Food

What Birthday Cake Do You Like?

Joanna Goddard and Jean

My strong belief is that a birthday celebration should stretch as long as you can get away with — a couple nights of homemade cake, a romantic dinner out, possibly a candle during work lunch, mayyybe even a party. So, even though my birthday isn’t until next week, we had a mini celebration when my mom was in town on Monday…

Anton

Anton helped her make a pumpkin pie, the “cake” I had for every birthday of my childhood. What is it that is so comforting and homey about having the same food you had growing up?

Toby's appetizer

And Toby made a mango shrimp appetizer with a “drop of lime.” Delish!

vegan chocolate cake

Here are a few more gorgeous cakes, including this double chocolate number.

Smitten Kitchen Oat Bottom Pie

A black bottom oatmeal pie.

Joy the Baker salted caramel heesecake

Salted caramel cheesecake.

Smitten Kitchen peanut butter bars

Peanut butter bars.

Wednesday Chef banana cake

Banana cake.

Bon Appetit's rhubarb cake

Rhubarb cake.

bon appetit sheet pan cake

And, of course, the classic!

What birthday cake do you go for? Any recommendations? Alex always requests a cheesecake, Anton goes for strawberries in various forms, and Toby loves a pile of donuts. And once we just had stinky cheese.

P.S. Two birthday revelations, and a first-day-of-school cake.

  1. Martha Patterson says...

    My eldest just turned 22. He was very insistent…he wanted a vanilla homemade (aka cake mix) cake! Pretty easy to please….and was the first cake I’d made in years!

  2. Amy says...

    Joy the Baker’s salted caramel cheesecake — I can recognize that anywhere!!! I can vouch for that one, I’ve made it many years for Friend Thanksgiving dessert!!!!!

  3. Jennifer says...

    My brothers and I never really cared for cake, so at some point our mom began making cookie cakes for our birthdays. To this day cookie cake is a feature of every celebration (birthdays and otherwise) in our family. :)

  4. Carrington says...

    My son and I have birthdays just 5 days apart so I get Cheryl from the amazing Back in the Day bakery to bake us a cake every year. I always do classic vanilla funfetti because it’s classic celebration!

  5. Eilis says...

    Cherry pie.

    My brother & I are the only people in my family who don’t like cake. Once we moved out, we began requesting our own bday dinner. Of course, my dad still gets a cake on our burthdays (for himself) because he can’t fathom a birthday without cake!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      for himself!:) that is so cute.

  6. Lauren E. says...

    I just threw my parents a surprise 40th anniversary party and made my go-to chocolate cake! You dump all the ingredients into a bowl, stir, and bake. And it’s by far the most delicious cake I’ve ever had. Everyone at the party raved! So glad we didn’t decide to buy a bakery cake.

    (For those interested, it’s here: https://laurenfoode.com/2012/06/26/the-late-night-chocolate-cake/)

  7. Jen Collins says...

    My partner’s birthday is next week and I always make him a New York Cheesecake with sour cherries on top. I hate cheesecake so I don’t eat any, but we have a Superbowl party every year and so that doubles as a birthday party, and all of our guests can enjoy it.

  8. Jessica says...

    My mom loves sweets and so when she bakes a cake it’s always presented with one piece missing. Even birthday cakes! She’ll just add candles and ignore the obvious until someone laughs and then the room erupts in giggles. I turn forty this year and I cannot wait for my taste-tested cake.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha that is so charming :)

  9. Ana says...

    We always travel for my birthday (9th of December) and so I’ve had the craziest birthday cakes you can think of. I’ve had a banana with a candle; several Starbucks muffins with a candle; stolen cupcakes from the breakfast buffet with a candle; a yogurt with a candle; gelato with a candle; a chef’s-bespoke-chocolate-cake (with many candles); a mince pie with a candle; the Czech delicacy made of sugar and cinnamon, in which it was impossible to stick a candle; and once, when the whole family was hiking in the mountains, they just lit a lighter at the highest point and sang happy birthday to me.
    I love that my husband ALWAYS remembers to pack some candles in his bag; and the wonderful surprises I get with the complete lack of expectations. I love that my children believe that anything can be made into a birthday cake. And I adore my birthday “party” every single year.

  10. SK says...

    When I was younger, the watermelon ice cream cake from Friendly’s was my go-to…perfect for an August birthday! As an adult, I used to request the chocolate ganache torte cake from Trader Joes but sadly it got discontinued! It was so cheap bit so decadent. Now I’ve been requesting a peach pie…yum.

  11. S says...

    oh also, homemade pound cake. Lemon bars. and the mud pie with oreos and gummy worms in it.

