My Go-To Birthday Cake

comments: 139


For many, many years, one of both parts of this cake have made their ways into almost every birthday cake I've baked for someone else or requested for my own birthday. I am super picky about cake. The one I made for Keels on MondayHershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake and my mom's Cloudburst Frosting — is probably the only way I really, really like it; chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is way too much chocolate, yellow cake is good, I cannot stand cream-cheese frosting, buttercream is okay but Cloudburst is lighter and better, etc., etc., etc., etc. I'll drive you crazy if you let me. I've tried a couple of variations on this chocolate/white frosting combo (adding pastry cream layer, using a different cake recipe), but to me the cake you see above and the recipe I'll give you below are just about perfect together. The cake is so heavy and so dark and so moist, the frosting is light as a cloud. If you put it in the fridge for about an hour before you serve it? Oh. Do that.

Normally I wouldn't reprint a recipe as-is like this, but I live in fear that Hershey's will change their link or delete their web site or somehow I won't be able to find it again. The only thing I do differently from their recipe is switch out 1/2 of their 1 cup of boiling water with 1/2 cup of very hot coffee (you don't taste the coffee, but, as Ina taught me, a little bit of coffee brings out the flavor of the chocolate). So, with apologies to Hershey (and a link for high-altitude directions and more info):

Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (I use either the regular or the Special Dark, whatever I happen to have)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup steaming hot (brewed) coffee

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water and coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.

Now, the frosting for this cake is my mom's old recipe for something we in our family called "the milk and flour frosting." When I was growing up, she always made it for chocolate cake, too. We have never been able to find an official recipe for frosting like this, probably because we don't know what its official name is. When I first put it on the blog several years ago (and if you hang around here you'll remember me talking about several times since), I renamed it more romantically and called it Cloudburst Frosting. This frosting had a long history in our house of being very temperamental but it is totally worth it. We think we have it down now, but you have to do it exactly this way. You just do. Don't ask me why. We really do not know.

Cloudburst Frosting

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup WHOLE (it has to be whole) milk
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

In a small pan, gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking them together into a totally smooth mixture — you don't want any lumps here. Simmer (barely) until thick over low/medium heat, whisking constantly so you don't get any lumps. (Do not walk away from the stove for even a minute — trust me. If you do get lumps, just push it all through a sieve.) You want it to be the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let it cool completely but NOT in the refrigerator (Mom says if you put it in the fridge it won't work). Let it cool for a few minutes, and then push a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the mixture (so a skin doesn't form) and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two or three until it's completely cool. Cream together the butter and almond; add the confectioner's sugar and beat on high for several minutes until it is very fluffy. Add the milk/flour mixture and beat until it is super fluffy. The frosting will sometimes appear to separate when you add the milk/flour mixture, but just keep beating it on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.

To frost the cake, trim off the top of one round so it is flat, and mound half of the frosting on it. Put the other round on and mound the other half of the frosting on it. I never frost the sides because 1) I'm lazy and 2) I think it looks a lot prettier with bare sides. Top with accessories. Chill before serving for maximum deliciousness.

*Update: Sounds like this is called "Butter Roux Frosting" and is a traditional red velvet cake topping. Yay! Thanks guys!


mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm!!!!!!!!! Gonna have to try this! SOON!!!!!!

Thank you so much Alicia, for sharing. My hips grew just reading that!!! I know that Kate Moss said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but I really don't think that's true. I tend to think (especially when faced with lip smacking recipes) that life would be miserable if we deprived ourselves of these gorgeosities just to maintain 'skinny'.Lots of love, Amanda xxx

Yum, yum, yum! I read the cake recipe expecting to see Hershey's chocolate sauce, but I didn't. I somehow recall making the cake with the can of sauce... As for the frosting, my grandmother's recipe was called Mystery Icing and was similar to this. Either way, I've been dreaming of chocolate cupcakes for a week now. Time to fire up the oven and make a batch :)

I made that cake yesterday (I bookmarked the recipe after reading your last post)! I made mine with the chocolate frosting because I love, love, love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (and the Hershey's recipe is a good one!). I made my cake with the high altitude adjustments, in a Corningware lasagne-sized pan and it turned out perfect. Mmm mmm mmm... Next time, I will add some coffee as per your suggestion. I'm even just a little tempted to try out your Cloudburst Frosting. You make everything look so tempting.

i don't care that it is 90 degrees out--i must make this cake-- like, right when i get home. thank you for sharing you sweet girl! xoxo

Thank you, thank you!!!

