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!


Made your cake to welcome my husband home from his work trip. My first time making a cake from scratch. Delish. And for the first time, I didn't frost the sides and liked the effect. Not brave enough to do the frosting. Maybe when I retire in 25 years ;-) I adore your blog, by the way.

I can't wait to try out this new (to me) frosting. I love the way the cake doesn't look perfectly frosted - just simple goodness.

I sent you a picture last night. You inspired me to make this cake.

Like you I HATE cream cheese frosting. It's so gross in my book. Your frosting - the Cloudburst of goodness that comes out of the mixing bowl is divine!

I followed your steps exactly. It turned out perfectly!

Thank you dear girl. Always an inspiration you are.

I had the pleasure of baking your cake for me and my man's birthday (our days are one day apart). It was the best! Thanks for sharing!!

Dang, we don't have a single birthday for WEEKS. I'm pretty sure we'll just have to make it to celebrate Wednesday. Maybe Tuesday.

I am very happy to watch it. Cake looks is delicious. I love Chocolate Cake. I will try it as soon as possible. Really awesome Recipe.

That's my go-to birthday cake, too - in fact, I made it for my own birthday twice last week! I don't use coffee, but do add a generous pinch of chilli powder.
Thanks for the frosting recipe...must try that one next time I bake this cake!

I wanted to thank you for sharing your frosting recipie with us! After having read about it and seen your pictures of it several different times I decided to give it a try on my own birthday cake. It really is a wonderful frosting and my entire family and I loved it. We are putting it into our families top recipies of all time collection with your name "Alicia Paulson's Cloudburst Frosting"

Just made your frosting- worked out great! I love the lightness and the hint of almond flavor. Think this will definitely be my new go-to!

This cake is so delicious! Thanks for posting the recipe. I made it last Wednesday and it's already all gone! My fiancee said it was "the best cake ever!" YUM!

Thank you so much for sharing these recipes--I (with the help of my mom) made this for my wedding cake this past weekend.

My husband and I wanted a black forest cake, but knew that whipped cream wouldn't stay stable for very long at our backyard reception. This, with homemade cherry preserves, turned out to be the perfect (and most delicious) cake I have ever had!

Thank you again!

Just wanted to say that the instructions are completely correct, I tried to use 2% milk and it DID NOT work. Do not try it, buy whole milk just for this frosting!

Have you tried this frosting with granulated sugar instead of confectioner's? I've made it both ways (after having made it with granulated for years... it was the frosting included with a very old red velvet cake recipe given to me) .... I think the granulated is slightly better... you have to whip it a good bit to dissolve it all, but it's so worth it. None of the faint cornstarchy flavor, just all cloud-like goodness.

Beautiful blog and pics! :)

why did my cake sink in the middle!?! (still tastes good, but VERY fragile)

This icing is the perfect level of overly-complex! I like a little challenge/effort. Especially for fattening foods...hahahahaha

Anyways, I made the cake + icing this week:
They're pretty tasty together.

Thank you so much for posting this, I think I will make this next week for my husband for our 1 month anniversary (I can't belive it's been a whole month already!)/ valentines day! It looks absolutely divine and I can't wait to try it. Love.

I just made this for my friend's 29th birthday- it was spectacular! The only thing I had trouble with was the frosting- I had to add 2 more cups of sugar to get it to be light and fluffy.

Everybody loved it, and came back for seconds!

I've made this twice now, for special occasions! Its great. The frosting is delightful, no one will mistake it for a can. You can tell its made with love. My cake pans are 8 inches and I will say it drastically changes the baking time. Mine are still loose and wiggly after 35 minutes. I might try a 13 X 9 next time, although it won't look quite as lovely. says: June 22, 2011 at 03:12 PM

Alicia, I was waiting for the perfect event to make this little number. Who knew a sugar craving on any old Wednesday was the time! I figured since I had exactly one 1/2 cup of coffee remaining in the pot, it was a sure sign. Your recipe is absolutely delicious. I admit for a moment I was scared of the icing work but I am a big fan!

I made your cake last weekend and I shall never ever make another kind of cake again. It was perfect! Great recipe!
However I wasn't so successful with the icing. Instead of fluffy it was runny and I made sure I did exactly as you said and let everything cool at room temperature. There are some rather embarrassing pictures on my blog and I was just wondering if you might know what I did wrong.

Thanks :o)

I made this cake for my daughter's 3rd birthday and LOVED it. I've had the recipe saved for a while from your blog and finally made it. I especially liked the cake part. My frosting tasted a tad bit too almondy but other than that I just loved it, thank you!! I've shared the recipe with others and hope they make it too.

9" rounds! Yay! Thanks for the link to this. What a gem. Can't wait to make it. I've made a similar frosting that everyone swoons over and never knew what it was called. I use regular granulated sugar and vanilla extract. I'll try this version next!

I'm on my way out to the grocery store NOW! I will make a cake and put a candle on it and make a wish for you! Thank you soooo much for sharing.

Finally got a chance to make ths for my sister's birthday. That icing is the same frosting Ive been looking for for about five years. My mom use to make these chocolate cake squares for my high school bake sales that had some thing just like it in the middle of the slices. It was a really stable icing you could glaze with a softer chocolate icing. I remember needing to whip the icing for what felt like an eternity, at 12 years old, until it came back together and got fluffy. We lost the recipe but now I've found something to stand in. Thank You!

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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.