Recipe Review

The Unexpected Ingredient That Makes Smitten Kitchen’s Birthday Cake So Good

published Jan 12, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Celebrated for her easy-to-follow, well-tested recipes that are always delicious, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen has become one of the most beloved food bloggers of all time. We’ve included Deb’s recipes in several of our past showdowns and they almost always perform well, so when picking contenders for our birthday cake showdown, I knew I needed to check the Smitten Kitchen archives.

Deb’s birthday cake recipe is a classic yellow cake frosted in a decadent chocolate frosting made with sour cream. I’ve made my fair share of homemade frostings, but never with sour cream! As someone who trusts pretty much everything Deb says, I was eager to give this unique recipe a try.

Get the recipe: Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Make Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe is fairly classic, with a few clever upgrades. You’ll start by sifting together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugar using an electric mixer, then add vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by buttermilk. (Deb notes that the mixture might look curdled at this point, but that’s okay!) Add the flour mixture in three batches and mix until smooth. Divide the batter between two buttered and parchment-lined cake pans and bake until golden, then let cool.

As the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Melt semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and espresso powder in a double boiler until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool. In another bowl, whisk together sour cream, corn syrup, and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the cooled chocolate and whisk until smooth. Give the frosting a taste and adjust for sweetness by adding additional corn syrup if needed. Let the frosting cool in the fridge until spreadable, then assemble your cakes as desired.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake

Of the four homemade birthday cakes I tried for this showdown, this one was by far the most unique. The cake itself was pretty straightforward — it had a light texture and subtle vanilla flavor, and while I wouldn’t describe it as moist, it’s also not dry by any means. The frosting, however, was completely unexpected. Thanks to the addition of sour cream, it tasted much more like a tangy ganache than your typical butter-based frosting, which helped balance the sweetness of the cake and gave it a more sophisticated vibe. Instead of being sweet on sweet, it was sweet on tangy. I did have to chill it for about an hour before using it, so if you’re pressed for time it’s not the best option.

I was pleasantly surprised by this cake and especially the frosting, and I will definitely be revisiting the recipe in the future. If you’re interested in trying a new take on birthday cake, this is the recipe for you.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

If You’re Making Smitten Kitchen’s Birthday Cake, a Few Tips

  1. Use cake flour. This recipe calls for using cake flour, not your standard all-purpose flour. Cake flour can be found in the baking section of most well-stocked grocery stores, but if you can’t find it, you can also make your own by combining cornstarch and all-purpose flour.
  2. Let your buttermilk come to room temperature before using it. This will prevent the cake batter from curdling as much when mixing. (This isn’t actually a bad thing if it does happen, it just makes mixing everything together a bit more difficult.)
  3. Let the frosting cool before using it. When you first mix up the frosting it might seem too loose, but it firms up quite a bit as it cools. I suggest giving the frosting at least 30 minutes to cool before attempting to assemble your cake.

    Rating: 8/10

Have you ever made Smitten Kitchen’s best birthday cake recipe? Tell us what you thought!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk