Teach Baking to a Teenager: Making a Birthday Cake

Our middle son has been interested in cooking and baking for a few years. He is 13 now and fully capable in the kitchen now. Our oldest son had his birthday this week, and W asked if he could make the cake. Which…why not? We had been walking by the bakery in the regionally local Safeway, and in their very sparsely stocked display case, 2 layer cakes are now $29.99 and up! For a cake that honestly, while pretty, just never tastes great. It’s $30 boxed cake mix, with shortening frosting to be honest.

We came across a new cookbook in the library last week, “Anyone Can Cake” by Whitney Depaoli. It caught my eye as it was faced outward. W was enamored by the book immediately. It is written very straightforwardly and is usable by a raw novice to cake baking and decorating. Yes, she covers fancy techniques as well, but the book is about the basics: How to bake a good-tasting cake, how to make various frostings, the gear, how to dye buttercream, how to pipe, and so on. All I could think of was how lame the Wilton booklets were when I was a teen (and how it was only aimed at older women).

The "anyone can cake" book by Whitney Depaoli for learning how to bake and decorate cakes.

She does tutorial videos on YouTube, under Sugar & Sparrow. Which I might add, he was watching all the videos that week after finding her channel.

A scrumptious birthday cake baked and decorated by our teenage son for his brother.

He asked F what cake he’d like. Well, F runs to the simpler things in life and loves a good vanilla cake. So we set out to the store to get a few supplies for it. We opted to make it as 2 8″ cakes, though the recipe can be done in 3 6″ pans. As a gift, I got him a cake turntable (really affordable actually!) that I had to be honest, always wanted. To ensure it was good, I picked up actual cake flour for once. Well worth the few dollars. Even with supplies, we still made the cake for less than that bakery one.

Then he got baking with my oversight.

Cakes getting ready to be put together.

Favorite Vanilla Cake Recipe (Page 126)


  • 292 grams cake flour (2¾ cups)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (12 Tbsp), room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs + 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature


Preheat oven to 350°. Cut two circles of parchment paper to fit inside two 8″ baking pans. Lightly oil the pans, press the parchment paper onto it, set aside.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a small mixing bowl, whisk together.

In a stand mixer bowl, with the paddle attachment on, add the butter (cut into Tablespoon slices). Beat at medium-high for about 2 minutes, until the butter is creamy. Add the sugar and at medium-high for another 2 minutes, scraping the bowl and paddle at halfway with a spatula.

Turn to low and add in the eggs and egg whites, one at a time, until just combined. Add in the vanilla and sour cream, slowly turn up and beat for a minute. It will look curdled, this is normal.

Turn the mixer off, and add in the dry ingredients. Start on low and mix till just worked in. Slowly add in the milk, and beat till it just comes together and is smooth.

Divide equally between the prepared pans. Smooth out and lightly tap the pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, when a toothpick comes out clean and it smells baked.

Let cool fully on a wire rack.

We took the advice to chill the cakes a bit after they were cool, before decorating, and this made a huge difference I found, when applying the buttercream.

Vanilla Buttercream recipe (Page 133)


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp whole milk
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt


Add the butter to a stand mixer bowl, with a paddle attachment on. Beat the butter on high speed for 7 minutes, until it’s creamy and pale in color.

Turn to low and add in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating in each addition fully.

Add in the vanilla and salt, beating in, then the milk. Mix at low for 1 minute. Check with a spatula that all the butter is mixed in, scrape if needed and beat in.

Frosting the Cake to complete the look

I showed W how he could cut strips of parchment paper and put them on a cake turntable (so they stick out for easy removal). We then placed one chilled cake on that and applied a thin “crumb coat” layer of frosting with an offset spatula. Top it with the second cake and crumb-coated the top and the sides. We then chilled the cake for 30 minutes to set it up.

He returned and frosted the top and sides properly, using a bench scraper to smooth the frosting out gently. He applied sprinkles to the bottom of the cake, using the parchment paper to gently tap/press them into place.

W wanted to use “cake drip“. We could have made it, but honestly, it was easier to buy it already made. It is heated up in the microwave in its squeeze bottle and you let it, well drip, as you turn the turntable. He also wanted it to coat the top. So I poured it while he quickly spread it smooth. It sets up fast and is hard, so two make it easier. He put more sprinkles on and was done.

We carefully pulled the parchment paper out (next time I’d do it before adding the cake drip, as I bent a couple drips. Oops.)

It was time well spent with my kiddo. And that cake? It was SO moist and delicious. Making a real cake is so worth the tiny extra bit of work.