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!


My daughter will celebrate her birthday next week. Thanks for sharing this. Now I know what cake to bake:)


Do I spy some Cath Kidston plates that may have been purchased the same time as the ironing board cover?!! ;)

That is so, so pretty with the strawberry decoration! And how could I NOT want to try an icing with such a whimsical name as "Cloudburst".

Yes!! Flour in the frosting makes it the best ever. It's a roux based frosting that is delicious without being cloyingly sweet. Thanks so much Alicia. I'm going to make this cake for the two super-seniors in my life. My MIL turns 89 next week and my mother turns 82 a few weeks after that.

This I have to try. We don't have any birthdays until September now so guess I'll have to ask someone to dinner and have it for dessert.

Almond in the frosting (instead of vanilla) sounds so good! And I love how you've romantically renamed it :)

What a pretty cake!! Im going to have to try this frosting...BTW, I live near Hershey, PA, and its having a little bit of a slump, business-wise, so print all the Hershey recipes you want!

karenalwin says: June 24, 2010 at 06:04 AM

Thank you for this recipe - i will definitely be making it this weekend. x

Yum yum yum! I was going to ask for my usual Boston Cream Pie for my birthday next month, but I might have to change my mind. This looks delicious (and so pretty!).

Cream cheese frosting haters unite! You would not believe the weird looks I get when I tell people I don't like that stuff. Actually, as a fellow hater, maybe you would...

I'm making this tomorrow for my son's 11'th birthday, I may leave the strawberry off the top and go with a Monster truck but I'll keep the integrity of the cake intact..he's going to love it!

Alexandra says: June 24, 2010 at 09:51 AM

That is my chocolate cake, except you threw coffee in there! Genius! The frosting and perfect specimen of strawberry, divine!

Oh that looks so yummy! Can't wait to try it. Feels like I've seen a flour-and-milk recipe before for frosting, can't think where tho, so thanks for the recipe!

That looks yummm..I have try this recipe..Thanks for sharing!!

Thank you for this. I have a friend with a summer birthday, and chocolate cake with white frosting is her favorite combination too. I like to try something new each year, so thank you for your help with this year's surprise.

YUM!! I am going to try this one out for sure. The shortcakes also look great that you posted. I love tried and true recipes with the extra tips, like eating the cake cold.

Ina's tips are great, too. Coffee really does enhance chocolate.

The day at the riverside looks like it was magical.

:) Becky

That's the same type frosting my mom always made and it IS SO good! Delicious - makes me want cake right this minute - especially the way you decorated yours - simply and beautifully!

I made this cake after reading your post about it last year (I believe), and it was awesome! Cloudburst and all, really delicious!

This Hershey's recipe is my for-every-occasion cake. Just made it today for a baby shower.

(BTW, this baby shower I'm throwing is a children's literature themed shower and has been SO MUCH FUN to plan. There are endless great ideas, from the food - Green Egg Salad and Ham Sandwiches, Blueberry Pie for Sal, Cloudy with a Chance of Sweet and Sour Meatballs - to the games - Who Wrote Which Children's Book? Sorry to barge this in on the Great Cake Discussion, but I'm so excited about this shower I had to share...)

Back to your regularly scheduled blog comments.

This is our go-to birthday cake as well, but we use whipped cream frosting with just a bit of cocoa whipped in.


I'll have to try the Cloudburst. What a great name!

Thanks for sharing,Alicia. I've been trying to bake a 7-Up cake, but my oven is not cooperating. It keeps buring the top of the cake. Any suggestions?

paisleyapron says: June 24, 2010 at 06:00 PM

Two birthdays this week...mine and my son's. So now we have our birthday cake recipe! Thanks!

My family has made this frosting since I was in junior high, about 1968 or so, and we always called it Whipped Cream frosting. We never put in almond flavoring though, I'll try that next time. I also have a recipe that adds chocolate for "chocolate whipped cream frosting". I agree, after using this, any other frosting is just too sweet! Love the chocolate cake too, its been a long time since I've used that recipe!

Amber Mitchell says: June 24, 2010 at 07:55 PM

Often I have made Ina's chocolate cake with the coffee and it is terrific - I will try your's for my son's birthday, bet it will be stellar - I have to ask though...who makes the darling floral plates peeking from the side of your picture? (yes I notice everything...)

Hi dear girl, can't wait to make this! Your riverside picnic looks so blissful,

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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.