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What are the Different Types of Birthday Cake?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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The birthday cake is an old tradition, dating back at least to Roman times, when the Romans would serve sweet flatbreads at parties like birthdays. Modern cakes themselves didn’t really arrive on the scene until the 15th century, when confections of all sorts began to sweep across the elite classes of Europe. It wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution, however, that such treats became at all affordable for the middle and working classes, and so the modern birthday cake didn’t really appear until the 19th century.

Any sort of cake can be a birthday cake, as it is really the event itself that differentiates the cake, not what is in it. There are, however, some types of cake that are more commonly found than others. Usually, a cake for a birthday is made with white flour and butter, and is quite sweet. Generally, it will have two layers, with a center layer of either frosting or fruit, and a thick, sweet buttercream frosting on top.

One of the most popular flavors of birthday cake is the chocolate cake, which can also come in many different varieties. This can be a simple flour chocolate cake, with a chocolate buttercream frosting, or it can get more complex. German chocolate cake, for example, is a very popular cake. It is a layered chocolate cake, which has a frosting and filling of coconut and pecan, mixed with caramel. Chocolate birthday cake is quite rich, and so feels like a real treat for most people.

Chiffon cake is another type of birthday cake seen quite a bit. It is a very light cake, made with vegetable oil instead of butter. Because the cake uses no butter, it also uses a great deal of egg whites, to help enough air make its way into the cake to make it light and fluffy. Chiffon cake is incredibly moist because of all the oil and egg in it, and unlike more traditional butter cakes, chiffon cake doesn’t tend to dry out and become crusted as quickly. Usually chiffon cake is served with a rich frosting, and often with fruit topping or a fruit filling, to add some flavor to make up for the lack of butter.

A healthier alternative to more traditional flour and butter cakes is to use carrot cake as a birthday cake. Carrot cake is made with carrots grated into butter or margarine, and it tends to be much denser than lighter butter or chiffon cakes. Carrots naturally sweeten the cake, so that a relatively small amount of white sugar need be added to the recipe. The carrot cake is then frosted with a cream cheese icing, and sometimes garnished with chopped nuts.

Ultimately, any type of cake can serve as a birthday cake, and especially for adults celebrating their birthdays the sky is the limit. Cheesecake is often seen as a richer alternative to traditional cakes, and exotic cakes like the croquembouche or mooncake may also be seen. For children, fun variations like the ice-cream cake or cupcakes are also quite popular.

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Discussion Comments

By baileybear — On Oct 25, 2010

@ellaesans: Hi! Fondant, marzipan, and all that good stuff is definitely a medium that requires a little experience. It's fun to play around with and sometimes make (Marshmallow Fondant is so messy, but so fun to make). It makes cakes look finished and polished, but you're right that most kids won't care as long as the cake resembles a little bit of something they love (Spiderman, Hello Kitty, whatever). Just keep practicing everyone and you will find what works for you!

By ellaesans — On Oct 25, 2010

@WalrusTusk - I used fondant for the first time with one of my kids birthday cakes a couple years ago. I have also only experimented with it once since then and her birthday is coming up in a week or so, so I am going to take a shot at it again. I am a self proclaimed artist and actually have a background in Interior Design and Sketching, but have found myself gravitating towards the art of baking. I think artists have a wide range of abilities that can translate pretty much to any medium. Birthday cake is a great way to not just experiment, but you will also have an audience to show it off to.

By abiane — On Oct 25, 2010

@Sunny27 I actually make Rum Cake only for the holidays. Since I make it with a Rum glaze I'm sure you could understand why it wouldn't be appropriate for younger audiences. It's a really good cake. I have also made an ice cream cake as well for Christmas one year. It was Red Velvet and I turned the ice cream in the middle (vanilla) green with some food coloring. It was pretty simple and you can find recipes all over the internet on different types of ways to make ice cream cakes.

By WalrusTusk — On Oct 25, 2010

@Pimiento - I am on the same page with you as well. I love texture in my meals and almost always have to have a "crunch" if you know what I mean. Birthday cake decorating is great, too, but just make sure whatever the undertaking that you allow yourself plenty of time. I once did a cake with fondant and it was only the second time I had worked with the medium. Needless to say I was up all night!

By Pimiento — On Oct 25, 2010

@Sunny27 - I know how you feel! I feel like texture is an important part of not just sweets, but also meals in general. I love all of the cake shows nowadays and there are a lot of great birthday cake designs.

I have been stuck on cupcaking myself lately and was going to do the same for my daughter's 5th birthday, but I think that I'm going to do a more traditional cake. I love, love, love the fact that you can just do a simple search and find recipes, photos, and inspiration pretty much anywhere.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 12, 2010

Great article- I just want to say that I love birthday cake. My favorite birthday cakes are the rum filled cakes and the ice cream cakes. The rum-filled cakes have such a rich taste that you only need a small piece to truly enjoy it.

The ice cream cake that has a layer of chocolate crunch is wonderful. The mixes of textures in the ice cream cake really enhance its flavor.

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