  12. S says...

    you have such a good looking family. happy birthday!! celebrate all year.

  13. Sara says...

    Love all these cake ideas! Birthday pie is a great idea. Last weekend I made Smitten Kitchen’s Fudgy Chocolate Sheet Cake for my father-in-law’s birthday. I was seriously considering making a pie instead, but we’re a big crowd so I thought the cake would stretch further. Plus, I don’t have many opportunities to take on such an elaborate baking project, but I do make pies a few times a year for other events/holidays. I used to be an avid baker, but my husband and I have seriously cut back on sugar and gluten in recent years, so I rarely bake these days. It was so fun and a total labor of love (3 cake layers! 2 different kinds of homemade frosting! 2 different piping tips for decorating!) It made me really excited about making homemade birthday cakes for our future children. My mom always made our birthday cakes from scratch when I was growing up, ranging from simple favorites like her lemon poppy cake to more elaborate ones, such as a “treasure chest” cake one year, replete with overflowing candy “jewelry”!

    A couple of years ago I took a cue from this very blog to make a “donut cake” for my husband :) Donuts are his fave, and since it was just the 2 of us celebrating I didn’t want to go too crazy so I bought 4 different fancy donuts from a local donut shop, stacked them up, and stuck a candle in the top. He loved it!

  14. Kiley says...

    Funfetti cake!

  15. Nathalie says...

    I’m German and the classic birthday cake of my childhood is Gugelhupf (a kind of bundt cake), decorated with melted chocolate or icing and lots of sprinkles — I just turned 24 and my mom has made one for me every single year without fail. We have it for breakfast and it’s my favorite tradition in the world.

  16. I always want vanilla cake with chocolate frosting – classic and so good!

  17. sami says...

    my birthday was on tuesday and i had a different cake at every meal. my mom baked me a chocolate cake with nutella frosting , my coworkers got me a chocolate mocha cake, and i had a vanilla cupcake after dinner. never limit yourself to just one cake!

  18. Meg says...

    My favorite dessert since childhood is Rice Crispy Treats. Nothing fancy… not brown butter, no chocolate chips, no graham crackers… just your plain ol’ recipe-from-the-cereal-box squares. My husband piles them high on a cake plate, puts a few candles on the top, and everyone digs in. It’s my favorite “birthday cake” ever!

  19. E says...

    My grandma always wanted a spice cake with white frosting, with candy corn and candy pumpkins (her birthday is a week before Halloween). I’ve had all kinds of different cakes, but one that stands out is when my friends made me a llama-shaped tie-dye cake with multicolored frosting and sprinkles. It was really special because it showed how well they knew me :)

  20. Shira says...

    My husband only wants the pudding pie his grandmother used to make (doesn’t even want gifts – just pudding pie). It’s ridiculously easy. Make the pudding, pour into a pie shell, and cover with cool whip. Done! And I get awesome wife points for making him the cake from his childhood!

  21. Laura says...

    The two that were always requested in my family growing up were lazy daisy oatmeal cake (spiced cake with coconut pecan topping) and crazy cake (depression era chocolate cake which happens to be vegan). I eat vegan now, so I’m happy to have one cake that I can easily make still, though I’m trying to figure out how to veganize the lazy daisy cake too!

  22. roblynh says...

    It made me smile to see the pumpkin pie for your birthday… my daughters and you are birthday pie soul mates! Happy Birthday!!

  23. Amanda says...

    A big thing of chips and queso and salsa, since I’m more likely to want salt/umami most of the time. If I’m going to do sweet, though, white cake, white icing (but preferably funfetti–something about all those sprinkles screams “birthday” to me.)

  24. Kumi says...

    When I was a child, I could never decide between a chocolate cake or angel food cake- when I was asked what I would like for my birthday. One year my very practical (and sometimes austere) Japanese mother made both. That’s love.

  25. Personally, I go for trifles, though the recipe itself changes each time. Most recently, I went for a carrot halwa pistachio trifle via the blog Sweet & Savoury.

    • Shira says...

      Every time I hear the word “trifle,” I think of that Friends episode where Rachel tried to make a trifle but the magazine pages were stuck and she combined the trifle with shepherd’s pie. And Joey, “Jam? Gooooood. Beef? Gooooooood.” 😂

  26. J says...

    I love dessert and when there’s cake, it’s the frosting I care about most. As long as the frosting isn’t whipped cream, I’m a happy girl.

    • Whipped cream frosting is LITERALLY. THE. WORST. I can’t describe how upsetting it is to bite into frosting that is whipped. Buttercream always and forever!

