Making It – A Simple Birthday Cake

After much delay, then frustration at not being able to upload photos, I can finally post my simple birthday cake recipe as promised. Brace yourself this is a long post, but I’ve included detail that I have gathered from a lot of experience, and countless mistakes.

(There should have been more photo’s, but Google is having a little fun with me at the moment, and is selecting what it will and won’t upload to the blog)

As someone who no longer buys birthday cakes but makes them, I can guarantee that this recipe will work. I’ve used it time and time again.

Follow these steps to make your own.

To bake the cake – You will need:

350g (12oz) Margarine or Butter. I use soft cooking margarine, as it’s easier to cream and is also less expensive.

350g (12oz) Caster Sugar (Superfine in US).

1 tablespoon (15ml) of Vanilla Extract.

6 Medium Free Range Eggs. I keep these at room temperature for baking.

200g (7oz) Plain Flour (All Purpose Flour in US)

200g (7oz) Self Raising Flour (see here on how to make SR flour from All Purpose – very easy)

Step 1

Pre-heat your oven to a moderate temperature. In the UK it would be 160 degrees in an electric fan oven (180 in non-fan), or Gas Mark 4. I’d say 375F in the US.

Grease a round cake tin minimum diameter size 8″ but you can go up to 10″. My tin is about 9.5″. I use a ‘cake release’ spray rather than oil or butter.  It’s very effective.

Step 2 

In a large bowl (as this will be the bowl you add the other ingredients to also) cream together the margarine and sugar until it is pale in colour light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract and stir in well.

Step 3

In a separate bowl, or jug, whisk together (lightly) the 6 eggs until consistent (yolk and white mixed well).

Then gradually (approx one egg amount at a time) add to the marg/sugar and stir in well.

Step 4

Sift the 2 flours together into another bowl. The gradually sift the combined flour into the large bowl, taking time to fold in the flour slowly. Do not add all at once. This takes me about 6-8 additions to work all the flour in.

I was always a little confused as to what ‘folding’ meant. Basically you are trying to get air into the mixture. It needs to be done gradually and slowly. I fold over the mixture back on itself, lifting it and dropping it. Hard to explain. I may post a video on You Tube next time I do it.

Step 5

Once mixed thoroughly pour into the cake tin and smooth as evenly as possible. The cake will rise more in the middle, there’s little you can do to stop that. However I try to make a slight dip in the centre before placing in the oven by resting the back of the spoon in the middle (remove spoon before baking!)

Step 7

Place in oven and set timer for 45 minutes. Don’t open the oven door before 45 mins as it may flatten the cake. Oven’s vary, and depending on what size tin is used this will alter cooking time. In my oven it needs about an hour. After 45 mins I check the cake by pressing lightly the top to see how ‘firm it is’ – it should be firm but springy to touch. Normally it needs another 15 minutes. After an hour I remove from oven and pierce the thickest part (top to bottom) with a wooden (not metal – too smooth) skewer. You can use a ‘cake tester’ but I don’t have one. The skewer should come out ‘clean’ – this doesn’t mean it won’t have crumbs on it, but rather there won’t be any gooey cake mixture on it. Use common sense with this. I’ve made over-cooked and under-cooked cakes in the past. It takes a little practice. If unsure – over-cook, but try not to burn!

Step 8

Once cooked leave to rest in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove cake and place on a cooling rack (if you don’t have one, you’ll find a grill pan will do quite nicely also).

Leave to cool. Then the cake will need to be levelled. You can buy fancy schmancy wire cutters to do this or you can do as I do and use a bread knife! Cut the top off, the cut side will be face down (as you turn the cake over) when decorated so it doesn’t have to be perfect! It’s also a great way to check its cooked inside. With this particular cake, I made the Rabbit’s ears out of the leftover cake – No Waste Tastes Great !

To ice the cake – You will need

1kg (35oz) of Ready-Made Icing (sugarpaste in US)

Margarine and Icing Sugar Powder (confectioners sugar in US) to make the buttercream

Step 1

Firstly make the buttercream. You won’t need a lot. It is to cover the cake so that the icing will stick. It also softens the crust of the cake.

Take 40g (1.5oz) of margarine and add in 120g (4oz) of icing sugar and cream together. This can be messy as the powder flies into the air. When it’s dry I try to do this quickly outside. You can add a drop of vanilla extract, but not too much, to improve flavour.

