Birthday Cake Recipe

A perfect, simple birthday cake. One that effortlessly handled the car ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Flourless and made primarily with almond paste and eggs, it's baked until golden, then flooded with a simple, smudge-proof buttermilk glaze.

Birthday Cake

I made birthday cake for myself this year. Or maybe I should say cakes, plural. I made one small cake, and a pair of tiny cakes. When they were cooled and frosted I lined a plate with parchment paper, placed the cakes on top, then pushed them into the back of my car before slamming the trunk. We skipped town for Los Angeles, and took a leisurely two days to get there. We did things like look for migrating whales off the coast, searched for items for the next collection of the shop, and ate cake on a shaded picnic table outside Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. The cake? The cake is worth making. Made mostly of almond paste and eggs, it's sort-of a cake version of these macaroons, flooded with a simple, smudge-proof buttermilk glaze. It's the kind of cake that can handle some time in the car, will stay moist for a few days, with frosting that sets instead of smears.

Birthday CakeBirthday Cake

I make some notes down below in the recipe section about baking pan options, but the jist is this..feel free to play around with pan sizes if you like. The tins I used to bake the smallest cakes might have been old jelly molds - anything oven-safe with good shape is fair game around here. Although, one thing I've learned about using old pans is this - the most unfussy cakes tend to come from pans with smooth unblemished interiors. Pans that are rough tend to hold onto cakes when turning them out, even if they've been well buttered and/or floured. What else? Pan sizes - I know you'll have questions. The main consideration when playing around with pan sizes is baking time. You need to watch the cakes, and pull them when they're done. It's that simple. With this cake, for example, the edges will set and start developing a golden blush that deepens over time. At this point, you're looking for the center to set. Test with a toothpick or cake tester - when it comes out clean, or when you have a sense that the cake has set, you're good. You want to catch it just as it sets, so it stays moist.

Birthday Cake

(Above) Looking north from Santa Monica. (Below) Wayne with his camera.

Birthday CakeBirthday Cake

I hope you have an occasion for cake in the near future, whether it's this one or another. :)

Also! As a side note, for those of you interested in the QUITOKEETO shop, we're planning on opening with new items (and a handful of restocked favorites) this Monday morning, April 22, at 8:30am. I've posted a bit of a preview here - super excited! xo -h

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Birthday Cake

First thing, be sure to buy almond paste, not marzipan.There is a difference. And no on almond butter as a substitute as well, I'm seeing that as a question in the comments as well. This recipe makes ~3 cups of cake batter. You can bake one 8-inch cake, or multiple smaller ones. Adjust your baking time accordingly, and use a cake tester to decide when to pull the cake(s) from the oven - smaller cakes take less time to bake. Pictured above: one 6-inch cake made with ~2 cups/ 480ml of batter + 2 tiny cakes made with ~1/2 cup / 120ml batter each.

butter for greasing pan(s)
14 ounces / 1 1/2 cups / 2 tubes of almond paste
5 large eggs, whisked
1 3/4 ounces / 45 g / scant 1/4 cup organic cornstarch
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
6 tablespoons / 1/3 cup / 80 ml unsalted butter, melted & cooled

Buttermilk Glaze:
scant 1 cup / 5 oz organic confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons buttermilk
the contents of 1/2 vanilla bean

3 tablespoons toasted almond slices

Preheat oven to 350F / 180C with a rack in the center. Butter an 8-inch pan generously, or, alternately, you can use multiple smaller pans for a cluster of tiny cakes (see head notes).
Break the almond paste into a food processor and give a few quick pulses, you're looking for medium-sized, pebbly pieces. Add the eggs, and process until smooth. Sprinkle in the cornstarch and salt, pulse a few times, then add the butter. Blend one more time, before transferring to the prepared pan(s). Bake until deeply golden and set in the center, you're going to want to test this cake - a toothpick should come out clean before pulling it from the oven - for tiny cakes, this is usually 40-45 minutes, longer for larger cakes. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 20-30 minutes (very small cakes can be turned out after ~5 minutes), then transfer directly to the cooling rack. Cool complete before frosting.

To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla bean. Keep whisking until the glaze is free of lumps. Flood the top of the cake(s) allowing the glaze to run over the sides, and sprinkle with almond slices.

Makes one 8-inch cake, or multiple smaller cakes.

Prep time: 10 minutes - Cook time: 60 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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What an intriguing cake recipe--mostly almonds, no flour! I'll have to give it a try. Heidi, you always have the best moulds! Love the bigger round one especially.


Happy Birthday! This cake looks delicious, I love almond flavor. What brand of almond paste do you recommend?


happy birthday heidi! beautiful cakes you baked here... personally i've always been too nervous to use one of those vintage pans for actual baking, but they certainly make dainty ones! worth a try perhaps. :)


Gorgeous cake! This sounds so tasty!

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

Prettiest cakes I've ever seen! Happy birthday!

Marie @ Little Kitchie

Almond paste? That's a new ingredient for me - I have never seen it in stores!


At the lodge I work, in the middle of the Maine woods, we easily have over 50 pounds of almond paste (maybe more)! Luckily, we also have lots of guests. I've been looking for a simple recipe to put a dent in our supply, and this recipe looks like it beautifully fits the bill! Thanks!

Amy @ CookingScraps

We did the drive from San Fran to Santa Monica in January ... for us, it was breeding elephant seals that marked the journey. And Peter Pan on audiobook :) Happy birthday x

Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic

Happy birthday!


I can always find an excuse for cake! I hope you had a very happy birthday Heidi.


my aunt recently made a cake using nuts and nut flour (almond, macadamia...) instead of wheat (and many many eggs). i thought it was amazing! def have to try your recipe which seems to be quite similar. btw: the pictures look fab! look at the structures the water makes!


As far as I understand the main difference between almond paste and marzipan is the ratio of ground almonds to sugar. Generally, almond paste will have roughtly equal proportions of almonds and sugar (plus other ingredients) and marzipan will have a higer ratio of sugar (up to 75% sugar) plus other ingredients. Almond paste is best for baking while marzipan is better for covering and molding. BTW I love that this cake is GF, sooo cool!


Happy Birthday! It sounds like you had a great trip. The cake looks so delicious. I love the simple buttermilk glaze.


Wonderful cake. I have never used a buttermilk frosting as I rarely frost my cakes, but this looks like a great idea to keep the cake moist and fresh for longer if traveling, or otherwise too I must try this really soon.

sangeeta khanna

Your Santa Monica pics are gorgeous! I live in San Diego and the past day and tomorrow are supposed to be in the 80s...just exactly the kind of weather I live in SoCal for! And your cake...equally gorgeous. And no flour. WOW! Totally pinning it. Love this. Happy BDAY!!!!!

Averie @ Averie Cooks

GLUTEN FREE! I CAN EAT THIS!!! (of course, make sure ingredients are truly GF, etc...) anyway, i was wondering if almond butter would work in place of almond paste??? i have lots of almond butter running around...


Happy Birthday Heidi! So happy to hear about QUITOKEETO! I have been trying for FOREVER to get one of those beautiful knives...Monday {4/22} is my birthday - I am feeling lucky!

Kristin | The Dinner Concierge

What gorgeous little cakes!


Happy birthday Heidi! This cake looks amazing. I think I might bake one for my mother's birthday next week, she loves almonds. Thanks :)


I've never used almond paste, but this seems like as good an excuse as any to get in on that action. Yum!

LisaR @ Who Stole My Baby?

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