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Yellow Birthday Cake

by Chef Megan Joy on March 25, 2012

It’s a common story. Sometimes we forget we live at altitude. Then it’s our friend’s birthday, and we decide to bake him or her a cake. And…it fails.

Oh yeah. Stuff doesn’t bake the same up here. And you never want to try baking again.

Well it’s time to get birthdays back. In a world of vanilla and chocolate, sometimes yellow falls out of the mix and gets overlooked.

One taste and you’ll wonder why you wandered so far. It’s yellow butter cake. Moist and tender, with a nice crumb. The perfect partner for a fudge frosting. Universally appealing.

These layers bake up tall and even, thanks to a little extra insurance from whipped egg whites that get folded into the batter at the end. All-purpose flour fills in for part of the cake flour originally called for to provide more support in the batter.

Stack it with some fudge frosting and adorn a few candles on top, and you’re back in the game.

How to make yellow birthday cake:


Yellow Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups half and half or whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line two 8-inch round pans with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the soft butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the egg yolks, gradually, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions alternately with the half and half, starting and ending with the flour.

Transfer the batter to a large bowl and clean the mixer bowl. Once cleaned, add the egg whites and whip to soft peaks, they will look like “beer foam”. It’s important to slightly under-whip egg whites at altitude so they don’t over-expand your baked good.

Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter in two additions. Portion the batter into the two pans and bake until the tops are golden brown and the centers spring back when lightly touched, about 20-25 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then invert and cool completely. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least a few hours before using. Chilling the cakes makes them easier to handle for assembling a layer cake.

“All I know is that there is somebody in my house, eating my birthday cake, with my family, and it’s not me!” -Arnold Schwarzenegger, The 6th Day

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily McMurray January 31, 2013 at 11:45 am

I’m thinking about making this for our Super Bowl party…what is your recipe for fudge frosting? Thank you!

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Chef Megan Joy February 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Hi Emily. A good recipe for fudge frosting: 2 sticks softened butter, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Cream until smoooth, then add 1/2 cup hot water and a tablespoon of corn syrup. It will slowly incorporate. Beat in 2-3 cups of powdered sugar until the frosting is the consistency you like. The longer you beat it the fluffier it will get. Add some vanilla. If it’s too sweet, add a little cocoa powder. If it’s too bitter, add more powdered sugar. If it’s too thick, add a little more hot water.

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Kessa Poole June 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

this is why you are wonderful chef megan. i wish i could just watch you all day. and i want to thank you. how awesome that you take the time to answer each of our individual questions even about frosting! :) rock on girl

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Chef Megan Joy June 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Thanks, Kessa!

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Sarah February 18, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Megan,
I am in love with your blog! I am an avid baker and just moved to Denver from Seattle. Your blog has allowed me to continue baking at a high altitude and inspired me to work on morphing my favorite recipes that worked at sea-level. I was wondering if I could do this recipe in 9″ pans? If so what would I need to change to the recipe or bake time? Thanks!

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Chef Megan Joy February 19, 2013 at 12:11 am

Hi Sarah! Welcome to the Rockies! You can definitely do this recipe in 9″ pans, your cake layers will come out a little thinner and they will bake for about 5-10 minutes less.

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Jen February 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Thanks for the great recipe! I’m curious if you’ve used this recipe for cupcakes? If so, did you adjust the oven temp? Any ideas on baking time adjusting? Thanks!

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Chef Megan Joy February 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Jen- This will probably work fine converted to cupcakes. I would fill the cups about 2/3 full with batter. Baking time for cupcakes I’d say maybe 12-15 minutes. You’ll look for risen cakes with a hint of golden brown and tops that spring back when lightly poked.

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Susan July 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

Hi Megan,
My cupcakes still fell in the middle:-( any ideas? I am at 8640ft, Silverthorne, CO. Is there an additional adjustment needed?

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Chef Megan Joy July 17, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Hi Susan, try using 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup cake flour next time.

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Jamie April 18, 2013 at 11:02 am

I just wanted to say that first attempt at a cake in Durango, CO was a total failure. I whipped this one up with no problems, and it tastes delicious, and cooked perfectly. I think I left mine in the oven for about 35 minutes. Thank you for the blog post. I will be using this site for many more recipes.

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Chef Megan Joy April 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Hi Jamie. Hooray for successful cakes! I’m glad you had great results.

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Marcia May 2, 2013 at 10:46 am

Have all ingredients out and ready to make this but realize there’s no time stated. ??

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Marcia May 2, 2013 at 10:47 am

Okay, I see Jamie’s took about 35 min. I’ll go with that.

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Joseph June 5, 2013 at 2:06 am

Tried this recipe in Kunming, China (6000 ft.). Worked perfectly. Best high altitude cake recipe i’ve found yet. I used 2 cups all purpose flour, no cake flour.

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Chef Megan Joy June 5, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Wonderful! Very happy to hear that Joseph.

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Joseph June 5, 2013 at 2:09 am

Used the same recipe for cupcakes too. Perfect.

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Angie June 20, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I’m so excited to find this! I live in Mexico City and recently found out my daughter is allergic to soy. I can’t use any box mixes and don’t have any high altitude recipes. I can’t wait to make this for my son’s 2nd birthday next week!

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Chef Megan Joy June 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I’m happy you found HAB too Angie! I hope your son has a wonderful birthday :)

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Shantavia July 12, 2013 at 10:58 am

Hi Megan,

Thank you for your blog and recipes! I’ve recently moved to Quito, Ecuador in the Andes mountains and baking here . . .well. . . is a giant FAIL! I want to try this yellow cake recipe, but cake flour (among many many other things) is not available here. Can I substitute regular flour? Suggestions???

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Chef Megan Joy July 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Hi Shantavia- You can certainly use all regular flour if cake flour is not available. You could also make your own by mixing 7/8 cup all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons cornstarch to equal 1 cup.

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Holly July 29, 2013 at 9:27 am

Can I add some cocoa powder to make it a chocolate-y cake? Or will it mess with the recipe moist to dry ingredients ratio? I am trying to make a birthday cake with a peanut butter frosting and a thick chocolate ganache – do you think chocolate cake would be better? Or would the yellow cake taste good as well!?
Thanks Megan,

Holly (Telluride)

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Chef Megan Joy July 29, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Hi Holly! For a great chocolatey cake I would use the Chocolate Stout Cake recipe. The stout beer is very subtle and lends a slight malt flavor that compliments the chocolate. It will go excellent with peanut butter and chocolate gananche.

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Jen February 9, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Awesome cake!! I live at roughly 9500 ft. I did lower the baking powder to 1 1/4 tsp and 1TB less sugar and it’s soft and fluffy!

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