Esther Foskett’s Easy Homemade Birthday Cake

3.93 avg. rating (78% score) - 41 votes

Esther Foskett’s Easy Homemade Birthday Cake

Not only is this easy homemade birthday cake so delicious that our tasters gobbled it up in a single sitting, but it’s also incredibly simple to make. If you’ve always been intimidated by scratch cakes, start with this one. You’ll never go back to boxed mixes again.

Total Time: 20
Yield: 8 to 10 servings


  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for pans
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or unsalted butter), plus extra for pans
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • Icing (see accompanying recipe)


Preheat oven to 350° and set a rack just below the middle position. Grease and flour two standard 8 or 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add shortening (or butter), then milk and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat 2 minutes.

Bake in two pans until layers are golden-brown and a cake tester comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. (This is a good time to make the icing; see the accompanying recipe.) Remove from oven. Let layers sit in pans 5 minutes; then remove gently and let cool 15 minutes on wire racks.

When cool, frost the top of one layer with icing; then stack the second layer on top. Set a cooling rack into a rimmed baking sheet; then place cake atop rack. Pour remaining icing over cake, letting it drip down sides and into pan. Serve.

Esther Foskett's Vanilla Icing


  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk, divided


This old-fashioned icing takes just minutes to make. The recipe yields just enough to cover the cake. If you like lots of icing, or want to decorate it, you can easily double the quantities.

Using a hand-held or standing mixer, blend sugar and butter. Add vanilla and blend until smooth. Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time, blending as you go; add only as much as you need to get the desired texture. If you'll be piping the icing as decoration, add less milk. If you plan to simply frost the cake, use a bit more.

Yield: icing for 1 two-layer cake
  • Hi Jean. You can substitute buttermilk for milk, but you’ll want to add a pinch of baking soda (keep the baking powder amount just as its written) to balance the buttermilk’s acidity. That should work! Thanks, and happy baking!

  • I used this recipe, both the cake & the frosting, for my Mother-in-Law’s 96th birthday. I baked the batter as mini-muffin-size to facilitate sharing with the staff at her assisted living place. All loved it! The cake & the frosting are super easy. Yes, it really would be possible to bake & frost this in a bit over an hour, just as Esther says!

  • This is a very tasty cake, but can it be made in chocolate? I seem to remember mention in the article but only cut out the recipe.

  • Made this cake last year for Dad’s 89th birthday. He actually teared up, saying it tasted just like his Mother’s cake! She has been gone 65 years. Needless to say- I’ve had to make this cake again for Dad’s 90th, a well as every occasion calling for a cake. Thank you, Esther, you brought back – and are helping us make new- memories


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