Season: All | Active Time: 40 minutes (not including making the Classic Cream Cheese Frosting) | Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes | Difficulty: 2 (Easy)
I started my baking career making boxed cake mixes at a young age. I know I’m not alone when I write that my favorite was the Pillsbury Funfetti Cake. It’s basically a white cake with sprinkles mixed into the batter, but the flavor is pure nostalgia. When my sister requested a Funfetti cake for her wedding, I took it as an opportunity to dial in a recipe for a homemade version. This is her cake, scaled to make three generous 9-inch layers. ① Rather than the standard mixing technique that starts with creaming together butter and sugar, followed by the addition of eggs, liquids, and dry ingredients, this recipe uses an alternative technique called “reverse creaming”—pioneered by cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum—that mixes the fat and liquids directly into the dry ingredients. This method leads to layers that bake flatter with a very uniform crumb. I haven’t tried the Pillsbury mix since I was a kid, but this is just how I remember it tasting.
Special Equipment: Stand mixer, three 9-inch cake pans
Butter for the pans
5½ cups cake flour (23.3 oz / 660g) ②
2⅓ cups sugar (16.4 oz / 466g)
4½ teaspoons baking powder (0.63 oz / 18g)
1½ teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (0.16 oz / 5g)
¾ teaspoon baking soda
3 sticks unsalted butter (12 oz / 340g), at room temperature ③
1½ cups buttermilk (12.7 oz / 360g)
⅓ cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed (2.6 oz / 75g)
3 large eggs (5.3 oz / 150g), at room temperature
6 large egg whites (7.4 oz / 210g), at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
½ cup store-bought rainbow sprinkles (3.3 oz / 93g), plus more for decorating ④
Classic Cream Cheese Frosting (this page)
Prepare the pans and preheat the oven: Butter the bottom and sides of the cake pans. Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper, smoothing to eliminate air bubbles, and set aside. Arrange two oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F.
Mix the dry ingredients: In a stand mixer bowl with at least a 5-quart capacity, ⑤ combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment just to combine (beware of flying flour).
Mix in the fat and some of the liquid: Add the butter, buttermilk, and oil and beat on low just until the flour is moistened. Gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, until the mixture is completely smooth, about 1 minute.
Whisk the egg mixture and add the remaining ingredients: In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk the whole eggs, egg whites, vanilla, and almond extract (if using) until no streaks remain. With the mixer on medium-low, add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in 2 additions, beating well after each addition. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the batter is very light and thick, about 2 minutes.
Fold in the sprinkles: Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add the sprinkles; fold them into the batter with a large flexible spatula to distribute evenly. Try not to mix too much or the color of the sprinkles will start to bleed.
Fill the pans and bake: Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing evenly (for uniform layers, use a scale and weigh out 1 lb 12 oz / 785g batter per pan). Smooth the batter in an even layer all the way to the sides. Transfer the pans to the oven, placing two on the upper rack and one on the lower rack, staggering so the pan below doesn’t have another pan directly above it. Bake until the tops are golden brown, the centers spring back when pressed, and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, switching racks and rotating the pans front to back after 30 minutes.
Cool the cakes and level the layers: Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool completely in the pans, then use a small offset spatula or paring knife to cut around the sides. Invert onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, then reinvert the layers onto a cardboard cake round or cutting board. Use a long serrated knife and long, even strokes to slice off the domed tops of the cakes, keeping the blade parallel to the work surface. (Snack on the cake scraps.) This creates level layers for easier stacking and assembly.
Stack and frost the cake: Place the first cake layer, cut-side down, on a cake round, serving plate, or cake stand and slide several strips of parchment partially underneath and all around the cake to cover and protect the plate or stand during frosting. Using a small offset spatula, spread 1 cup of frosting over the cake in an even layer all the way to the edges, then top with another cake layer, cut-side down, and cover with another 1 cup frosting. Place the third layer on top, cut-side down, and cover the top and sides of the entire layer cake with another 1½ cups frosting in a very thin, even layer.
This is the “crumb coat,” which is just a base layer of frosting, so don’t worry if the cake shows through in several places. Refrigerate the cake until the frosting has hardened, 10 to 15 minutes, then cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Decorate the outside of the cake with more sprinkles.
Serve: Slide the parchment strips out from underneath the cake and let it come to room temperature before slicing.
The cake, well wrapped and refrigerated, will keep up to 3 days. Once frosted, refrigerate the cake until the frosting is hardened and then cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for several hours before serving. The cake layers, covered tightly and stored at room temperature, will keep up to 2 days or can be frozen up to 3 weeks. When you’re ready to use the layers, frost them frozen, then refrigerate the assembled cake loosely wrapped until the layers are completely thawed, at least 24 hours prior to serving.
① You can make cupcakes with this recipe, but note that the yield is 36, which means you’ll need three muffin tins. Feel free to halve the recipe and just make 18. You can also bake the cake as a sheet, buttering and lining a half-sheet pan (18 × 13 inches) with parchment and filling it with the entire volume of batter. Bake it in the center of the oven until the top is evenly golden brown and springy to the touch, 35 to 40 minutes. You can frost it as is, in a single layer, or cut it crosswise into two rectangular layers and stack them for a two-layer cake.
② If you don’t have or can’t find cake flour, in a pinch you can substitute an equal amount of all-purpose flour: Just replace 1 tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per 1 cup flour called for in the recipe.
③ Make sure the butter is fully room temperature before mixing the batter. It should be soft and very spreadable but not greasy looking (warm butter isn’t good either). I recommend leaving the butter at room temperature for several hours and even overnight before mixing the batter, but you can also quickly temper cold butter by zapping it in the microwave in 20-second intervals on 30 percent power. With reverse creaming, the butter needs to fully incorporate so it coats the flour particles (this prevents gluten formation once the liquid ingredients are added, yielding a tender cake), and butter that’s even the least bit cool won’t do this easily.
④ Don’t use fancy sprinkles made with vegetable-based coloring because they will disappear into the batter during baking. You want the waxy, tasteless, brightly colored, artificial ones.
⑤ Don’t make this cake using a stand mixer with less than a 5-quart capacity, as the volume of batter will be too great. If you want to make this recipe with a hand mixer, you can, but I would strongly recommend halving all the quantities. A hand mixer lacks power compared to a stand mixer and won’t be able to effectively mix such a large volume of batter.