Butter & Scotch's Birthday Cake

November 12, 2018
22 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Makes one 9-inch (23-cm) 3-layer cake; serves 12 to 20
Author Notes

The recipe for our birthday cake was born from one of the happiest accidents we’ve had at Butter & Scotch.

Hours before the opening party for our friends and family, our baker Lindsey baked a cake for us to serve at the celebration. But when she took the layers out of the oven, they all sank! Without time to bake more, we just lopped off the tops of each cake round and frosted them anyway. It turned out she had inadvertently omitted almost half of the flour that the original recipe called for, and in doing so had created the best vanilla cake we’ve ever tasted. We immediately adjusted the recipe to the “mistake” version and still bake it this way at the shop. It’s basically the dictionary definition of a happy accident!

Recipe excerpted with permission from Butter & Scotch by Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth, published by Abrams Books (2016). —Food52

What You'll Need
  • For the birthday cake
  • 2 cups (4 sticks / 455 g) cold unsalted butter, plus more for the pans
  • 4 cups (500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 3/4 cups (660 ml) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (800 g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 12 large egg whites
  • 2 recipes Keavy’s Favorite Vanilla Frosting (recipe follows)
  • Rainbow sprinkles, for garnish
  • For Keavy’s Favorite Vanilla Frosting
  • 2 cups (4 sticks / 455 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 pound (455 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 pounds (910 g) confectioners’ sugar
  1. For the birthday cake
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter three 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pans. Dust with a few tablespoons of flour, then tap out the excess.
  3. Chop the butter into small, pea-size pieces and return them to the refrigerator. Bring the milk to room temperature by zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds, then add the vanilla and set it aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, 2 1/2 cups (500 g) of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt. Mix on low for 30 seconds. Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and bring the speed up to medium. Mix until the butter breaks down and the flour mixture is the texture of wet sand. Bring the speed back down to low and add the milk mixture. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl and set aside.
  5. Fully clean and dry out the bowl of the mixer, swap out the paddle for the whisk attachment, and add the egg whites and remaining 1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar to the bowl. Whisk on high until the mixture forms soft peaks. Gently fold the meringue into the flour and milk mixture until fully incorporated.
  6. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake them for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through, until they are golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Transfer the pans to a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning the cakes out of the pans to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, trim the tops off the cakes to make them level and frost and stack the three layers. Decorate the side with rainbow sprinkles and the top with frosting rosettes. Serve a slice with a glass of bubbly.
  8. Store at room temperature in a cake dome or large plastic Tupperware for up to 3 days.
  1. For Keavy’s Favorite Vanilla Frosting
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, making sure to stop the mixer every so often to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. It’s important to have all the butter nice and soft so you don’t get any clumps of cold butter when trying to pipe the frosting. Next, add the cream cheese a quarter at a time on medium speed. When it is incorporated, add the vanilla. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and slowly add the sugar. Finally, crank the mixer up to high speed and beat it for 30 seconds, until fully blended and fluffy.
  3. Makes enough for one 8-inch (20-cm) cake, 4 dozen mini-cupcakes, or 1 dozen regular-size cupcakes

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Mx London
    Mx London
  • Rachel
  • jmacvey
  • Rebecca Campbell
    Rebecca Campbell

9 Reviews

jmacvey April 21, 2024
This cake is nothing short of incredible. First cake I ever made, and still the best I've ever tasted. I've made it for my girlfriend, my fiance, and my wife on separate birthdays, and it's been a cherished recipe for us for the last 5 years. Thanks so much for sharing.
Rebecca C. August 27, 2023
I have reviewed this recipe over and over and I still don't know what went wrong. from what I can tell, I did everything exactly as the recipe read. the batter immediately ran over the three nine inch pans that the recipe called for. My house is full of smoke and my oven is a mess. I Have NEVER had this happen!
kelly May 25, 2022
The perfect cake. This cake is famous with my family. I've made it 3 times and everybody is obsessed with it. It is so good.
Mx L. November 3, 2020
This recipe is spot on, my only complaint is that it tells you to make TWO recipes of frosting. just one is fine. I had way too much leftover :/ live and learn, I guess.

Aside from that, if you follow the recipe properly, it comes out tasting exactly like how the lovely ladies of Butter & Scotch intended it to.
chelsea30 October 30, 2020
This is my favorite cake of all time and since leaving Brooklyn I crave it regularly. Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait to make it!
Rachel April 30, 2020
I haven't made the cake yet, but the icing is a winner!
SheilaEastman March 31, 2020
I didn't have three pans so I used a pie dish instead. It worked! Also, I found that it tasted better after resting for a few hours at room temp. Then, putting it into the fridge to serve cold. It was so moist! Everyone who had a taste loved it.
Suze April 28, 2019
Had rave reviews from all the cake-eaters at my birthday party but I thought it needed something “contrast-y” so added sliced fresh strawberries around the base. Next time would maybe try adding Kahlua to the icing and maybe a garnish of toasted slivered almonds.
Carmen March 7, 2019
Thanks for share this recipe!! I love that birthday cake!! Can’t wait to try to make my own for my son birthday!!