The best yellow birthday cake

The Chinese side of the family likes a plain vanilla cake, so I’m excited to have finally found one that my chocolate lovers love too. This is an upsized version of the ultimate vanilla cake from The Cupcake Project, which makes one 13″x9″ cake or two 9″ rounds.

Note that this cake uses the method used by master baker Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible, in which butter is mixed with flour and dry ingredients first (instead of creaming butter with sugar). I don’t know why, but it works beautifully.

Cake ingredients

  • 2 2/3 cups cake flour (or 2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour plus 1/3 cup cornstarch)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (or sour cream, or buttermilk)
  • 1/3 cup neutral-flavored oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened at room temperature (or just use more butter if you don’t have cream cheese)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, more if necessary to thicken
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9″ cake pans or one 9″x13″ baking pan. (You could also make a half-sheet pan, which makes big, thinner cake good for kids’ birthday parties; or 3 8″ cake pans for a triple-layer; or about 24 cupcakes.)
  2. In a mixing bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Cut butter into cubes and add to bowl. Use mixer to blend butter into dry ingredients until mixture looks like dry crumbs with no lumps of butter left.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together milk, eggs, yogurt, oil and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined (use a rubber spatula to make sure flour underneath gets fully combined).
  5. Fill cake pan(s) and bake until center is no longer jiggly and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Check cupcakes at 14 minutes, thinner layers at 18 minutes. Thicker cakes may take 25-30 minutes. Cool before frosting.
  6. To make frosting, mix together softened cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar until fully blended in. Add just a tiny bit of milk at a time, then mix and see if you need more. Frosting should be creamy but not runny. Finish with vanilla extract. Add more powdered sugar to thicken if necessary. We like to decorate with chocolate chips and/or M&Ms to write the name of the birthday boy or girl.


Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.