Yellow Sheet Cake (Birthday Cake)

Honestly, I like baking my own birthday cakes. I always have and always will. I feel like there is a lot of freedom for me to choose what my favorite cake is. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a favorite. I like some things better than others, but when it comes right down to it, baking a birthday cake with no one’s preferences but my own in mind is a tricky thing: I want it to be for me, but I want everyone else to love it. I guess I get selfish around my birthday. After much deliberation about flavors and a strong leaning towards doing something complicated and “fancy”, I did a 180 (meaning that I changed my mind) and baked myself a yellow sheet cake.

I’m certain that the only yellow sheet cakes I have ever eaten, until now, have come from boxes. Yellow cake is a vanilla cake that gets a faint yellow color from egg yolks. Many cakes are slightly yellow, so in the realm of birthday cakes, it’s just about as basic as you can get.

I would say that there is nothing wrong with boxed cake mixes, but if I had to compare them to this cake, I would be lying. This cake is moist and incredibly fluffy, soft and tender. It is easy to make and easy to handle. It tastes amazing, not due to some exotic flavor, but because it absolutely tastes homemade.

The method is the best thing about this cake. I use the same one for white cake, actually. Beating the butter into the dry ingredients gives the finished cake a beautiful and tender crumb, inhibiting gluten development by creating a protective coating of fat around the flour. Beating the flour/butter mixture with some of the eggs gives the remaining gluten a chance to develop and incorporate air into the cake. The little bit of gluten development is a good thing in this case. I’m not going to nay-say all the warnings about over-mixing, but we do need some gluten to hold things together and let the cake rise. If we didn’t mix at all, we’re just have a big bowl of butter, flour, milk and sugar. Yum.

This cake can also be baked in round cake pans and layered. The baking time will need to be reduced, probably to 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. Also, note that the cake itself is not super rich (in fact, I used skim milk to make it, though whole and lowfat are fine), so you can go crazy with a real buttercream icing.

Yellow Sheet Cake

2 ½ cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×13 inch sheet pan with parchment paper, or lightly grease it with shortening or oil (butter will produce a harder “crust”).
Sift cake flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add sugar and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed to blend. Cut butter into 4 or 5 chunks and drop into the bowl with the flour. Blend on low speed until mixture looks sandy and no large chunks of butter remain, 1-2 minutes.
In a large measuring cup, combine eggs, milk and vanilla. Beat lightly with a fork until combined. With the mixer on low, pour 1 cup of the egg mixture into the bowl. Turn speed up to medium and beat for 1 ½ minutes. Reduce speed back to low and pour in the rest of the egg mixture. Continue to beat at low speed for an additional 30 seconds, until liquid is fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for a few more seconds, if necessary.
Pour into prepared 9×13 pan and spread batter evenly with a spatula. Tap gently a few times to eliminate any bubbles.
Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool for 30 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. You can leave it in the pan if you’re serving it casually.
Serves 16 (or 12 birthday-sized pieces)

Update: I wanted the cake to have a really fun feel, so I used Wilton edible giltter around the edges and made some blue and green piping gel to write on the cake. You can see the whole thing here.

65 comments

  1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!
    And I get to say it first YAY :)

    I hope you have/had a fantastic day !

  2. Happy Birthday from a lurker :-) I, too, enjoy making my own birthday cakes…the chance for disappointment is lower :-) Enjoy your day!

  3. Happy Birthday Nic!
    Very nice decoration!!!!
    Simona

  4. Happy birthday Nic !
    I’ve been following your blog for months now, looking every day for new posts, growing into a bakingsheetroutine and absolutely loving it !
    Hope you will continue for many more years :D

    (This is one of the funkiest looking cake I’ve ever seen!)

  5. ::gasp:: But you didn’t describe how you (“brilliantly” would be the word that should appear in any description) interpreted the plate design in the cake frosting. The colors are beautifully recreated and the design looks as if it’s embedded in the icing. Charming! Whimsical! Sensational!

    I’m sure it added to a happy birthday indeed!

  6. Happy Birthday Nic!

  7. FIJNE VERJAARDAG NIC!!!

    (which is in Dutch: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!)

  8. Happy Birthday!!
    I love the colored swirls on the cake…how did you do that?
    Hope you have the best day!

  9. Thanks everyone. I made some piping gel and used it to decorate the cake. I’m adding a link to a photo of the whole cake in the post.

  10. Happy Birthday, Nic.

    Cake and the decoration looks very pretty. Enjoy the day!