Oh, I am very excited to try this. I love your apple pie recipe. I also do not like cream cheese frosting. In fact, I don't really like cream cheese that much and I hate it in my sushi. That just seems ridiculous.

It's called a butter roux frosting and is the traditional frosting for red velvet cake.

Gorgeous cake!!

I made this cake for David on his birthday last year. So So so delicious. My favorite part is the frosting. Thank you for sharing these recipes. I really need to make it again soon!

I have been making this same chocolate cake recipe ad my "go to" recipe for 12 years. I love it... But always make chocolate buttercream for it. We are serious chocolate lovers here. I'll have to try the coffee trick soon. And your icing. It sounds sooooo good.

I can hardly eat a chocolate chip, let alone a chocolate cake. But I will definitely be trying that frosting recipe. You sure do make pretty cakes!

shabbysheshe says: June 23, 2010 at 04:37 PM

Love that frosting! I have my grandmas recepie, and shes always called it 'Mock Marshmallow Frosting' Its the best!

A friend sent me this link when I was looking for a chocolate/strawberry cake recipe for my son's 4th birthday. I would like to try this, but have a couple of questions I'm hoping you can answer. First, I was wanting to use a strawberry filling between layers (also want to make a 3-layer cake). Do you see any problems with this? Is it enough to frost a 3-layer cake? Also, I was hoping to frost cake the night before and put in fridge, then top at lunch with decorative strawberries....think that would work? Thanks for your help! Even if I resort to cream cheese (which I don't mind), I'll leave the sides bare.

that is my ONLY go-to cake recipe too. once we went gluten-free i thought i'd be lost without it, but i just substitute a GF flour blend and it works perfectly!

Your cake is gorgeous!! And how fun to discover your go-to chocolate cake recipe is the same one I have (since I was 13!!!)

This looks amazing! And I must agree that the BEST combo for cake is a good chocolate with white frosting. I'm eager to try this one out!

I would love to make this. Do you think it would play nicely with a strawberry filling as well? Also, could I make/frost the cake (sans strawberry toppers) on Friday night for a lunch party the next day? Thanks for any help!

Yum-O!! Thank you for sharing!!

Thanks so much for the cake recipe, but I am even more interested in the recipe for that beautiful loaf of bread! If you're inclined to share, it looks as if you have a receptive audience...

I use nearly the same frosting recipe from Magnolia Bakery (Alyssa Torey) in
NYC. Perfect every time, I agree.

I just have to say, I have been reading your blog for a long time and you are absolutely fantastic!

it looks incredibly pretty with those strawberries on top just so. thank you for sharing the recipes. especially the family frosting!

Thanks for sharing your frosting recipe. My mother has been using the same recipe (minus the almond extract) for years when she makes red cake. It gives a unique flavor to the cake. Only problem is, she's the only one who can get it right because her recipe only includes he ingredients (no other directions). Maybe now I can finally get it right!

Would this be a good cake to frost and put in the fridge overnight? (for a lunchtime, 4yo birthday) thx so much!

My absolute favorite chocolate cake! I have the Hershey's cookbook it was originally printed in, and would not want to ever lose it; this cake is that good! It is also good with just a whipped cream frosting (a little more than the normal amount of powdered sugar added to it acts as a stabilizer.) I'm going to have to try the pastry cream filling, it sounds like a yummy option, along with that coffee trick.

Thank you so much for sharing! Can't wait to try it. For the cake - does that mean you still use 1/2 a cup of hot water AND 1/2 a cup of hot coffee (both are listed), or do you just use 1/2 a cup of hot coffee?

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.