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Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is the classic pairing in these birthday cupcakes! This recipe features a special ingredient to make them even better.

A vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles on a white stand, with more cupcakes and a jar of sprinkles in the background.

No other cake reminds me of childhood more than yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It appeared at so many of my birthdays, usually in the form of a square cake (or a 9×13 if we were having a party) and remains one of my absolute favorites.

I first posted these cupcakes when my older son turned 2, and over the past 14 years they’ve made frequent appearances at our birthdays and other parties.

The recipe makes just 12 cupcakes, which is the perfect amount for smaller family gatherings or just when you feel like having a special treat to end the week with. Of course, you can easily double it for a larger crowd! 

The homemade chocolate frosting is a cinch to make too. One bite and you’ll see why this recipe is my favorite cupcake!

Ingredients for birthday cupcakes

Full list of ingredients including quantities is located in the recipe card.

You’ll need:

A flat lay of baking ingredients in bowls on a white surface, including flour, sugar, egg yolks, butter, milk, baking powder, and orange zest.
  • Cake flour – Cake flour provides the best texture for this cake. Swan’s Down is my go-to brand.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Egg yolks – Using just egg yolks in this cake is what creates the rich yellow color. It also provides fat in the cake and makes it moist.
  • Butter – I actually use salted butter in this recipe. If you use unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt to the batter. You’ll want to make sure the butter for the cake is softened to room temperature.
  • Milk
  • Orange zest – The secret ingredient! This adds just a bit of citrus flavor to the cake, which pairs wonderfully with the chocolate frosting.

For the simple chocolate buttercream frosting, you’ll need:

Ingredients for a recipe laid out on a surface: a bowl of powdered sugar, a small bowl of cocoa powder, two sticks of butter on a yellow plate, a bottle of vanilla extract, and a glass of milk.

How to make this recipe

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, half the milk, and orange zest. Set this aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (or use a mixing bowl with hand mixer), mix together the cake flour, granulated sugar, and baking powder.

Add in the softened butter and remaining milk and mix on low to combine, then increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy.

Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add in the reserved egg yolk mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the bowl as needed after each addition. Once fully incorporated, the mixture should be very smooth.

Divide the batter equally among the cups (I like to use a cookie scoop). Place in the preheated oven and bake the cupcakes for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. A toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean.

Let the cupcakes rest briefly in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Mix in the cocoa powder, breaking up any clumps.

A blue bowl filled with chocolate frosting sits on a counter, with several plain cupcakes cooling on a wire rack nearby.

Alternate adding the powdered sugar and milk, beating until smooth each time. Add more powdered sugar or milk to create a thicker or thinner frosting as desired, then mix in the vanilla.

Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles.

The frosted cupcakes will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-5 days.

Cupcakes topped with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles rest on a cooling rack next to a bowl of leftover frosting and a small container of sprinkles.

Recipe tips

If you like a flatter cupcake versus domed, use a little less batter in each cupcake liner. You’ll end up with 15 or so flatter cupcakes.

I recommend using the nonstick parchment cupcake liners, which remove from the cake cleanly.

For a whole cake rather than cupcakes, this will make a single 9-inch round or square cake. Double the recipe to make a 9-inch layer cake or 9×13-inch sheet cake. You will need to increase the bake time to 25-30 minutes.

If you don’t have a pastry bag and piping tips, you can use a knife or offset spatula to spread on the frosting. You can also create a makeshift pastry bag by filling a Ziploc bag and cutting off the corner to create a piping tip.

A cupcake with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles is on a cooling rack, surrounded by similar cupcakes in the background.

More celebration desserts

Looking for other birthday cake options?

For chocolate cake, we love black forest cake, filled with sweet cherries. Want a lighter option? Whip up a chocolate angel food cake.

My snickerdoodle cake is perfect for cinnamon lovers, while my bundt tomato cake is an unexpected take on the classic spice cake.

A partially eaten yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, placed on a white wrapper, with two additional frosted cupcakes nearby on a light marble surface.

Make these chocolate-frosted birthday cupcakes for your next party. Don’t forget the sprinkles!

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below!
It means so much when you enjoy my recipes, so let me know how it goes and leave a comment if you have any questions.

A cupcake with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles is on a cooling rack, surrounded by similar cupcakes in the background.

Birthday Cupcakes

Yellow cake with just a hint of orange, topped with classic chocolate frosting.
Author : Megan Myers
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Recipe Review
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 18 minutes
Total Time 33 minutes
Servings 12 cupcakes
Calories 374 kcal


Yellow Cake:

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup milk, divided use
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3/4 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350°F and line a 12-cup muffin/cupcake pan with paper liners.
  • In a small bowl lightly combine the egg yolks, half the milk, and orange zest.
  • Combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the egg mixture, in 3 additions, beating about 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the egg.
  • Divide batter into cupcake pan, filling about halfway. Bake 15-18 minutes, rotating in the oven halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

  • In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter. Using a hand mixer, mix in cocoa powder until completely mixed, breaking up any clumps.
  • Alternate adding powdered sugar and milk in three additions, mixing completely and scraping down the sides after each addition. Add more powdered sugar or milk to reach desired consistency. Mix in vanilla extract.
  • Spread onto cooled cupcakes or fill a piping bag and pipe frosting in desired pattern.


Serving: 1 cupcakeCalories: 374 kcalCarbohydrates: 58 gProtein: 4 gFat: 16 gSaturated Fat: 9 gCholesterol: 85 mgSodium: 118 mgPotassium: 187 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 43 gIron: 1 mg

Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate based on online calculators. Any nutritional information found on Stetted should be used as a general guideline only.

Tried this recipe?Leave a comment below!

This recipe has been retested and updated since it was first published October 2009.

A woman in a black shirt smiling in a kitchen.

About Megan

I focus on fresh ingredients and easy methods, with spins that keep meals interesting. Dinnertime shouldn’t be stressful or complicated, and I’m here to help you enjoy the time spent in the kitchen. Read more…

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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  1. lovely post!
    my son is turning one next wk. while i’m getting so busy to prepare this and that for his very first bday party, i just keep reminded myself he wont be remembering anything though. sad!
    but i will, sweet!
    happy birthday to your little guy!

  2. We had a pizza Friday tradition when I was in middle school. We were living in San Francisco at the time, in the Fort Mason neighborhood on the north shore of the peninsula, and the four of us would walk west across the hard flat park in front of the international hostel, then down a steep hill and across a much bigger and greener park to the busy intersection of Laguna and Bay, where there was a Round Table Pizza restaurant nestled underneath some walk-up apartments. Mom and Dad would share a few beers while my brother and I would pour quarters into an arcade driving game that had a real steering wheel and accelerator pedal. We’d get one large pizza and all have a couple of slices. Dad was in the army, and Mom sometimes worked, so this was our big night out. Good times.

    I think it’s great that you’re creating and nurturing these family traditions, Megan, even if Reese won’t remember them all way down the road, I think the stability and family bonding that is being now created will have long-lasting (if anonymous) benefits. I hope he looks back and says, I had a happy childhood that was marked by love and stability in the home. That’s my hope for you guys!