A party on a plate.
It is generally considered risky (ergo, bad) to try a recipe for the first time for a crowd. And then there are Maida Heatter recipes, which I trust implicitly. Enter this buttermilk vanilla birthday cake, with sprinkles for good measure.
Maida Heatter, the “Queen of Cake,” died last year at age 102. She left a hefty legacy of trustworthy, impressive-yet-unpretentious, and — most importantly — delicious home-baking recipes. Maida told every one with her signature voice: a blend of dear friend, witty teacher, and gossipy aunt.
I made this buttermilk cake for the first time last year, when I offered to make my nephew’s fifth birthday cake — a milestone birthday if there ever was one. His main request was “lots of sprinkles.” I wanted a vanilla cake that would be sweet but not cloying, moist but with enough structure to hold up in a big size. Naturally, I turned to the master.
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“This is perfectly plain/beautiful/delicious, and is easy to make,” read her headnote, like she was channeling my personal cake check list.
I made the batter (adding extra vanilla for good measure), tossed in some rainbow sprinkles, and baked it up.
The cake emerged from the oven in a sweet waft of butter and vanilla. The party took place two days later. The cake was still moist, with a slight buttermilk tang to complement the sweetness. Maida did not disappoint.
This buttermilk birthday cake has become one of my go-to cake recipes. You can opt out of the sprinkles, of course. Add a teaspoon of lemon or orange zest for hint of fragrant citrus, then frost it generously with fresh buttercream.
Did you make the recipe? How did it turn out? Tell us in the comments, below.
Buttermilk Birthday Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- zest of one lemon or orange (optional)
- 1/3 cup rainbow sprinkles (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease two 8" cake pans or one 10" loaf pan.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in one bowl and set aside.PRO TIP: Don't feel like sifting? (For the record, I avoid it whenever possible.) Do a quick, "fake" sift by stirring the dry ingredients together for a minute with a whisk. It won't be quite as fluffy and powdery, but it will work fine in a cake like this -- though it is best to do a full sift for extra-light baked goods like soufflés and sponge cakes.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl once during this process to make sure everything is smooth and getting the attention it deserves. Scrape again.
- With the mixer on low, add the eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest (if using). Once it starts to incorporate, kick the mixer up to medium again, and beat until it is lightened and fluffy, about one minute. Scrape the bowl and briefly mix again.
- On low speed, alternately add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two: dry, wet, dry, wet, dry. When everything is just incorporated, remove the bowl from the mixer. Scrape the bowl as necessary, and fold in the sprinkles by hand using a spatula.
- Pour the batter into the cake pans or loaf pan. Use the back of the spatula to smooth the batter evenly, and bake. Two 8" round pans will take about 30-35 minutes. One loaf pan will take around 1 1/2 hours. PRO TIP: Your cake is done when a cake tester or skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, and the top feels firm but not hard, like a sponge. You may also notice the edges pulling away from the pan.
- Cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. When the pans are cool enough to handle, run an offset spatula or a knife around the rim, and turn cakes out, onto a cooling rack. Let fully cool. PRO TIP: This cake can be made a day or two in advance, and I recommend doing so. Cake always tastes better the next day.