buttermilk layer cake with chocolate frosting

Classic birthday cake

I’d love to have a yellow layer cake recipe in my list of go-to recipes — those recipes that I know work, taste great, and don’t demand great feats (or fancy ingredients) to make. I’ve made a couple of attempts at this classic (once as a small layer cake and cupcakes, and as mini vanilla cupcakes). And those were made with freshly milled soft white wheat flour.

For my husband’s birthday, I splurged on cake flour that I had leftover in the pantry rather than whole wheat. So I was able to follow a recipe for buttermilk cake as written. Well, almost. Instead of buttermilk, I used whey from my latest batch of yogurt. It was so hard to pick from the zillions of yellow cake recipes (so many declared “the best”!), but the recipe I settled on was the right blend of flour type, liquid ingredients, and eggs. It also appeared to have the crumb I was after: tender, and looser crumb rather than dense and spongy.

I investigated lots of different frostings for this yellow cake. I don’t love typical American buttercream because I can never get the powdered sugar completely smooth — it’s always a little gritty, and it’s a very sweet buttercream. French buttercream is super smooth, but I didn’t want something so buttery this time. I’m intrigued by Ermine icing (also called boiled milk frosting or flour buttercream). I’d love to try it at some point, but I got the sense it’s better paired with a more flavorful cake like chocolate or red velvet.

Since I’m going for classic birthday cake here, I finally settled on an American style buttercream, flavored with chocolate.

buttermilk layer cake with chocolate frosting


Buttermilk Layer Cake from nytimes.com (adapted from The Joy of Cooking), and Chocolate Frosting from urbanbakes.com (adapted from Betty Crocker Big Book of Cakes)

Process notes


  • lined the bottom of the pans with parchment after greasing, then greased the tops of the parchment rounds
  • used whey leftover from homemade Greek style yogurt instead of buttermilk
  • mixed in stand mixer using scraper blade
  • baked in middle of oven, side by side, for 30 total minutes, rotated pans after 20 minutes


  • converted measurement of 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to 563 gm
  • mixed in about 2 tbsp of additional milk after adding powdered sugar
  • mixed for a total of about 5 minutes
  • added a pinch of sea salt at end of mixing


Using parchment rounds was a good move. I didn’t have any sticking like with my last cake. I forgot to use my cake strips, but didn’t run into any problems with the tops — they were even enough that they didn’t require trimming.

My frosting was much denser than the frosting in the original recipe post, even though I added extra milk. I just didn’t want to keep adding so much that it became too runny, so I backed off adding more.

I’m torn on the chocolate frosting…the texture is gritty, which I don’t like. And it’s too sweet for me. The chocolate flavor is fantastic though! I’m looking forward to trying an Ermine frosting in the future to compare.

The cake is extremely light and airy, and is practically impossible to taste under the frosting. I’m not sure if it was the whey I used in place of buttermilk, or I mixed it wrong, or what, but it was just way too light and delicate in texture. It’s like eating fudge with some cake crumbs underneath. The pancakes with my whey/runny yogurt combo worked better as far as using yogurt whey goes. On the bright side, the flavor of the cake reminded me of the Easy Bake Oven cake from my childhood — which is a good thing, not a criticism :)

So here’s what I learned: this cake recipe, adapted the way I did, was not a good fit for me. Also, a 9-inch layer cake is MUCH too much cake for two people. It made 12 pieces, and 7 went into the freezer (individually wrapped for the occasional treat).

That being said, cake is always delightful to have around, and it’s never bad in my book. But when it gets made only occasionally, I like to strive for making it the best fit it can be for me.