The Best Cakes To Bake For A Birthday

Everyone deserves a special cake for their birthday, but no two people, or celebrations, are alike. To match the perfect birthday cake to the perfect person, you have to think about factors like age, flavor preferences, party plans, and audience. As such, a grandma celebrating her 90th birthday with family may want something a little bit more regal than a five-year-old cutting loose with a slew of barely-out-of-Pull-Ups friends. And of course, it's important to have options for people with allergies to ingredients like gluten, eggs, or nuts. 

What may, initially, not seem like a tricky undertaking can turn complicated quickly when all is said and done. That said, there is a best cake for every birthday — it's the one that will make people smile and have them asking for a second round. Here are a number of perfect cake recipe options that can be personalized and decorated to meet every birthday need.

Classic birthday cake recipe

When it comes to low-key birthday celebrations, or situations where you need a cake, but it's going to take a backseat to other desserts and treats, you can't go wrong with a basic white birthday cake. This recipe whips up a quarter-sheet cake that will fit in a standard 9-inch by 13-inch cake pan and takes less than an hour to prep and bake. You'll also be able to whip up vanilla ice cream to color and frost your cake ... although, if you don't have experience with cake decorating, you might want to stick with topping the cake with sprinkles or flowers to give it that personal touch. 

Funfetti cake

When you're baking a cake for a kid's birthday party, it's impossible to go wrong with a funfetti cake filled with colorful sprinkles to give the batter that festive flair. This funfetti cake recipe makes two, 8-inch round birthday cakes along with enough icing to layer on the tops and sides, allowing you to stack the cakes for a beautiful, layered treat. You don't even need to be skilled with a pastry bag. Given the sprinkles on the inside of the cake, what better way to decorate than with sprinkles layered on top, too? 

Almond cake

For someone who balks at the idea of heavy frostings or traditional vanilla or chocolate cakes for his or her birthday, consider trying this almond cake recipe, instead. The two, 8-inch cake rounds can be layered for a beautiful, celebratory dessert. And in place of traditional frosting, whipped cream (along with shaved almonds and fresh fruit) make the perfect frosting and toppings. It's a good option for small, family celebrations, as a single cake takes less than 50 minutes to make and provides eight generous servings. 

Pink champagne cake

When you're looking for a way to mark a girl's or woman's landmark birthday (think quinceaneras, sweet 16s, 21st birthdays, or entering a new decade), look no further than this classic pink champagne cake recipe. The recipe and the frosting call for real champagne (or sparkling wine), but the amounts are limited and the champagne in the cake will bake right out, so you're left with very little alcohol content in the final dessert. And, you can always replace the champagne with strawberry soda if you're hesitant to make such a cake for someone under the legal drinking age. With the flavor combination of pink champagne, Bavarian-style cream, and buttercream frosting, plus the pretty pink hint of color on the inside of the traditional white cake batter, you're left with a light and gorgeous pastry that's perfect for any party. 

Layered rainbow cake

Rainbow cakes, featuring layer upon layer of colorful cakes with generous slathers of buttercream frosting between layers, look like something only an experienced baker could pull off. But as long as you have 8-inch round cake pans and access to multiple colors of food coloring, you can easily make this birthday cake for your family or friends. 

The trick is to simply measure out your cake batter into separate bowls, color each bowl of batter with a different shade of dye, then bake each cake layer in its own pan (or give yourself more time for the baking if you only have a few pans). And because the layers are thinner, they take less time to bake than a standard cake. Once all the layers are baked and cooled, you simply stack them on top of each other (using the frosting as a delicious "glue") and top with sprinkles and candy to your heart's content. In almost no time at all, you'll have the type of cake that will wow and impress party-goers of all ages.

Classic vanilla cake

Not all white cakes are vanilla cakes — often they're flavored with nothing more than standard sugar — but adding vanilla extract to your cake batter can take your birthday cake from ho-hum to extra special. If you have a vanilla-loving friend or family member, celebrate his or her birthday with this simple vanilla cake recipe. By using vanilla extract and buttermilk in the batter, along with a rich, buttery vanilla frosting, you'll end up with the type of moist birthday cake that stands apart from the crowd — which is exactly how you'll make your birthday guest feel (i.e., special) when you bake him or her this recipe.

Chocolate cake with a twist

Not everyone's a fan of vanilla or white cake, so it's important to have a few birthday-appropriate chocolate cake recipes up your sleeve. And for anyone who loves chocolate combined with coffee, hazelnuts, and raspberries (c'mon, who wouldn't love that flavor combination?), this chocolate cake recipe inspired by chef Ina Garten, is the perfect celebratory option. 

The thing is, it's really pretty easy to make. Aside from baking the cakes, the "secret" ingredients include seedless raspberry jelly that you simply slather on your cakes between layers, and the addition of pre-made Nutella in your buttercream frosting. What could be more delicious? Top the finished result with fresh raspberries and chopped hazelnuts to really pump up the volume on your chocolately birthday cake.

