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The Absolute Best Birthday Cake in New York City

yield: 1 8-inch, three layer cake


For the White Cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks // 8 ounces) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups (11 fluid ounces) whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (a scant 2 cups, 7 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar, divided into 1 1/4 cups ((8 ounces)) and 3/4 cup ((6 ounces)) portions
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 large egg whites

For the Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 cups (4 sticks // 16 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature, divided into 1/2 cup ((4 ounce)) portions
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 cups (32 ounces) confectioner's sugar, sifted


For the White Cake

  • Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment paper; spray the paper as well and set aside.
  • Chop 1 cup unsalted butter into small, pea-sized pieces and return them to the refrigerator to chill for 10 to 15 minutes after handling. Combine 1 1/3 cups whole milk and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup, and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine a "scant" 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 cups of the granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix on low for 30 seconds. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and bring the mixer speed up to medium. Continue mixing until the butter breaks down and the flour mixture is the texture of wet sand. Bring the mixer speed back down to its slowest setting and add the milk mixture. Mix just until the wet ingredients have incorporated into the dry ingredients — at this point, it will seem like the mixture hasn't mixed well. It will look curdled and chunky. That's okay though, I promise! Transfer the mixture to a large, deep bowl and set aside.
  • Fully clean and dry out the bowl of the mixer. You need to be really thorough — the bowl needs to be bone dry, and without any residual grease or liquid from the batter. Combine 6 large egg whites and the remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar in the bowl. Swap out the paddle attachment with a whisk attachment, and whisk on the mixer's fastest setting to make a meringue. Continue mixing until the meringue forms soft peaks. Once the meringue reaches this point, carefully scoop the meringue on top of the flour and milk mixture (from the 3rd step). Use a rubber spatula to fold the meringue into the flour until fully incorporated, scooping the curdled batter from the bottom of the bowl onto the foamy meringue. Keep on repeating this step, and avoid the urge to mix. You'll find that the curdled batter will pair nicely with meringue to make a light, foamy batter that is fairly homogeneous. Be careful not to overmix, or you'll lose all that light and fluffy air that you worked so hard to get! Fold the ingredients, not stir.
  • Carefully scoop the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until they are a golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

  • In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream 2 cups unsalted butter, making sure to stop the mixer every so often to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. It's important to have the butter all nice and soft so you don't get any clumps!
  • Once the butter is light and fluffy, add 2 cups cream cheese half a cup at a time on medium speed. Once the cream cheese is fully incorporated, turn the mixer speed to its lowest setting. Add 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract, and slowly, a quarter cup at a time, add 8 cups confectioner's sugar. Once all the confectioner's sugar is added, crank the mixer back up to medium-high speed and beat for another 30 seconds, until fully blended and fluffy.


Adapted from Butter & Scotch