Spread all over the cake (making sure the levelled side is face down) and put to one side. I have a turntable that I use. But you could use a large plate balanced on top on a turned over bowl. Or just on a plate/board. Don’t do this directly onto your cake board if using one as it can be a messy affair.

Step 2

Lightly powder your worktop/counter if rolling the icing directly onto it. I can’t, as I have granite worktops, they are too cold – the icing tends to stick even if powdered. I have a plastic large worktop mat.

I often use cornflour (less sticky) instead of icing sugar. It doesn’t matter which you use. But don’t be too liberal, only use what you need. Too much additional powdered icing sugar will dry out the ready-made icing and it may develop cracks when placed on the cake.

Step 3

Knead the ready-made icing until it’s soft, smooth pliable. Bear in mind the longer you knead the greater chance of it starting to stick to your work-surface. Keep the surface dusted, but try not to use too much. Shape the icing into a smooth ball.

(In the icing shown below I have kneaded in a tiny amount of yellow food dye)

Dust your rolling-pin and start rolling from the centre of the icing ball outwards. When you roll move the icing round rather than change the direction you roll. This reduces chances of the icing sticking. It also increases the likeliness of the icing being an even thickness. If you change direction the pressure you place on the pin differs. Keep the shape as round as possible.

By using 1kg of icing there will be plenty to cover the cake. The thickness needs to be about half an inch (2.5mm). Any thinner and the icing may split and crack. The thicker it is the easier it is to drape over the cake also. Icing isn’t something you should scrimp on, its false economy. I ensure that the icing covers all of the cake and also overhangs by at least 2″. If it doesn’t overhang you won’t get it neat and smooth on the side of the cake.

Step 4

To lift the icing, roll it over your pin slightly, but don’t try to roll it all up and let it overlap. It doesn’t work, it sticks together. Place your other hand under the remaining icing to support it, and then go for it! Try and get the icing as centrally on the cake as possible, so the overhang is as even all the way round that you can manage. Smooth with your hands (this is as effective as anything – I have a cake smoother but rarely use it). Tuck the sides into the bottom of the cake. There should be a good overhang and no wrinkles.

Step 5

Trim the overhang by firstly cutting near to the cake. I find scissors is the easiest way to do this. I keep the extra icing for decoration. When the majority of the excess is removed, cut closer. I use a sharp knife and cut downwards (against the cake) to get a smooth, neat edge – this works well if the icing is thick.

Step 6

Lift the cake onto the cake board and place a dollop of buttercream in the centre, to reduce the cake moving around.

I’d already decorated my cake board, but you could place straight onto a silver board.

Step 7 – Decorate!

The cake will last about 7 days from baking, as it is madeira. I tend to bake mine 4 days before the occasion, and ice the day after baking to allow enough time to cool thoroughly.

Top Frugal Tip – Take care when cutting the cake, and if the foil isn’t broken, the board can be re-used, this can dramatically reduce cost if using an expensive cake drum (which should last).

I’ve tried to post a photo of the completed cake here, but Google won’t play ball. Check out Facebook for the finished article.

Any questions please ask! And if you give it a try, please let me know how it goes!

** Please note that I am not a qualified nutritionist or professional cook.  My recipes are what I put together at home and all amounts etc… are approximate. What I write is my own experience of cooking the recipe.  Ovens and ingredients do vary – just go with it,  have fun and apply common sense at all times!  Practise makes perfect!


  1. *squels with delight* Okay as a total novice, and lately time poor i am planning making one for my sons 17th in July. The perfectionist in me is going to make the sponge first on a dummy run(and eating it of course) then making it again then attempting to ice it. I do however need to buy a cake tin and base board, any recommendations? To be honest the decorating is the scariest. Thanks so much Jo!!
    Sharron x

    • Yay! You are going for it!
      Firstly buy a good quality tin (not silicone – it distorts slightly the shape IMO – also smells funny in the oven – I do use one for my heart shaped cake however). Buy one with a loose base and one that is non-stick. I’ve just purchased one – I’ll try and find out the brand and let you know. I’m really pleased with it. It’s not coated non-stick – it’s something else that I can’t remember. I’d say 8″ round. This should cut into at least 10 slices. I tend to use a larger board than required because I decorate the board also, it does make a difference to the overall effect, and it’s easy to do. So for an 8″ I’d get a 12″ board/drum. The thickness should be about an inch (5mm). This is usually described as a drum and can be ordered off eBay. You can get them from some supermarkets, but they tend to be smaller diameter. If you let me know what theme you are going for I may be able to offer some suggestion regarding decorating and also some tips on royal icing and personalising the cake etc… I’m making my Nephew one over the next week or so for his 21st. It’s going to be a casino/playing card design. I’ll post some piccies.

