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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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!
French Butter Cake with Old Fashioned Fudge Frosting
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 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
- 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. Stir in the eggs and vanilla until smooth.
- Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture, alternating with milk. Start and end with flour.
- 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.
- Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and powdered sugar.
- 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.