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Rainbow Sprinkle Funfetti Birthday Cake

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A party on a plate.

There’s no cake quite as happy or festive as a rainbow sprinkle birthday cake. This funfetti-style cake combines a fantastic vanilla buttermilk cake with rainbow sprinkles for an all-time best layer cake.

vanilla rainbow sprinkle cake on cooling rack with marble counter

Why I Love This Rainbow Sprinkle Funfetti Cake

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 rainbow sprinkle cake, a funfetti cake from scratch that everyone will love.

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.

homemade funfetti layer cake batter with wooden spoon

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.

“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.

homemade rainbow sprinkle funfetti birthday cake on yellow pedestal with pink cake plates and cups

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 fluffy buttercream.

Did you make this recipe for Buttermilk Birthday Sprinkle Cake? How did it turn out? Share below!

cake batter on wooden spoon with egg shells and cup

You may also enjoy:

Rainbow Sprinkle Funfetti Cake Recipe

Rainbow Sprinkle Funfetti Cake

A perfect buttermilk cake layered with rainbow sprinkles for a sweet celebration. Plus: A step-by-step lesson on decorating a rainbow sprinkle cake.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Course: Dessert
Keywords:: birthday cake, buttermilk, dessert, layer cake, recipe, sprinkles cake, vanilla
Author: Lisa Ruland (adapted from Maida Heatter)
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Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease two 8" cake pans or one standard 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.

19 comments

  • 5 stars
    Tried this for the first time, turned out delicious, Loved the cake. Thanks so much

  • I’m so excited to bake this; for my daughter’s birthday this weekend! I don’t have the set up for a double boiler and the swiss meringue. Would you recommend another frosting?

    I’ll report back once I make. Thank you!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Amy! So glad you’re looking forward to making this. The Swiss meringue is definitely a bit more of a project 🙂 You can easily substitute any vanilla or chocolate frosting as you like. This is my go-to recipe for vanilla frosting, which would be closer to the Swiss buttercream than chocolate would be: https://unpeeledjournal.com/vanilla-buttercream-frosting-recipe/ . Hope you enjoy and a very happy birthday to your daughter!

  • I am printing this out so I can try it in a few months’ time.

    In the headnote, the link for the buttercream frosting returns a 404 error.

    • Unpeeled

      Thank you so much for pointing this out! The link has been corrected; much appreciated.

  • Can you make this recipe with cake flour instead of all purpose? Also, would it work to divide the batter to make a four layer cake or would you adjust the batter recipe? Thank you!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi and good question! Cake flour has a lower gluten (ie, protein) content, so you risk having a cake with a little less structure, which could sink in the center, for example. If you use cake flour, I would mix the batter for an extra minute to help develop a little extra gluten to compensate. You can divide the cake batter into more cake pans for sure! They will just take less baking time. Good luck and keep us posted on how it turns out. Great questions.

      • 5 stars
        I made the cake and it turned out awesome! Wish I could post a photo! Thank you for the great recipe and help!

        • Unpeeled

          Yea!!! I am so glad! I wish I could see it, too! If you have instagram, you can post a photo to your stories and tag @unpeeledjournal, or email a photo to inquires@unpeeledjournal.com. Congrats either way and I am so glad you enjoyed. 🙂

  • Greta Walsh

    5 stars
    I’ve been meaning to make this for a few weeks now and I finally had the chance this past weekend and love it. Thanks! We will be enjoying it all week. I wish I could decorate mine as pretty as yours 🙂

  • Tessa R

    5 stars
    I made this for a neighbor’s birthday last week and it was just the perfect celebration cake. Everyone loved it, as did I. Wonderful..

  • Hi, cake looks delicious! Please let me know where you purchased cake stand and plates/cups? Thx you!

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Mia! Thanks so much! I hope you like it. The cake pedestal is a Mosser glass cake stand, which you can purchase online through Food52. I picked up the cute pink ruffled plates at a yard sale (where I find most of my best kitchen gems), but I suggest looking on eBay. You can often find similar items. Good luck!

  • Can this be made into cupcakes for a child’s birthday? Thank you

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Cheryl!

      Yes; absolutely. You will probably get between 18 to 24 cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake tin. Baking time will be about 20 minutes, more or less. Enjoy!

  • Helen B.

    5 stars
    Excellent.

  • Katie V.

    5 stars
    Also a huge fan of Maida!! I made this and it came out perfectly and really delicious. Thanks!

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