  27. Leila says...

    My husband’s family tradition is a Rice Krispies cake – basically Rice Krispies treats molded in the shape of something (first initial, age, etc.). I thought it was weird but I make them for his birthdays now and damn if it’s not addictive.

  28. riye says...

    I usually only eat Costco cakes at work events or other people’s parties but I love the frosting on their sheet cake. Doesn’t even have to be the chocolate cake–the vanilla is good too. :-) I never ask for one because there’s no way our little family can eat it all without it going stale.

    • b says...

      It freezes well.

  29. Audrey says...

    I don’t even like red velvet or cheesecake, but every year I go to the upper west side Magnolia Bakery and get the red velvet cheesecake, it’s insanely good. I only ever have it on my birthday so it stays special. It perfectly fits one candle that I always light and make a wish, even still at 27. I always eat it by myself because it’s a perfect extra large size portion for 1 and it makes me so happy.

  30. Michaela says...

    After reading this, I decided to make our family a little chocolate cake for a Thursday night treat. Life is so hard and sad and messy sometimes. Cake makes everyone happy. I am going to make more random, just because cakes to cheer us on!

    • rachel says...

      i love this!!! cake is litterally the perfect thing to cheer people up. it does the job for me!

  31. S says...

    The super easy chocolate wafer and whipped cream cake is my forever favourite. It’s so simple but just tastes so good.

    • Rachel says...

      Would you care to share the recipe I’m curious?

  32. Danielle says...

    When I was kid I always requested “jello pudding cake” . You bake a sheet cake and once cooled poke holes in the top and pour jello (still in its liquid state). Then you poke more holes and pour pudding (also still in its liquid state). Frosted with whipped cream. It’s rare these days that I’m at my parent’s house for my birthday but whenever I am I always request it. Leftovers for breakfast the next day are the best.

  33. Radhika says...

    Brooklyn black out cake from Two Little Red Hens in the Upper East side! It is AMAZING! They know how addictive it is, so they make it in mini bite sized cupcakes so you can eat one (or more) if you crave one so bad and there is no birthday to celebrate.

    • Jennifer Wasser says...

      I agree! I used to work a block away and live 10 blocks away from Two Little Red Hens and being in that close of proximity to those cupcakes was a constant test of willpower! Another decadent splurge on the Upper East Side is the crepe cake from Lady M.

  34. Heidi says...

    My birthday is end of May and on this day I always have the first strawberry cake with whipped cream of the season.

  35. STEFANIE FARQUHARSON says...

    Happy Birthday! We’re all for the birthday weeks around our house.

    side note: may i ask where you got the rug in the photo behind Toby? thanks!

  36. michaela says...

    I’m not particular about which cake I receive, I love all cake! (Except carrot cake, which has its place, but is not “cake” in my book.) Typically, I’m the one baking cakes for family members and friends, and they usually either get me something lovely from a local bakery, or my husband makes me Julia Turshen’s Happy Wife Happy Life cake. My immediate family has four January birthdays (!) and I recently fielded requests for chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream, German chocolate cake, and chocolate cake with caramel filling!

  37. Kho says...

    The Dreaming Princess cake from Little Cupcake Bakeshop! Made of almond cake with raspberry and vanilla bean buttercream filling covered in meringue icing. It’s reeeeeealllly special!

    • Celia says...

      Omg I wholeheartedly agree! Love treating myself to a slice after work in SoHo–it’s perfection.

  38. Emily says...

    My mom has made me a German chocolate cake almost every year–including mailing them to me in college! Even if my tastes change one day and I like another cake better, I’ll hold on to the tradition as long as I can.

  39. Tyler says...

    Ice cream cake from the local Dairy Queen was always our go-to growing up! Now as I approach turning 34 in two weeks, all I want is Toby’s mountain of doughnuts for my birthday cake (could be the pregnancy hormones talking)…

  40. erin says...

    Ice cream cake has always been my favorite.

  41. It has to be chocolate. When my husband and I have birthdays we usually get a slice of The Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. For the boys on their birthdays we get a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting from Wegmans and the boys can decorate it any way they want.

  42. Rue says...

    My childhood birthday treats were always strawberry shortcake (for the birthday dinner) and whole wheat apple muffins with cinnamon sugar topping (to bring to school).

  43. ErikaMC says...

    I’ve never really cared for cake – I don’t like the frosting. For my birthday I would request bars that were made with a layer of Club Crackers on the bottom, a homemade brown sugar graham cracker crumb layer and then chocolate on top. Now I like fudgey brownies.

  44. jenn says...

    i lost my sweet tooth pretty young, but back when i had a birthday cake it had to be red velvet with cherry pie filling and whipped cream instead of frosting :]

  45. Angela says...

    Cherry pie!