One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
I have been meaning to post this birthday cake recipe for years. These photos, in fact, are from October 2016. I retrieved them from an external hard drive, edited them, then found another folder containing all the photos I had already edited but long forgotten about… good use of time. Argh!
What is a good use of time is that spent making this cake, which comes together very quickly, is very forgiving, and is always well received by adults and children alike.
It’s identical to a recipe I made years ago with the exception of oil substituted for butter, which allows for easy mixing and keeps it moist, and vanilla substituted for the lemon juice/zest/extract. A simple cream cheese-butter frosting + sprinkles completes the job.
- I make a half recipe of the original, which still makes a cake large enough to feed a crowd. I like doing this because I hate having leftover cake on hand, which sits in the fridge, tempting me all day long, and eventually goes in the trash when I tire of eating cake for lunch. With this half recipe, very little is leftover/wasted.
- Because I make a half recipe, I use two smaller pans: 6×2-inch cake pans. If you don’t feel like investing in yet another set of pans, which I totally get, you can simply use one 9-inch cake pan. Your cake will not be as tall, but it will still be delicious.
Somehow Ella turns 9 this month. Hard to believe:
This is a great cake to have little people help with. It can be mixed by hand (as opposed to with an electric mixer) and, as noted above, it’s very forgiving — little attention is ever paid to the mixing order of ingredients, and it still always turns out well.
These are those two 6-inch round pans mentioned above:
Let cool completely before frosting. To make the frosting, gather your ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, cream cheese (cold), salt, vanilla.
First, place cold cream cheese, sugar, and a pinch of sea salt in a stand mixer.
Beat until light and creamy:
Then add the cold heavy cream and vanilla:
Beat until thick and creamy:
Birthday boy (two years ago).
Love these candles!
You can also use the recipe to make cupcakes. The batter will give you 13-14 cupcakes. You can also make snowy owl cupcakes if the Halloween spirit is moving you:Print
One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 12-15 servings
This is a small cake. I bake the cake in two small cake pans: 6×2-inch round cake pans. You could also use one 9-inch cake pan. Or if you want to make a larger cake, you can double the recipe and use two 9-inch pans. See the notes below the recipe for the larger yield. That said, I can’t say enough good things about investing in those two small cake pans. This recipe makes the perfect size cake with very few leftovers.
To make cupcakes: Be sure only to fill the cupcake holes halfway up with batter—they will overflow/not bake properly.
There are two frosting recipes below. I prefer the whipped cream-cream cheese frosting recipe, which I adapted from this Stella Park’s recipe. I use Stella’s proportions but use a different method. Find the more traditional cream cheese frosting recipe in the notes below.
for the cake:
- 1 1/2 cups (192 g) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ cup (115 g) neutral oil, such as grapeseed or avocado
- 1 cup (215 g) sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (158 g) buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
for the whipped cream – cream cheese frosting (see notes below for a butter-cream cheese frosting recipe):
- 8 oz (226 g) cream cheese
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 2/3 cup (140 g) heavy cream
- pinch sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- sprinkles (I like the tiny dots) and candles. These candles are fun.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar. Add the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla, and stir to combine.
- Coat two 6-inch cake pans (or one 9-inch pan) with nonstick spray (or butter liberally). I like to cut a round of parchment paper and fit it into the bottom of each pan. Pour half of the batter into each pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.
- To make the whipped cream – cream cheese frosting: Beat cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the heavy cream, a pinch of salt, and the vanilla. Beat again until light and fluffy.
- To assemble: cut each cake in half crosswise, layer as follows: cake, frosting, cake, frosting, until all four layers are stacked. Frost the entire outside of the cake with the remaining frosting. Shower sprinkles over top.
for the cream cheese – butter frosting:
- 2 sticks (16 tablespoons | 8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- confectioners’ sugar to taste (about ¾ cup)
- flaky sea salt to taste
- Beat cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add confectioners’ sugar to taste. Add a pinch of salt. Mix again. Taste. Adjust taste as desired.
for a large cake (two 9-inch pans):
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs, whisked lightly
- 1¼ cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- Follow the instructions above, but bake in two buttered 9-inch pans for roughly 35-40 minutes.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: dessert, birthday, cake, one-bowl, buttermilk
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
107 Comments on “One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake”
Hey! I made this and it was really good! I just have a couple questions. My sponge came out just a little coarse and the top of the cake was very amber colored by 30 minutes in the oven. This caramelized taste was outstanding but it was a little crispy kind of like a pound cake. How can I adjust to make it more tender and soft? As well, when I made the frosting it was very loose and watery. Is it because i used room temperature cream cheese? Should it be cold cream cheese? Despite this, or maybe because of this, it definitely tasted nice and artisanal. Thanks again!
