THE Best Birthday Cake Recipe is Quick, Easy

When I need to bake a birthday cake, this is my go-to recipe. I’ve baked it dozens of times and I can’t ever remember it not being a hit.

Keep reading for:

10 Reasons I Love This Birthday Cake

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

At the risk of sounding like I’m obsessed with this cake, there are lots of reasons why I love this recipe:

  • Delicious - tasty flavor, lovely texture and moist

  • Easy! - Part of the reason this cake is so darn simple to make is because it starts with a boxed cake mix. In less than 90 minutes (a bit more time if you choose to frost it), you can mix up and bake this cake.

  • Appeals to a wide range of people/tastes - I’ve made this cake for teenagers to senior citizens and it’s a universal favorite. Even picky eaters like my son (love you sweetie!) enjoy it.
  • Familiar Flavor-the namesake ingredient in this cake is a familiar flavor to most people

  •  Elevated Ingredient- the namesake ingredient 

  • Versatile – This cake may be baked in round pans, a Bundt pan or cupcakes. It can be slathered with frosting, adorned with a glaze or even be happy with a humble dusting of powdered sugar.

  • Unexpected –A departure from the typical vanilla or chocolate cakes, its namesake ingredient makes it a special treat. What better way to celebrate a birthday?!

  • Stores well - In the unlikely event you have leftovers, this is the rare cake that tastes yummy the next day and the next.
  • Consistent – This recipe is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. It comes out each and every time, which I can’t say about many other recipes.

  • Home-baked Goodness - I used to stress over whether this “counted” as baking from scratch, but then I realized I couldn’t replicate the yumminess of this cake any other way! Plus, since you mix it up and bake it, it is indeed home-baked!

  • Mails well -- I've sent this cake cross-country many times and it's always arrived happy! 


Now that I reconsider it, I think I might actually be obsessed with this cake!  😀

My Favorite Birthday Cake Ever

My all-time favorite birthday cake to bake is...


[Drumroll please....]


Kahlua Cake!   (Click here to jump directly to the recipe.)


[The crowd goes wild!]

Let’s start with how wonderfully delicious it tastes.


Your guests might think it’s a chocolate cake when they first see it. A pleasant and popular flavor to be sure, but...


As soon as their first bite, they’ll realize it’s a much more interesting flavor—kind of a chocolatey coffee-ish. The unexpected flavor comes from the addition of Kahlua, a coffee-flavored liqueur (you might’ve had it in a White Russian or perhaps in a fancy coffee drink).


Once the person identifies the flavor, they will inevitably say something about how soft and moist the cake is. It turns out the lovely texture is enhanced by the box of pudding mix, as well as some vodka.  Yes, vodka!


Adding spirits was a common way to help baked goods last longer before the days of preservatives and refrigeration. Vodka in particular worked well because of its clear color and lack of a distinctive taste.


Baking and Decorating a Kahlua Cake from Scratch

This recipe bakes up equally well whether you use a Bundt pan, 2 9”-round cake pans or go for cupcakes. 

Not sure which one to choose?

Think about where and when you will serve the birthday cake. For a seated dinner party, I’d go with the round pans and serve it on a cake stand. For a casual birthday brunch, a dusting of powdered sugar may be enough.

You can choose to enhance/decorate the cake based on your preferences. Here are some delicious options to consider: 

  • Add chocolate chips to the batter before baking
  • Pour a glaze over the cake
  • Brush the cake layers with a Kahlua simple syrup
  • Frost with a buttercream frosting
  • Cover in chopped chocolate truffles
  • Drizzle chocolate ganache
  • Dust powdered sugar

Feel free to mix and match! One of my all-time favorite ways to serve this is to make a Kahlua Buttercream frosting and then drizzle streaks of chocolate ganache on top or sprinkle chopped chocolate truffles. 


Recipe for Kahlua Birthday Cake with Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients for Kahlua Birthday Cake

  • 1 box of Yellow Cake Mix
  • 1 3-ounce box of instant chocolate pudding 
  • 1/4 cup of Kahlua
  • 1/4 cup of vodka
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs (at room temp)


Instructions for Kahlua Birthday Cake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease/flour pans.

2. Mix together all ingredients and beat until smooth (~4 minutes)

3. Pour into your desired pan or cupcake tins and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

4. Let cool and then invert cake pan onto a plate, serving tray or cake stand.


Ingredients for Kahlua Buttercream Frosting 

4 cups (1 pound) of powdered sugar

1 cup  (2 sticks) softened butter 

2-3 teaspoons Kahlua


Instructions for Kahlua Buttercream Frosting 

1. Add softened butter to mixer and beat until fluffy.

2. Add in first two teaspoons of Kahlua and mix. 

3. Slowly add in powdered sugar, cup by cup, until blended.  Scrape side of bowl and then turn mixer to medium-high until the frosting is smooth.

4. If the frosting is too thick, you can thin it by adding another spoon of Kahlua or some milk.

5. Frost as desired. 


Tips to Make a Delicious Kahlua Birthday Cake

Can I use a chocolate cake mix instead of vanilla?

You can, but the Kahlua flavor will be much more muted. I prefer to use a yellow or vanilla cake mix to let the coffee flavor shine through.


Why can’t I get my cake out of the Bundt pan?

One of the most common reasons a cake sticks to the pan is because it wasn’t greased enough.  To help the cake easily releases from the pan, spray with a non-stick cooking spray (such as Pam) or melt some butter and generously brush it on the pan.


Will the alcohol in the cake bake off in the oven?

Experts say that most of the alcohol will evaporate during baking; however, a residual amount will remain. If you have any concern about baking this cake for kids or teetotalers, I recommend skipping this recipe.

My buttercream frosting is a pale tan color, kind of like coffee with cream. How can I make this cake look more birthday-ish?

I agree that a tan color frosting doesn’t scream “Yay!” I solved this “problem” by adding dark chocolate ganache or putting chocolates on top.