      • Hi just wanted to say i came across your cake recipe and had a go (adapting as I went) and it was a major hit in our house! Absolutely perfect thank you! Since I made my first (Monday) I’ve since been asked to make two more by my friends lol! Any way thank you again this will be my main cake recipe from now on! I generally bake lots with the children! X x

    • Hmmm it may be called: Regalice, Fondant Icing or Sugarpaste in the US. A quick Google and sells it over there. From what I have seen of American cakes, they very often come frosted rather than Iced? Would that sound right?

      • Yes, I think we normally use the icing sugar/butter or marg mix to frost the cake like you use underneath the ready-made! I do think they sell it here, but only in cake decorating shops, not grocery stores?

  2. It looks so beautiful with the fondant icing draped over! In Canada most cakes made at home or bought at the grocery store are frosted with some version of buttercream frosting (which we also call icing, and the sugar used to make it is labelled icing sugar). Two completely different ways to finish a cake!

    • Thanks Jo – We don’t use frosting that much over here…quite unusual to see an actual Birthday cake finished that way. I made a ‘Charlie and Lola’ (Kids TV) one like that when I wasn’t confident enough to ice, and of course make the choc-fudge ones like that also (I made a choc castle once!).

  3. I’ve been doing this for a while (but I’ll admit I wanted to be a pastry chef growing up and the desire never faded.) I think the best part is people’s reactions. NO ONE in the states seems to make their own birthday cakes anymore. It’s like they’re afraid that because their cake doesn’t look like something from the Food Network shows then they’re a failure, so they shouldn’t bother. When I bring a home-made cake into work people go crazy. They hardly ever get home made ones anymore. Nice post and glad to have found your blog!

    • Hey Joanna – I’ve been over to yours and really need to dig through the archives. I’m an ex-hoarder (probably linked to my upbringing). Home-made beats manufactured any day of the week. It’s the imperfections that make it for me!

  4. That’s simply adorable. There are lots of hard work to make this cake but you just finish it simply way. That’s why it makes great and simple birthday cake. Thank you for this innovative post.

  5. I will try doing this with my kids to make my wifes birthday cake. I am entirely certain it wont look like yours but it should be fun trying ! Jay (Doncaster)

    • Jay, I can guarantee (well I can’t but I’d put good money on it) that your wife will love the cake regardless of how it looks. A homemade cake designed with the birthday girl in mind cannot fail. Whatever the outcome (which I am sure will be fantastic) she’ll always remember it! (if you check out my FB page you’ll see a cake the Kids and I did for their Dad back in Feb – that is a little rough round the edges, and it was also pink! Well I had pink icing left over – waste not want not). Please let me know how it goes, I’d love to hear!

  6. Hi again, the cake was a great success very very many thanks. I didnt entirely follow it to the letter as it took a lot longer to bake and I realised I bought marzipan rather than ready to roll icing doh but we got there in the end. It tasted great even if i do say so myself :)

    Thanks again

    • Many congratulations! I’m glad it was a success. As for the marzipan and icing confusion – I’m not surprised. I don’t know what brand you bought, but the DR Oetker one – you cannot tell the difference, and it would be a very easy mistake to make. The icing retailers need to look at packaging overall, it isn’t clear ‘what is what’ in my opinion.

  7. I hope you dont mind me asking but have you got any stock recipes ? I make a lot of stews and put them in the slow cooker and I just buy ready made stocks. Im sure theres something I could do which would improve the stock flavour. Jay

    • Hey Jay…I currently just use half a stock cube, and top up with herbs and pepper usually. Ideally make your own stock and freeze, then add, but this takes up a lot of space in the freezer and also you aren’t officially supposed to reheat using a slow cooker, so you’d prob need to bring to boil first on hob then transfer to a cooker. Hence I use a little ready made stock!