  11. Happy, Happy Birthday! Any big plans?

  12. Happy birthday Nic!!!

  13. Happy Birthday!!

  14. Oooh, happy birthday Nic!! :)

    hugs! (hey, you *made* piping gel? How on earth..?)

  15. Happy, happy happy birthday!

    so, i’m wondering how you made your buttercream icing. my cousin was just telling me how she made it and what was in hers – a lot of nothing very good for you, but hey it’s icing.

  16. I added a link to the piping gel recipe to the post, too.

    I feel all warm and fuzzy from the birthday wishes. I’m glad to see a few “lurkers” coming out, too. Hi guys!

  17. Many happy returns of the day

    Like the bit bout gluten

  18. Happy, happy birthday, and welcome to the “bake-your-own-birthday-cake” club! =) I LOVE the coordination between cake and plate.

  19. yeah, happy birthday to you. your cake looks delicious and i’m afraid i’m gonna have to break into the eggs and milk and bake myself one. i also like a cake that is not too sweet.

  20. A very happy birthday. Nifty cake too.

  21. Happy Birthday Nic!!!

  22. Thanks for the look at the whole cake and the link to the recipe for decorating gel.

    Next question: how did you slice it so beautifully so that neither a crumb nor smeared icing spoils the effect? Well done, kiddo!

  23. Happy Birthday! I definitely agree on the baking your own cake thing. How else would you get to sample the batter?

  24. Happy birthday Nic!! Hope you have something fun planned for this evening! The cake is beautiful – making your own icing gel sounds like fun.

  25. Rainey – I happened to use a serrated knife, but I cut leftovers with a butter knife and there were no crumbs or displaced icing!

  26. Happy Birthday! :-)

  27. Happy Birthday Nic.Stunning cake and colours. I love the gel and will try to make some. What is Karo syrup?

  28. Karo is a brand of light corn syrup.

  29. 생일 축하해요!!!(which is in Korean ; Happy Birthday!!!)

    I live in South Korea.
    Now is pm 13;10(15th October)
    I am happy to see your fabulous baking and food.

  30. Karo is the only brand of corn syrup I’ve seen in Australia.
    Happy birthday; I can empathise with trying to choose a cake that everyone will like. I’m glad you chose something that you liked, first and foremost!

  31. Happy birthday Nic! Nice cake. I love a good vanila cake!

  32. happy birthday!

  33. I too am a fan and promoter of making cakes from scratch–I haven’t used a mix since the first banana cake I made from a Joy of Cooking recipe. There’s some underlying artificial flavor that I find in every box cake I’ve eaten–not sure what it’s from.

  34. Happyn Birthday Nic! I love the colors! Now you’ve got me wanting to bake another cake! Yay!

  35. I’m late….but a Happy, Happy!
    Will you make my cake?
    Melissa

  36. Happy Birthday !

  37. Melissa – I will bake your birthday cake, but I will make no guarantees as to how it will fare at the hands of the postal service.

  38. Happy birthday! It’s very cool to have a custom cake.

  39. nice cake

    Dan “Dan Riehl” Riehl

    Riehlworld “Riehlworld” Riehlworld

    Riehl “Riehl Natalee” Natalee

    Dan Riehl “Dan Riehl Lies” Lies

    Dan Riehl “Dan Riehl” Lies

    Riehl “riehl world” world

  40. Well, happy birthday! I think that its great the birthday girl has taken her perogative to bake her own cake.

    You go, girl!

    The cake looks great, and I have to say, it almost seemed that you had matched it to the plate, lol.

  41. Nic–

    Okay, I’m terribly late, but I still want to say happy birthday. Thanks so much for spreading your baking love to us. I hope you are still basking in the glow of those candles.

  42. Happy belated birthday, Nic – your cake looks so cute, I must say that I like the idea of making your own birthday cake… I might do that as my birthday is next week ;)

  43. Count me in. Happy Birthday to one of my favorite food bloggers. :) I hope your day was more than happy, Nic.

  44. is it too late to wish you a Happy Birthday, Nic? ;-)

  45. It’s never too late!

  46. happy birthday nic! thanks for the great recipes…hope you had a blast on your day!

  47. a bit late, but happy birthday!

    I just had mine on sunday and still haven’t had time to celebrate appropriately ;)

  48. Happy Birthday to you, too, McAuliflower! October birthdays rock.

  49. Happy Belated. I try to copy recipes from your blog, but it wont let me. Do you know why?

  50. I have noticed that, too, Randi. I don’t know why. I suggest printing them, but I can e-mail them to you if you let me know.

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