Hi! Great to hear all of this! Questions answered below:
How can I adjust to make it more tender and soft?
A few thoughts: It’s possible your oven runs a little warmer than mine, so you could reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. You could also reduce the baking time by 5 minutes or so. It’s possible the material of the pan is affecting the texture/color of the cake as well.
As well, when I made the frosting it was very loose and watery. Is it because I used room-temperature cream cheese? Should it be cold cream cheese?
Possibly cold cream cheese would have made a difference! What brand did you use? In the original recipe on Serious Eats, which uses a completely different method, some commenters also noted that the frosting was on the thin side, and some of the commmenters noted that it might have to do with the fat content of the cream cheese. Next time, I would whip the cream cheese and sugar until it is very light and fluffy. Then, use less heavy cream start with half the amount; then add more if necessary.
Just perfect! We’ve been watching a lot of Great British Baking Show lately and so when I saw this I knew I had to make it. Made for a great Labor day dessert, kids had fun helping. Thanks!
Wonderful to hear this, Jamie! The GBBS is the BEST!! So nice to hear this 🙂
I made this cake today, merely days after i saw your recent post. Luckily, I have a real birthday occasion to make for two special September birthday celebrants. It’s so easy to make: cake and frosting. I like that the cake is mixed by hand! I searched out those cool candles too because I think they look extraordinary on this cake. The 6-inch size is perfect. I really like that you are mindful of being a little more healthful, using grapeseed oil for the cake and whipping cream instead of 2 sticks of butter for the frosting. Great recipe, Ali.
So nice to read all of this, Lu 🙂 🙂 🙂 And I loved loved loved seeing your photo. It looked perfect. I just bought more of those candles as well, because they are just too fun, and my son turns 10 next month. Hope the birthday girls loved the cake! xoxo
This is the first recipe from this site that was a disappointment. The cake was a lovely golden color, but was dense and oily tasting. I made the 6” size and used canola oil. No other substitutions were made. What could have happened??
(I love your cookbook and your bread sustained us during the pandemic lockdown – thank you!)
Oh no! This is such a bummer to hear, as I’ve made this so many times. I’m not sure what went wrong? What type of flour did you use? Did you use a scale? Are you sure your baking soda and baking powder are fresh? I haven’t used canola oil to make this, but I don’t think that would have made a difference. If you are willing to give it another go, you might prefer using melted butter in place of the oil.
De- lightful and De- licious!!
Great to hear, Maria! Thanks for writing 🙂 🙂 🙂
This cake was fantastic!
Do you double the whipped cream /cream cheese frosting when you make the larger version?
Great to hear, Joey! And yes, I do double the frosting for a larger cake.
Ali – love this entire post! The owl cupcakes are a genius idea – no piping bag and I’m in. Appreciate an easy one bowl cake recipe and the frosting sounds delish! Also I am a cauliflower freak so that recipe is a must to make. Many Thanks again for great recipes.
Awww thanks so much, Jill! I think the owls are sooooo cute 🦉🦉🦉🦉🦉🦉
I made this for my grown son’s birthday today. He and his wife could not believe there was no butter in it. They actually took home the leftover cake, the first time ever. I made the larger cake.
Thank you so much for this recipe. All of your recipes are awesome but this one is very special.
So wonderful to hear this, Jill! Thanks so much for writing and sharing this and thank you for your kind words 💕💕💕💕
Best vanilla cake I’ve made! Very easy and delicious! Thanks!!
Great to hear, Sensy! Thanks so much for writing 🙂 🙂 🙂
Cake was delicious and easy!! I bought my first set of 6 inch cake pans and I agree it’s a great size for cakes. I agree with your recommendation on getting these pans.
Great to hear, Jackie! I’m so happy to hear the pans were a worthwhile investment. Thanks for writing!
Hi! I love your recipes and this cake looks so good. I’m planning to make it this weekend—do you think I could get away with using olive oil? Thank you!
Adorable cake and I just made cuz I stumbled on your site and being a recipe hound- like many of you recipes and no-nonsense videos. Have the 6″ cake pans and all ingredient except for buttermilk-I used dried reconstituted. Fun to make in a bowl and not using the mixer. Cakes baked well at 25 minutes & now are cooling on cardboard rounds that I plan on wrapping well and freezing to use later. I’ll be anxious to try the frosting and will let you know.
