Happy Birthday, Princess! (Chocolate Cake and Buttercream Icing)

My little peanut is 5.  I can’t quite believe it.

Last night we had our little family birthday celebration; my parents came in for the week, so it was extra-festive.  My mom and my daughter made the cake; my son and I made the icing. Nothing from a boxed mix.  Who needs one?

This post is not about any earth-shaking greenery…I just wanted to reflect on how amazingly easy it is to do cake and icing without mixes or “convenience” foods.  It’s SO not difficult.  And you can absolutely control what you put in.  Healthy? Not necessarily; there’s not a whole lot you can do with chocolate cake to render it healthy, although I bet I could have snuck a little whole wheat flour in there to boost the nutritional value of the cake.  And I wonder if the applesauce-for-oil substitution might have worked here.  But y’all know how much I kvetch about how busy I am and how little time I have for anything–if I could pull this off, anyone can.

From a health standpoint, buttercream icing is fairly irredeemable–though I’d rather eat homemade buttercream icing made with organic butter than that sort of oogy hydrogenated whatever stuff you get in the plastic cans in the grocery store.  What I can’t get over is how easy it is to make–the only real catch is that you have to a) wash the beaters after making the cake, and b) remember to take the butter out of the fridge a couple of hours ahead of time. I was intimidated by it for ages, until I tried it, and it’s really simple.

Buttercream Icing: You beat 2 sticks of softened butter, start adding 3 cups of powdered sugar a little at a time till it’s all in there, then drizzle in a couple teaspoons of vanilla and a splash of milk and beat the hell out of it for about 3 minutes.  That’s it.  (Okay, if you have a 5 year old princess overseeing the action, you also break down and drip maybe 8 drops of red food coloring into it so it’s a lovely shade of pre-Pepto pink.)

For the cake itself–we used this recipe from busycooks.com.  One bowl, oil rather than butter (and only half a cup at that), and boiling water poured in at the end right before it goes into the cake pans.  So very easy, and again, you get to control what’s really in there.   This was a really yummy, moist, lovely cake; I highly recommend it.



  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup boiling water


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and dust with cocoa two 9″ layer cake pans. Set aside.
  • In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir with wire whisk until blended. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla and beat well with wire whisk or mixer until combined, about 2 minutes. While beating, heat water in microwave oven to boiling. Stir boiling water into cake batter.
  • Pour the thin batter into the two prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan, top springs back when lightly touched, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

I still can’t believe she’s 5.  Where’s the time gone?


Posted on May 5, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A year or so ago someone wanted a carrot cake and, in a rush, I bought a carrot cake mix and a can of cream cheese frosting for it. That it was quick was about all you could say for it. After the fact (unfortunately) I happened to read the labels. the carrot cake mix contained NO carrots, just a list of stuff that make it look like it had carrots. the cream cheese frosting had NO cream cheese, just a list of stuff that made it supposedly taste like it did (it didnt) Just thought I would pass that on.

  2. I make two real cakes a year for Pickle and Pepper’s birthdays. I started when one of Pickle’s friends was allergic to milk so I found a milk free recipe and she didn’t have to bring her own “special” cupcake to the party. For the record, it only takes a few minutes longer than a mix.

    I have a buttercream frosting recipe to die for from the Baltimore Sun with absolutley no nutrious value whatsoever, but mmmmmm- worth every empty calorie I put in my mouth.

    For the record, I can’t believe she’s five either- or that Pepper will be joining her in 5-land in October.

  3. This is twice as much butter with 2/3 as much sugar as the recipe I was given. I’ll be it’s good! MMMMMMMMM.

    • Well, more sugar and less butter will give you something much more, crunchy and decor-able. Unfortunately, it won’t taste as good, because the powdered sugar cornstarchiness overpowers a bit. Oh, and something I haven’t gone in and added to the recipe yet–while vanilla is good in this icing, vanilla plus a little lemon extract is heavenly. You can use enough so that it actually tastes like Lemon Frosting, or you can just put in a few drops and it just gives it this lovely fresh zing…I discovered that for the decorate-our-own-cupcakes party.

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