  8. hello i am planning on making a 8inch and a 6inch or my sons birthday cake to make into a 2tier .. never baked before so nervous :) i am going to use your ingredients for a 8inch but what ingredients in grams ect should i use for a 6 inch please help :) many thanks

  9. Hi I’m about to make your recipe for a birthday cake, but have noticed you haven’t used baking powder. Don’t I use baking powder?

    • Hi Jane – In the UK the Self Raising flour will contain a raising agent. If you click on the link in the recipe, it will show explain when using all purpose/plain flour what baking powder is required. Hope that helps. Jo

  10. hi..could you please help me in making this a coffee flavoured sponge..?also if i halve the recipe will i be able to bake it in a 9-inch round pan(will i get good height so that i can halve the cake?) Thank you..

    • Sorry – bit of a late reply. I’d suggest dissolving 2 x teaspoons of instant coffee in 2 x teaspoons of water and adding to the mixture instead of the vanilla or you could add vanilla also. Halving the recipe will halve the height almost. It depends how deep you need it. I recently made a sponge this depth but didn’t halve it, I just iced it and with the extra on top came out an okay height for say a basic Kids birthday cake. Good luck!

  11. Great wee recipe,easy instructions and works well. I used this recipe to make a birthday cake with my two eldest daughters (4yrs & 8yrs) for their dad – girls had great fun. Certainly will be using it again



  12. I just wanted to say that I’ve never made a cake before, and have probably never baked anything since school days (I’m 29 now). I made this cake as a surprise for my fiancee, the instructions were clear, comprehensible and I found all that I needed in the supermarket (baking section – including the ready-made icing). Seeing her face when I presented it to her was priceless, you said in an earlier post – a homemade cake with someone in mind CANNOT FAIL. Thank you so much for helping me to exorcise those baking gremlins that have been bugging me for so long… Now on to the chocolate one (version II)… :o)

  13. Brilliant cake! Just one question, if I make it 3 days in advance what is the best way to preserve it? Keep it in the fridge covered?

  14. Hi. I want to make an 80th birthday cake for my mum. I need it to be bigger then an 8″ cake, to feed about 15 people. Would be greatful if you could let me know the ingredient quantities I would need please.

    • Hi Sandra, my 8″ would do 15 portions. But of course it depends on how large you cut them. I’m going to post another birthday cake recipe soon which will be larger, but not sure if that’ll be too late. Alternatively add another egg and increase all other ingredients by 1/6th. Hope that helps. Jo

  15. OMG! I made a cake! Brilliant easy to follow!! Thank you so much… This is for my sisters 40th… She bakes & will be so impressed (I hope!!) thanks again…. Am going to attempt to ice & decorate tomorrow!!! Wish me luck…! Xx

  16. Just wanted to say that this is such a lovely site, very homely and welcoming with fabulous instructions on how to make a cake. It’s two of my children’s birthdays soon and I am determined to make their cakes rather than buy them this year. Thanks for your time and dedication in producing this site it really has inspired more people to home bake! :_)

    • Thank you Sarah. What a lovely comment! You’ve made my day (genuinely!). And thank you for reading. Please make those cakes… Honestly it is simple and practise makes perfect. There’s nothing like a cake baked by Mum! Watch this space as I plan on doing a post about levelling and also halving cakes for those who want to learn more…

  17. Hello! It’s my daughters 3rd birthday next week and I’ve decided to make the cake myself, I’m doing a practise one first- its in the oven now! I don’t have any icing though, but if you don do that I’ll the next day I might get away with it! Wish me luck!

    Zoe xx

  18. Hello! I am attempting to bake a cake for my friend’s birthday… I just have a question. After making the cake should I refrigerate the cake and then ice it the next day? Or should I not refrigerate it at all, before and after icing? Thank you~ ^_^
    I’m quite excited to make this cake, as it’d be my first time baking a birthday cake! :D

  19. Hello! I am baking a cake for my friend’s birthday… I just have a question. Would it alright to bake and ice the cake only 2 days before her birthday? Would it affect anything b/c you did mention that you bake it 4 days before the occasion. Also should I refigerate the cake before and/or after icing it??
    Thank you~ ^_^
    It’s my first time baking a birthday cake.. Let’s hope for the best! ;)
    Thanks again~ :D

