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French Butter Cake with Old Fashioned Fudge Frosting

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French vanilla butter cake wrapped with an old fashioned fudge frosting is the perfect birthday cake. This recipe is straight from my great-grandma’s recipe box and is a timeless classic recipe. 

Slice of two layered french butter cake with flaky fudge frosting served in front of remaining cake.

This old fashioned butter cake is really a simple recipe to put together.  Top it with this dense fudge frosting for a bite of nostalgia. 

It has been my mom’s birthday cake request since she was a girl. First her grandma made it for her, then her mom, and now I do. 

Maybe it will become a favorite birthday cake for your family as well.

Great-Grandma’s Recipes

I’ve been on a roll with recipes from my great-grandma Peggy.  First there was her German Chocolate Cake with Broiled Coconut Frosting that was out of this world good.

I mean broiled coconut frosting!!  You have to check it out if you haven’t already.

Then there was her apple crisp. It is hard to go wrong with an apple crisp, especially this time of year.  Hers doesn’t have any added sugar, yet it is still delicious.

But this cake recipe is one of the most special recipes from my great-grandma. It holds a lot of nostalgia for my mom.

Lifting the first slice of french butter cake out of the cake, showing the rich butter crumb of the cake and the dense fudgy frosting.

It is the recipe that her grandma made that she remembers, enjoys, and still wants to have to this very day.  So, of course I had to make her one for her birthday.

I have gone back and forth a hundred times as to whether or not to share it.  But I have decided to go ahead and give you the goods.

I know, it seems silly.  But there were a few reasons I was hemming and hawing all month long.

Old Fashioned Birthday Cake Recipe

First, this is one of those super special near and dear to her heart recipes that MiMi only recently shared with me.  She wants it to be sacred and only served on her birthday… it is HER birthday cake after all.

In fact, she has only had possession of the recipe for a few years herself.  Her aunt was able to come up with it not all that long ago, before that it was just the stuff of legends.

(So if you are reading this DO NOT make this cake for my mom… unless it’s her birthday.  It is the rule!)

I made the cake exactly how the recipe card was written.   It was DELICIOUS.  Dense and buttery with the thick fudge frosting frosting that MiMi had always talked about.  

Bowl of thick french butter cake batter ready to go into prepared pans.

The batter is thick and when you put it in the pan, it seems like there isn’t enough.  It barely spreads to the edges of the pans.

It does rise in the oven and give a perfect crumb, but the resulting cake is shorter than most modern cakes. It’s not a towering layered beauty like we may be used to now.

When I mentioned it to MiMi, she said that her aunt had told her that they normally scale it up a bit to make it a taller cake.  They make 1 1/2 times the amount called for in the recipe to give it more height.

The funny thing is, once she said something about that it rang a bell.  We must have discussed it when she got the recipe.

Piece of layered vanilla butter cake with old fashioned chocolate frosting laying on its side on a dessert plate near a fork.

When I originally posted this in 2016, I vowed to do the 1.5x recipe the next time so that the cake would be taller.  I really thought about doing it.

But I ended up sticking to the original.  It seemed more true, plus honestly we didn’t need the extra cake just for the sake of making it taller.

So the cake was once again a little bit short. But you know what? It was delicious.

Whole round layer cake frosted with old fashioned fudge frosting and colorful sprinkles.

Plus that meant that was more fudge frosting for each bite. And more frosting is never a bad thing!

So I will leave it up to you if you follow my great-grandma’s recipe as it is written or if you scale it up.  Either way, I’d love to see your finished product.

(Just don’t try sharing it with my mom if it’s not her birthday!)

Mimi and Little Dude blowing out her birthday candles.

If you do decide to scale it up, you’ll want to add a little bit of time in the oven to cook it through.  It should spring back when lightly touched with a finger.

I think the frosting recipe should be enough to cover the additional cake as it is.  But who am I to discourage you from scaling that up as well?

That goes against everything I stand for! But really, you should be fine either way.

I hope you give this delicious cake a try and tell me what you think!

Love this recipe? Give it a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review in the recipe card below!

Slice of two layered french butter cake with flaky fudge frosting served in front of remaining cake.

French Butter Cake with Old Fashioned Fudge Frosting

Servings: 16 Servings
Author: Carlee
French butter cake wrapped with an old fashioned fudge frosting is the perfect birthday cake. This recipe is straight from my great-grandma’s recipe box and is a timeless classic.
4.79 from 37 ratings
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes



  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup milk


  • 6 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 lb confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Enough half and half or cream to make spreadable a few Tablespoons
Makes: 9inch round



  • Preheat oven to 375°F and prepare two 8-inch cake pans.
  • Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. 
    1 cup unsalted butter, 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Stir in the eggs and vanilla until smooth.
    2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sift dry ingredients together.
    ¼ teaspoon salt, 1½ cups all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Stir half of the dry ingredients into butter mixture. Then stir in the milk. Finish by incorporating the rest of the dry ingredients.
    ½ cup milk
  • Pour into prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched with a finger. Cool for about 5 minutes in the pan, then turn onto wire racks and cool completely.


  • Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler until smooth.
    6 oz unsweetened chocolate, ½ cup unsalted butter
  • Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and powdered sugar.
    1 lb confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Add half and half or cream a bit at a time until creamy and spreadable.
  • Spread over cake while warm, it sets up as it cools.



Serving: 1ServingCalories: 444kcalCarbohydrates: 53gProtein: 4gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 15gPolyunsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 72mgSodium: 252mgFiber: 2gSugar: 41g

Nutritional Disclaimer

“Cooking With Carlee” is not a dietitian or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories and other nutritional values can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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4.79 from 37 votes (35 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating


Saturday 16th of September 2023

Thank you for sharing this recipe! My mother turned 79, and requested Yellow Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting….this lived up to her memories! She even appreciated the “short-stack” layers! I did use a zester to add some chocolate shavings on the sides to hide my poor frosting skills. Thanks for the opportunity to bring back her favorite.


Sunday 17th of September 2023

I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. You made my day!! Thank you


Thursday 3rd of August 2023

Good afternoon! This looks delicious. My question is, are the cake batter and frosting made with salted or unsalted butter? Thank you and have a wonderful!


Thursday 3rd of August 2023

I've made it both ways, and both are good. Unsalted would probably be better, but if you only have salted I wouldn't run to the store.


Friday 17th of March 2023

Help! I was so excited for this recipe, my husbands grandpa made similar frosting and the recipe is lost. This frosting is delicious, and did set with time but the butter seemed to separate after it was all mixed, what did I do wrong?


Saturday 18th of March 2023

Oh no! It is always so disappointing when something you are excited about doesn't work out quite as you had hoped. I can think of two things that may have happened. The first would be if the butter got a little too hot, that can cause it to split. The second would be if maybe there was a little too much cream added at the end. I would imagine it could have been beaten back in had you seen it separating before you used it, however if you put the frosting on warm it would have been hard to tell something was going on. I do hope you give it another try. There is something about this fudgy frosting that is extra special!

Monday 28th of November 2022

Absolutely wonderful recipe!


Sunday 9th of August 2020

Would I be able to make this a chocolate cake?


Sunday 9th of August 2020

You could certainly sub in some cocoa powder for some of the flour. I've never tried it though, so I'm not sure how much would be perfect. I'd probably try 1/4 cup or so.