Nothing beats home-made birthday cakes – especially if they are still warm. You can decorate them with icing (cover with icing and they'll forgive you anything) to match a party theme or the birthday persons personal interest. Have fun, be creative, and don't worry too much about perfection.
Our Foolproof Birthday Cake Recipe
This is the recipe that I've been using for more than 30 years to create hundreds of cakes. It's a basic butter cake recipe that makes 1 round cake – but you can double the mixture – or even do 4 times the mix and do a combination of large cakes and cupcakes. I use have used less sugar than most standard recipes, real butter, large eggs, real vanilla essence and often use half wholemeal flour for added texture and taste. Standard cakes often taste too sweet to us. Recently I have started using Xylitol in place of the sugar. It creams with the butter ok. One person picked up a slightly lemony taste which was probably more a benefit than drawback.
- 4 oz / 125g butter
- 1/2 cup sugar or Xylitol
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups self-raising flour (can be white, wholemeal or some of each)
- Flavouring (eg few drops vanilla essence for plain cake, cocoa mixed with hot water for chocolate cake)
- approx 1/2 cup milk (best if at room temperature)
Soften butter in a large bowl (stand in hot water, put in the microwave for a very short time) Beat butter, sugar and vanilla essence with a fork until creamy. Beat in the eggs. (Hint: beat in a small amount at a time to get a smooth mix but if it separates, don't worry, it'll be fine).
Fold in the flour and milk, starting with as much flour as mixes in easily, then some milk, then some flour until all the flour is used. You should start and finish with flour. The finished mixture should be thick and moist. (You can always add a little more flour or milk if needed)
Place mixture in cake tin(s) and cook in a moderate oven (350 degrees F/180 degrees C) for approx 30 to 40 minutes. Cupcakes take 15 to 20 minutes depending on your oven. When cooked, the top will be spring back if you press it, and a sharp knife inserted into the centre of the cake will come out clean. Remove from oven, allow to cool and ice.
Chocolate Cake: Mix a couple of large spoonfuls of cocoa powder with some hot water and mix in at the end (adding a little more milk or flour if needed)
Marbled cake: Take out part of the plain mixture and add cocoa mix. Place large spoonfuls randomly in cake tin then run use a knife through the mix to make swirls.
Orange or lemon-flavoured cake: Substitute juice for the milk.
Cup cakes: I always reserve some of the mixture, add sultanas (and mixed spice, mixed peel if I have some) and spoon into cup cake papers. Cooking time is approx 15 to 20 minutes – until the tops start to go brown. Cup cakes will rise a bit higher if the oven is slightly hotter.
Slab Cake: Cook in a larger rectangular tray (lamington tray in Australia) You then have a large rectangle for easy cutting – or to cut pieces to make fancy designs.
Wholemeal cakes: You can use up to half wholemeal flour and most people won't even realise. All wholemeal cakes are a little heavier but very tasty.
Busy Mum's Basic Icing Mix
- Soft icing sugar (start with approx 2 cups)
- Butter to taste – anything from 1 to 6 tablespoons
- A few drops vanilla essence (to taste)
- Boiling water
Place icing sugar and butter in container and add a very small amount of hot water at a time, beating well until ingredients are mixed and icing is smooth. The more butter you use the easier the mixing and smoother the icing. If it's too runny, add more icing sugar, too stiff add a little more water… but be careful not to add too much or you could end up with masses of icing.
Spread on the cake with a knife. Dipping the knife in a mug of hot water will make spreading easier. I find a measuring jug and blunt knife the best utensils for icing — high sides reduces spills.
For chocolate icing, mix cocoa powder with enough boiling water to make a think paste before adding the icing sugar.
Chocolate icing with coconut is very popular. Cover with icing, then wet the icing with the knife dipped in hot water and sprinkle the coconut on before it dries.
For orange or lemon icing, use juice instead of hot water and plenty of butter. Delicious.
For coloured icing, use food colouring. For intricate designs, it can be easier to cover with white icing, allow to dry and use paintbrushes to paint on your design with food colouring.
Plain cup cakes (no sultanas) with a smartie on top are very popular with children and less messy. I usually do a tray with sultana cup cakes and plain icing, and a tray with plain cup cakes, icing and Smartie.
Cake Decorating Products:
If you want to make your cakes a bit more exciting, check out these shops.