    • Navi, you can bake the cake two days before no problem. The main thing is you give it time to cool. I’d make it 48 hours before and cool overnight. Decorate the next day. It will be really fresh doing it that close. I tend to allow a little more time just in case anything goes wrong and I need to rebake. Never refrigerate Madeira cake. There’s no need and actually it’s detrimental to the quality of the cake. It’ll be fine in a box. It doesn’t need to be airtight once iced. If you bake the cake way in advance if icing then it would be worth putting in a tin if Tupperware. Good luck and if you need any more advice just ask. Jo

  20. Bit of a novice cake maker here. I have this cake in the oven now and it looks the best I have ever done. Just hoping it comes out ok. I will let you know😰

  21. Thank you so much. I made this cake for my sons birthday and it came out perfect! Nice and moist. Everybody loved it. I made two batches so I could fill it with jam and butter icing. I’m very greatful for this recipe. This was my first attempt at baking a birthday cake and I couldn’t of been any happier with it. Thanks a million x

  22. thanks so much just made this today, ready to ice tomorrow, altho have already struggled with a bit of fondant icing today I figure I have too warm hands for it………:( anytips on removing icing sugar from the icing once you have it rolled? It’s a practise for my little girls 1st birthday party in a months time……. eeek having never baked a cake before the results are brilliant – well it looks good any how!!! Thank you x

  23. Hi there, i am making my sons birthday cake and found this recipe! It is fantastic! It tastes amazing and stays fresh! I made 2 of these sponges and put buttercream and seedless raspberry jam in the centre of them then covered with fondant! It was delicious and everyone who had a piece loved it! Thank you for sharing your recipe xxx

  24. Tried this last night I dunno what I could have done wrong but it sort of well… the center fell =/ Is there any tips you could give me as to what I could possibly do or have done differently?! I would like to also have a go to cake recipe instead of buying from the store, since I have very limited options where I live anyways.
    Thank you in Advance!!!

  25. After never having made one before I decided to make my little girls birthday cake. After googling “step by step guide for birthday cakes” I came accross this blog and it’s brilliant – thank you. It’s all really clear and makes sense, the pictures helped me know what it should be like and now I’m finished I’m so proud of myself. I’m covered in icing and flour and colouring but I’ve done it! Thanks, you’ve made me one very proud mummy – my girl is going to love this cake tomorrow. Will be keeping an eye on your blog from now on!

  26. Hey, love this recipe; its so easy to follow! I’m only 12 and i need to make my little sisters birthday cake. This has made life so much easier! Thank you!

    • Hi Evita – yes it’s no problem adding chocolate to the mixture. But I don’t have a specific recipe for it. I’m a bit of a rough and ready baker in I just add ingredients – I’d simply tip in some cocoa powder (I can usually estimate what I need by looking) – but I know not everyone bakes like that. I’d suggest googling chocolate madiera cake – you will find an exact recipe. Jo

  27. Hi,

    I’m going to make this cake (first ever attempt of a birthday cake) on Thirsday/Friday for my sons 1st birthday on Sunday.

    I was just wondering if I could cut through this cake and add buttercream and jam? And if so would it be the same buttercream mix as used on the outside?

    Thanks :-)

  28. Wow, that looks really good. Enjoyed the tips that you’ve shared as part of your experience. Am looking to make a cake for my husband’s birthday next week. This looks do-able!

    Thanks for sharing :)

  29. Thank you so much for posting this recipe, it has been a lifesaver as a novice baker set myself the challenge of baking my sons birthday cake for this weekend. my trial run went really well, baking the real thing later on today ready for Sunday, eek I hope it comes out ok!

      • Thank you, it’s all cooked and decorated now, hopefully it will taste good to! I have put it in a cake carrier ready to take to the party in Sunday it looks like a tuppleware, is that the best way to store it until Sunday? Thanks Karen

  30. can i add milk to the batter or will it course it any harm,actually i have never baked a milk free cake before,and wont the batter be too hard without the milk. please i will be making the cake 2day

  31. I followed your recipe last week for my youngest daughters first birthday cake, turned out brilliant tasted amazing. I decorated it with buttercream swirls. I will be making it again today for my eldest daughters sixth birthday cake, but I want to make it into three levels not just two. Should I just add another half of all the ingredients? Thanks!

    • Hi Sarah – Thank you for commenting I love it when the recipe works for others also. Yes just increase the mixture by 50% that should work. Good luck :) And Happy Birthday to your little ones!

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