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.

Two Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 

Two children mixing a one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake sitting on top of a table.
Two children whisking the batter of a one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake sitting on top of a table.

These are those two 6-inch round pans mentioned above:

Two small cake pans filled with cake batter.
Wren, licking her fingers.
One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake just baked in two small cake pans on a table.

Let cool completely before frosting. To make the frosting, gather your ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, cream cheese (cold), salt, vanilla.

Ingredients to make whipped cream-cream cheese frosting.

First, place cold cream cheese, sugar, and a pinch of sea salt in a stand mixer.

A bowl of cream cheese and sugar attached to a stand mixer.

Beat until light and creamy:

Cream cheese beaten in a stand mixer.

Then add the cold heavy cream and vanilla:

Heavy cream, cream cheese, and vanilla in a stand mixer.

Beat until thick and creamy:

Just-beaten cream cheese-whipped cream frosting.
One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake on a board removed from cake pan.
One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake on cutting board.
One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake, halved crosswise.
One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake being assembled on a cake platter.
One layer of one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake layered with cream cheese frosting.
A frosted 4-layer one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake on a cake platter.

Sprinkle hunters:

One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake on a cake plate.
Wren and tig going after sprinkles around the assembled one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake.

Birthday boy (two years ago).

birthday boy eating one-bowl buttermilk birthday cake.

Love these candles!

One-Bowl Birthday Cake

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: Separate two Oreos and stick two, icing sides up, on a frosted cupcake facing up. Insert an orange M&M or jelly bean in between as a nose, and affix chocolate M&M onto the Oreos for eyeballs.

A plate of snowy owl cupcakes.
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One-Bowl Birthday Cake

One-Bowl Buttermilk Birthday Cake

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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

for presenting:


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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
  1. 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
  1. 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