Great to hear, Teresa 🙂 🙂 🙂 Thanks so much for writing and sharing your notes. Dried buttermilk is a life saver!
Can it be baked in 2 8 inches cake pan when doubling the recipe and do you still used grapeseed oil or vegetable oil.
Yes: when doubling, use two 8-inch pans. And yes, I still use grapeseed or vegetable oil.
I’m excited to try this at the end of the month for my son’s birthday- hearing it’s “forgiving” gives me the confidence to give it a go! Would you mind linking the candles? They look so festive, but the link in the post sends me to a vacuum instead, lol.
Hi! It is so forgiving and so delicious… I just made it for a baby shower recently.
Bummer about the candle link! I can’t even seem to find them on Amazon anymore. I did find them on Walmart, but they are out of stock. If you feel like searching, the company is l&co and it was their skinny rainbow birthday candles, 20 count.
I made this today for my neighbor’s birthday. It didn’t turn out like I had pictured it😢. Do you cut off the tops to level it? It didn’t seem like you did and mine rose up so much I felt like I’d be losing half my cake if I did. And I’ve never really done that before anyway. (Id never cut layers in half either but I did. Unfortunately the frosting seemed to curdled and never got thick when I added the whipped cream. Then all the layers just slid around and looked like a disaster. I’m hoping it tasted better than it looked. I especially wanted to make something nice for her because she turned 84 and had never had anything homemade before.
PS. The Amazon candle link isn’t working
Id appreciate any insight you have b
I don’t usually cut the layers, but I suppose if they emerged from the oven very domed, I would cut them.
Regarding the frosting, did you use cold cream cheese? And cold cream?
I made this cake for kids’ return to school, and included visiting HS Seniors with our beginning High Schooler. The 6” size is fantastic and everyone loved it! I made my own buttermilk with lemon juice and especially liked the 4-tier height and added sprinkles.
Oh yay! So wonderful to hear this, Catherine 🙂 🙂 🙂 And I love that you are a fan of the 6-inch size, too. I love those pans so much.
I have been on a hunt for a great vanilla or yellow cake, and have tried several popular internet recipes… They’ve all used butter and they’ve all been meh. This cake – with oil – is just SO GOOD! Thanks for the great recipe.
My question is if you’ve tried adding sprinkles to the batter to make a confetti cake? Wondering if they’ll sink in the thinner batter.
Great to hear this, Beth! Thanks so much for writing. I have not tried adding sprinkles. I wonder if adding them to the flour first and tossing them to coat, might help keep them suspended in the batter better? Worth a shot!
God bless you for this recipe. So simple and bulletproof. An absolute saver in the late evenings you have to bake a cake that you just couldn’t find a time to bake at a more decent hour to assemble it the next day for a b’day party. The best part is that the simplicity does not compromise the flavour and texture. I made it a couple of times now and everybody loves it. EVERYBODY. Oh, I added some lemon zest into the batter today (I mean yesterday) and it is also lovely.
Yay! So nice to hear this. I have so much gratitude for this recipe as well… like when 5 pm rolls around the evening of the bday party and no cake has materialized. But even when I do have time, this is the recipe I make. So glad you approve. Thanks for writing!
Hi! I made the cake and loved it! This year for a birthday I would like to make cupcakes and wondering how long you bake them in a 12 muffin tin.
I would start checking at 18-20 minutes. They might take longer, but start checking around that time.
I’m in charge of making my friend’s baby shower cake, and I think this will be perfect — except she really loves lemon desserts. I was thinking a vanilla/lemon cake would be great, but was wondering if you had any ideas on how to give this a strong lemon flavor? Let me know what you think! Or, if you have any good recipes that come to mind. She loves cream-cheese frosting so I would keep that in.
Thanks so much!
Fun! OK, I would add the zest of one lemon. If you massage it with the sugar first, it will make it especially lemony. You could also add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to the batter. Finally, you could make a lemon curd to spread in between the layers in place of the frosting (save the frosting for the exterior). https://alexandracooks.com/2012/11/13/tartines-currant-scones-lemon-cream/ (Scroll to the bottom…)
Hi! I just made the one bowl buttermilk cake with my kids for my husbands bday. We love it ! It’s out go to for bdays! Question: we made it early today and won’t be eating it until after dinner. Is it okay left out in a covered cake stand or should it be refrigerated? Thanks!!
Hi! If it’s frosted, I would refrigerate it. Otherwise, the baked cakes can sit out at room temperature.