pans, so I might have extra batter anyways!

  14. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on March 08 2010 at 12:39 pm:

    Kristin: It’s a tall cake, which probably explains the larger quantity of ingredients. If you’re looking for something smaller, you can cut the recipe in half and use only one cake pan. If you slice the layer in half, you’ll have a moderate-height two-layer cake. I can’t say for sure how the recipe will work with an 8-inch pan (or two). To be safe, I would not fill the pan(s) more than halfway full. You might need to adjust the baking time as well. Please let us know how it turns out! Good luck!

  15. Elizabeth says on May 16 2010 at 11:42 pm:

    Is it supposed to come out dense like an angel food cake? Maybe Im doing something wrong???!!!

  16. Sarah says on October 02 2010 at 10:03 pm:

    Elizabeth- Mine was as if a pound cake and an angel food cake had a baby. Looked great and tasted delicious, but very dense. I didn’t split the cakes into layers. Maybe that would have helped.
    Tips on what would make this lighter? No buttermilk?

  17. Elizabeth says on December 05 2010 at 10:12 pm:

    I tried this cake again…. same thing, dense. Does anyone have any suggestions? The cake looks great, but it’s very, very heavy.

  18. Tricia Rodgers says on May 30 2014 at 9:15 am:

    Could you please send me the correct link to the ganache frosting for your vanilla layer cake? The one listed isn’t working. It looks fabulous!! Thanks!!

  19. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on May 31 2014 at 9:26 am:

    Tricia: My apologies for the broken link. If you scroll down at this link, I used the chocolate ganache listed in the “All About Frosting” post that I can’t seem to link to:


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