The best homemade vanilla cake and strawberry frosting – perfect for a party or birthday! The little cakes are made with a biscuit or cookie cutter so they’re easier than they look.
Tell me: what is your ideal birthday food?
For me? I’m all about tradition. I want cake.
And not some fancy, new-age birthday cake. I want vanilla or chocolate – the simpler, the better. A good thick layer of not-too-sweet frosting and maybe some sprinkles for good measure.
Confession: I have always preferred store-bought birthday cake over homemade.
I don’t know what it is.
But I suspect part of the reason is that light, fluffy bakery frosting. There’s just (almost!) nothing like it.
I used to work in a store bakery when I was in high school, and I ate a ridiculous amount of sweets. I could eat the cake frosting straight from a spoon, sans cake.
There’s a time and a place for classic buttercream frosting (in fact I can think of plenty). But it’s just so sweet, that sometimes I want something a little fluffier and a little less sweet.
And then I found Swiss Meringue Buttercream. And my life has never been the same.
I think it’s my favorite frosting. Ever.
But I’m not going to lie – it takes a bit of time. And a bit of equipment. But it’s so totally worth it if you’re going for something extra special, or if you just like your frosting a little on the milder side.
To make the cakes, I baked my favorite cake recipe (adapted slightly from Add a Pinch), but I spread the batter between a large sheet pan and a 9×13” pan. I wanted fairly thin layers, and I think they could even be a little bit thinner. I lined the pans with parchment so I could easily remove them from the pans to cut them.
I baked them ahead of time, so I covered in plastic wrap and stuck the whole pans in the freezer for a couple days. Then I removed them and let them thaw slightly while I made the frosting.
I cut them out with a biscuit cutter (about 2.5” in diameter), and I got about 22 circles, or 11 2-layer mini cakes.
And don’t even worry about the extra cake! I got plenty of scraps, and I used them to make a trifle. I threw them all in a large container and stuck them in the freezer until I was ready to make my trifle. Super easy! Then you have a quick dessert for company when you don’t have a lot of time to bake later on.
To make the frosting, you’ll need a “double boiler”, a thermometer, and an electric mixer (I recommend stand mixer, because it takes a bit of time to whip!). I’ve never owned a real double boiler. You can see my make-shift double boiler above – I take a small pot and a small glass bowl and just make sure the bowl doesn’t sit too low in the pot. You don’t want the bottom of the bowl touching the water in the pot.
It’s going to take a bit of time to come to the right temperature, and it’s going to take some time after that to whip to stiff peaks. Just have patience!
When it’s done, you can just slather it on the little vanilla layer cakes, or grab a piping bag and a simple tip and give it a swirl. I chose not to frost the sides, because (a) it’s less work and (b) it’s so rare that the sides of a cake are so perfect, why not show them off?!
- 1 ½ cups butter, softened
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cups diced strawberries
- 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 4 large egg whites
- 3 sticks butter (1 ½) cups, room temperature, cubed
- ½-1 cup powdered icing sugar, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a large pan and a 9x13” pan by spraying with non-stick spray, then line with parchment (the non-stick helps the parchment to stay down), and spray the parchment with non-stick spray.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs until well combined. Add milk and vanilla and beat until smooth.
- Add flour, baking powder and salt and mix just until combined and smooth.
- Divide between both pans – you want an even, thin layer in both pans.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs (baking time will vary based on pan size, so be sure to check often).
- Cool completely. Then you can either freeze the cakes (as I mentioned above) or cut out your mini cakes with a regular biscuit cutter (about 2.5” diameter).
- Puree strawberries in a blender or food processor (I used a Magic Bullet because it gets things the smoothest for me). Set aside.
- In the bottom of your double broiler (see notes and photo above in post if you do not have one), put about ½ - 1” of water (make sure that the bottom of your bowl will not touch the water when it’s boiling). Set on the stove and bring to a boil.
- In the top of your double broiler (your bowl), off the heat, whisk together the sugar and egg whites. Place over your pot of boiling water and reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Continue cooking and whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F and sugar is dissolved (this took a while for me – 10-15 minutes).
- Pour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and whip with a whisk on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and mixture is room temperature (about 10 minutes).
- Add butter, one cube at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the pureed strawberries gradually, making sure that they do not dilute your frosting and make it runny (I used the full amount and it was not runny at all – this is just a precaution). Beat until combined (if your frosting begins to look soupy or curdled after adding the butter and strawberries, continue beating 3-5 minutes on medium-high and it will come together! This happens every time I make it).
- If you find that it’s not as sweet as you hoped, add in optional powdered sugar.
- Frost cakes as desired. Store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to serve.
Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe from One Sweet Appetite.
This Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe from Annie’s Eats is my other favorite and has some helpful notes about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream!