Berry birthday cake

June 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the best things about moving back home, besides having access to a dishwasher (what? I hate handwashing dishes!), is that there are more people around to bake for, especially my dad, who loves pretty much everything I make. And since this past weekend was his birthday, I wanted to bake him a birthday cake, preferably one involving strawberries as my dad has always loved them.

Apparently my mom used to make some sort of strawberry cake, but the recipe has long since been lost, so I decided to do some research, hauling out cookbooks from both my and my mom’s collections, as well as clicking around many, many food blogs. The mysterious strawberry cake never materialized, but after discovering several new sites with no leads in sight and having spent several hours parked in front of my computer, I ended up returning to a charming vanilla yellow cake from Smitten Kitchen, selected so that the strawberries could be the star. The fact that it was entitled “Best Birthday Cake” didn’t hurt either.

While I was certain the cake would be excellent, I wasn’t quite sold on the chocolate frosting for my dad since he’s not that wild about chocolate. Frankly I don’t think strawberries and chocolate are that great a pairing anyway, so it was no hardship to seek out something else.

After weighing the benefits and drawbacks of a Swiss meringue frosting or a buttercream, it suddenly occurred to me that I could make a cream cheese frosting! (Though in actual practice it was a Neufchâtel frosting, since apparently Neufchâtel cheese is the preferred bagel spread in my family.)

Anyway, I’m so pleased that I risked it and combined cream cheese frosting and strawberries, as the frosting is slightly tangy without overpowering the strawberries, and its creaminess deftly ties the fresh fruit together with the buttery crumb of this standby-yet-standout cake.

Also, despite being labeled a birthday cake, this one would be perfect for the Fourth of July, especially if you add blueberries to complete the patriotic-colors set.

Berry birthday cake

Cake recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves twelve to sixteen


For the birthday cake

  • Four cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
  • Two teaspoons (ten grams) baking powder
  • One and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • One teaspoon (five grams) table salt
  • Two sticks (one cup, 1/2 pound, or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • Two cups (400 grams) sugar
  • Two teaspoons (ten mL) pure vanilla extract
  • Four large eggs, at room temperature
  • Two cups buttermilk (475 mL), well-shaken (or clabbered milk, recipe below)

For the clabbered milk (to replace buttermilk)

  • Two tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
  • One and 3/4 cups plus two tablespoons milk

1. Mix together milk and vinegar or juice, and let sit for at least ten minutes. Use in place of the buttermilk in the cake recipe.

For the cream cheese frosting and berries

  • Twelve ounces (340 grams) cream cheese, softened
  • Six tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • One and a half cups (172.5 grams) confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • Eight ounces strawberries, washed

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9×13 baking pan. (Make clabbered milk if you haven’t already done so and need a replacement for buttermilk.)

2. In a medium bowl, sift together baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cake flour.

3. With an electric mixer on medium, beat together butter and sugar for about three to five minutes, or until mixture is fluffy and thoroughly mixed. Stir in vanilla.

4. Crack in eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly after each egg, using the low setting on the mixer. Slowly pour in buttermilk (or clabbered milk). Then fold in buttermilk/clabbered milk. The mixture will look runny and curdled.

5. In three batches add in the flour mixture, scraping down the bowl after each addition. I prefer to do this by hand to prevent over-mixing.

6. Pour cake batter into the greased pan. To remove any air bubbles from the batter, lift the baking pan in the air and firmly tap the bottom from underneath a few times.

7. Bake cake in the preheated oven for forty-five to fifty-five minutes, on the middle rack. Bake until the top of the cake is golden and a tester comes out clean. Let cake cool for twenty minutes in its pan, and then run a knife around the edge and invert the cake, if desired (alternatively, let the cake cool completely in the pan and simply frost it in there, as I did). Wait until the cake is completely cool before frosting it.

8. Meanwhile, mix together the frosting ingredients (butter, cream cheese or Neufchâtel, and powdered sugar). Stir together until all the ingredients are incorporated and look creamy (with a mixer, if you like). If not frosting right away, store the frosting in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before frosting the cake.

9. Top with berries just before serving, and enjoy!

Note: cake will keep, frosted or unfrosted and covered, in the refrigerator, for up to three days. My mom thinks it tasted better on the second day than the first. I will probably have another piece of cake later today to investigate this claim…for, uh, science!

Also, the cream cheese frosting makes enough to frost just the top of two cakes, or enough for the sides and a nice, thick top layer of frosting if you prefer to remove the cake from the pan before frosting and decorating.


Perelman, Deb. “Best Birthday Cake.” Smitten Kitchen. 13 Jul. 2009. 30 May 2011. <>.


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