Cassandra's Year Of Birthday Cakes

In 2017 I made a little deal with myself, I wanted to make all of my family’s birthday cakes (thanks, Ina Garten and Barefoot Contessa for the inspiration). I enjoy baking with my kids and thought that letting them help with their own cakes would create some great memories and foster their love for cooking and baking. In my area, there are a lot of great bakeries and a ton of talented cake decorators that can bring any cake dream to life. So yes, it would be much easier to dial them up and order a masterpiece - but not this year. The birthday cakes weren’t perfect works of art, but they were prepared with love - so they tasted even better!            

The first one up was my son Caleb. He turned 4 and loved Paw Patrol. We worked together on Ina Garten’s Birthday Sheet Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe below). And of course, we added the M&Ms and Paw Patrol figures for decoration. That’s the best part of a sheet cake – there’s a lot of space for the kids to add their decorative touches. (And these professional sheet pans with cover are the best for transporting and storing the cake.)

Next, I went with Ina’s Flag Cake for my daughter Summer’s birthday. If you’ve read our blog before you know we LOVE the Flag Cake – since we were celebrating Summer and not the USA, we decided to forgo the berries and decorate with a frame of sprinkles. Even without the berries, this cake was amazing. The recipe is exactly like the Birthday Sheet Cake (below) with the addition of lemon zest – it’s a small addition but I think it makes a difference.

For my husband’s birthday we tried Beatty’s Chocolate Cake (recipe below). I’d never made it before, but I will surely be making it again. It is that perfect chocolate with a hint of coffee in the batter and the icing!! It looks lovely. Simple and classic. Summer loved spreading the icing and making the big decorative waves (thanks to our large straight blade icing spatula).

Finally, it was Charlie’s turn. He totally switched things up and wanted Dirt. Have you heard of this? It’s such a cute, silly idea. Chocolate pudding and crushed cookies mixed and layered to look like dirt. We added gummy worms to complete the look. The kids adored them and it was so easy and easy clean up too! (Find the recipe we used here.)

Needless to say, we had a delicious year. We even made a Flag Cake and Halloween Cake to round out the holidays. I know baking a bunch of cakes isn’t a challenge for everyone, but for me it was a conscious effort to set aside time and include the kids. This year I’m working on my decorating skills and enlisting the help of some talented friends to take my cake decorating up a notch. Stay tuned…I’ll be sharing a blog post after we have a few sessions.


Ina's Birthday Sheet Cake


For the cake:
18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces (about 1 cup) sour cream, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon brand)
1 lemon, zested
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the frosting:
24 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon brand)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Chocolate candies for decorating (recommended: M&M's)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12 by 18 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.

To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together (get 7in sifter here) flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until smooth. Finish mixing by hand to be sure the batter is well mixed. Pour evenly into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan to room temperature.

For the frosting, place the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chips are completely melted. Off the heat, add the corn syrup and vanilla and allow the chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the chocolate mixture and softened butter on medium speed for a few minutes, until it's thickened.

Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Have the children decorate the cake with chocolate candies.

2002, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, All Rights Reserved

Beatty's Chocolate Cake


For the cake:
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon brand)
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

For the frosting:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon brand)
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting:

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes.

Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Copyright 2006, Barefoot Contessa at Home, All Rights Reserved


Comments on this post (4)

  • Feb 21, 2018

    Thank you Cassandra!
    Pamela, if you don’t use the raw egg, what do you do? Do you omit it from this recipe or use a different icing recipe? Thanks!

    — Paula

  • Feb 21, 2018

    I have made the flag cake many times and it is the best! I’ve made the cake for the 4th of July and other times with just cream cheese frosting. One time I made the cake following the recipe with cream cheese frosting and covered the frosting with coconut. Absolutely delicious.

    — Anita Viel

  • Feb 21, 2018

    HI and I just wanted to say thank you..

    — Sheila

  • Feb 17, 2018

    You don’t have to sell me on Beatty’s chocolate cake. I believe it was a grandmother’s recipe of a friend of hers. It has actually brought me multiple cake orders. First time I made it for the family it was my SIL’s birthday. Her niece was to dinner that evening also. After dinner I walked in the kitchen at my parent’s house to discover those two eating pieces of the cake with their hands they had such trouble staying out of it. As it was my SIL’s cake to take home any leftovers she could do anything she wanted with it. I’m not sure how much went home. I knew then the cake was a keeper. I’ve lost track of the number I’ve made since then. However, it will NOT make cupcakes. Every blessed time has been a disaster. I’ve tried it at least 5 or 6 times. I’ve even written Ina about it but never heard an answer, which is unusual for Barbara. Even filling only half way they erupt and overflow the pan. Same thing with shaped Wilton cake pans such as the flat Teddy Bear or the butterfly and I do NOT understand WHY. I don’t overfill. I only fill about half way. They erupt and overflow all over the oven. But the biggest things is I’m surprised having children, you used the frosting with raw eggs. I won’t. I’m sure, knowing Ina its outstanding but I know people who have actually DIED from Salmonella in raw eggs. I just can’t bring myself to do it. One day I will get the pasteurized eggs to try it. If you’re reading this and have never made the Beatty’s cake, you TRULY do not know what you’re missing. I’ve lost count of the accolades I hear about this cake. So far, this chocolate cake and a cheesecake from Martha Stewart are the prized secrets in my recipe bag of tricks. I’m always trying new ones. There must be as many chocolate cake recipes on the internet as there are Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes. And that is in the immortal words of Carl Sagen, “billions and billions” and I haven’t found one yet to beat this cake. Grandma Beatty knew what she was doing, that’s for sure.

    — Pamela Grove

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