A vegan-friendly chocolate cake

Admittedly, baking a cake for a vegan can seem overwhelming if you don't subscribe to the lifestyle yourself — is it even possible to make a great-tasting cake without butter, eggs, or milk? Luckily, there are lots of delicious milk-alternatives that are easily substituted for the milk (this recipe calls for coconut or almond milk), and vegan butter swaps smoothly for standard butter. But for the eggs? Mashed bananas do the trick, although you can use applesauce if you don't have bananas on hand. The result is a moist, chocolatey, animal product-free cake that will put a smile on your favorite vegan's face. And that's all you really want for his or her birthday, right? 

Take a note out of Costco's book for the perfect sheet cake

When you're celebrating a birthday on a bigger scale, and you need plenty of cake to pass around, Costco's giant sheet cakes are hard to pass up. But it's surprisingly easy to make a copycat version at home — this recipe makes the equivalent of a quarter-sheet size cake (about 25 servings), with enough cake to fill two 9-inch by 13-inch pans so you can layer your cakes with the Costco-style mousse in between. Then, top the whole thing with a simple buttercream frosting and decorate to your heart's content with sprinkles, fresh fruit, or flowers to create the perfect birthday cake. 

Cookie cake

Who says a birthday cake has to be made of actual cake? Not everyone loves the taste of cake (we know, that's hard to believe), and if someone in your life tends to turn up their nose at the standard birthday confection, maybe you can satisfy their sweet tooth with a cookie cake, instead. This cookie cake recipe delivers a thick, bakery-style chocolate chip cookie that provides the nice, sturdy crust with a soft and smooth interior cookie. And once your cookie is baked (you only need about 25 minutes), you can use frosting to jazz it up and give it that birthday-style flare.

Black forest cake

The delicious flavor combination of chocolate and cherries comes together in this black forest cake recipe that's perfect for people who don't love frosting. That's because instead of a thick layer of frosting piled on top, this cake calls for nothing more than a light spread of whipped cream to top of the decadent dessert. Plus, the three-layered cake makes for a beautiful birthday option for those who want a slightly more "refined" party that focuses more on wine and charcuterie boards than brightly-colored candy and pinatas. 

Cake pops

For birthday celebrations at schools or offices, why not consider ditching the traditional cake that has to be sliced and served, and opt for individual cake pops, instead? This cuts down on some of the mess (and the fight for those corner pieces) while still ensuring that everyone gets to have an equal share in the birthday celebration. This recipe turns a colorful funfetti cake into cake pop form, making 15 pops in about an hour. And, you can always double, triple, or quadruple the recipe if you're serving a crowd. Just keep in mind, if you've never made cake pops, it might be worthwhile doing a trial run before your party — if you find it's tricky to make your pops without a mold, you'll have time to buy a mold and try, try again. (Not to mention, you'll get to eat more cake — it's hard to complain about that!) 

Red velvet cake

The rich, red color of a red velvet cake is practically its own decoration, so if you're a newbie to cake-making, this recipe is one worth whipping up for a friend or loved one's birthday party. What makes the red velvet cake distinct is its use of cocoa powder, vanilla, vinegar, and buttermilk in the batter, which together deliver a tangy and sweet cake with a hint of chocolate flavoring. And the cream cheese frosting (not typically a birthday cake go-to, but great for people who prefer acidic flavors to sweet ones), helps give the cake a decadent and rich sensation. 

Simply frost the top of each layer (this recipe makes three), and stack them, allowing the beautiful red cake to shine through. And if you're inclined to add more decorations, stick to fresh fruits or crumbled nuts rather than candies, chocolates, or sprinkles. This will keep the distinct, tangy flavor of the cake from being overpowered by added sweetness. 

Chocolate cupcakes

Cupcakes are another great birthday cake alternative when you're cooking for a crowd and want to make sure everyone can have their own, personal serving. Not to mention, whipping up cupcakes gives you the flexibility to make different types of cakes as the base, or to make a pan of vegan-friendly or allergy-free options if your party-goers have varying dietary needs. Just keep in mind, if you're considering serving cupcakes at your next birthday party, you need at least one full pan of this delicious chocolate cupcake recipe. It's a true chocolate-lovers dream, with chocolate cake topped with chocolate frosting. From there, you can decorate as you please, topping the cupcakes with sprinkles, nuts, cookie crumbles, or mini chocolate chips — you know, whatever the guest of honor prefers most. 

Carrot cake

Carrot cake isn't everyone's favorite cake, but the people who love it, love it, which makes it a must-have recipe to keep on hand in case the guest of honor at the birthday party wants nothing more than this veggie-laden dessert. Just don't assume that carrot cake means it's healthy. Sure, it may have a few extra vitamins and minerals thanks to those added veggies, but it's still cake, filled with delicious sugars, oils, and spices ... not to mention the decadent cream cheese frosting. But that's the beauty of birthday parties, right? They're a time to celebrate life and indulge in your favorite treats, not stress out over calories, sugars, or fats. 

Berry margarita cupcakes

When it comes to adult-focused birthday parties, there's no reason to shy away from alcohol-inspired desserts. And for the sweet and tangy margarita lovers in your life, these berry margarita cupcakes (featuring a splash of tequila in the frosting) are the perfect on-the-go cakes to pack up and take with you to enjoy poolside or in a party bus with all your friends. Just don't forget to serve them alongside a few actual margaritas. Is there a better way to celebrate another year of life?